A beautiful note and story from our recent #OurTribe grant recipient, Kristen Rivera. It pulled at my heart as I’ve been in her shoes, the young wife caring for a small human and the love of your life. The intersection of in sickness and in health and all the love wrapped around your heart. We see you Kristen. We are walking with you. This is why we started this little foundation. Thank you for sharing your story.
xoxo, Amanda, Cocktails & Chemo Founder
I live in Wisconsin with my husband, Zak, three-year-old son, Wesley, and our dog, Huntley.
I’m the wife of two-time cancer warrior Zak. In addition to being a mom, a caregiver, and working full-time, I also help Zak run our small family business.
My journey as a caregiver started in 2019 when my husband discovered that he had colorectal cancer at the age of 36. My son was just 17 months old. Zak underwent a resection surgery that left him with a temporary ileostomy bag, which I provided home care for him during this time. A short time later, he had the ileostomy reversal. Zak’s blood work was great and we were assured that he was 95% cured. Zak had lasting effects from his surgeries and spent the next two years trying to find a solution to ongoing issues from the resection surgery as well as beating Hepatitis A and COVID-19.
In June of this year, we celebrated our nine-year wedding anniversary. A week later, Zak had his routine two-year scans and we were notified that his CEA levels tripled. This prompted a CT and PET Scan that revealed cancer spread to other parts of his body. Zak now has stage-four colorectal cancer. He is receiving an aggressive form of chemotherapy and we are praying that the disease responds so that he is a candidate for liver surgery.
All of this felt like a huge blow to us. My husband is healthy, physically fit, and in the best shape of his life. Our knee-jerk reaction to process and make sense of this information was to seek an answer as to why this was happening. We tried to comprehend the difficult cards we had been dealt. Nothing was adding up. We were never going to get an answer as to why this was happening to him and our family. There was nothing Zak did to cause this to happen to him. The scary part for not only us but our friends and family was a harsh reality; if this could happen to Zak, it could happen to any of us.
Zak made it clear that he was putting all of his energy into fighting this disease; getting stuck on the “why” wasn’t going to solve anything. This is true to his competitive spirit and his innate drive as a former collegiate athlete to overcome obstacles. Zak is the MVP of our family, so when he says it’s time to fight, we follow his lead.
This is a journey that we never imagined walking, let alone twice. It’s been a whirlwind: the grief, the exhaustion, the pain, the anxiety, the confusion, the loss of what was, and the worry of what will be. It’s all real!
I’m grateful that my dear friend, Kelly, connected me to Cocktails and Chemo. Thank you for normalizing the poignancy in all of this, for carrying the weight with me, and for allowing me to stand on your shoulders. The support and camaraderie from people that “get it” is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.
With extreme gratitude,