Health: Facing cancer as a couple

“It was déjà vu,” recalled Cianciullo. “It brought me back to dealing with cancer again. I was thinking about the road ahead for Maggie and whether death would come into the picture. I was scared for her knowing what 12 years of cancer can do to a person. I knew what was ahead but it was a no-brainer for me that my role would be by her side.”

“We’re very religious,” Cianciullo continued. “We’re practicing Catholics and it’s not being mad at God or saying to God ‘I can’t believe you’re putting me in this position again. W.T.F?’”

Lopez clarified: “She didn’t say that, but I did say, ‘What the fuck?’ Enough already!”

Lopez is now nearing the milestone of being cancer-free for two years, but the couple’s health scares weren’t over.

As Lopez recovered, she had time to think about her journey. “For the longest time, I kept asking myself why? Why me? Why cancer?

“That answer became clear to me when Patt was diagnosed,” she said. “I could now steer her through the rollercoaster of emotion, fear, hope, and helplessness I encountered, which I saw reflected in her face after her diagnosis. When she first got that call that it may be cancer, she sank to her knees and I had to take the phone away and talk because she couldn’t finish the call.”

Cianciullo was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in August 2012 and is now regaining strength after treatment.

When both people in a partnership are diagnosed with cancer, there are challenges that go well beyond who will pick up the dry cleaning or prepare dinner.

Lopez speaks for them both when she says, “The tough one for both of us to learn, being control freaks, was learning to ask for and accept help. There are many things with this disease that you have to leave to others, to chance, to medicine, and to God.”

Lopez continued: “Our faith has been crucial. When people learn about our faith, they usually wonder how we can be Catholic and also be homosexual. We say we’re ‘Cafeteria Catholics’ — we take something from here and something from there but we’re not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

She also offered advice to other couples going through a health crisis: “Go through it together. Be honest, be hopeful and accept help. Some diseases render you powerless until the next test comes back. You can’t control things so letting go of control and accepting help was necessary.

“Have faith in each other, have lots of humor and lots of hope.”


Top photo: Patt Cianciullo and Maggie Lopez have both faced cancer diagnoses over the last two years. (by Brent Corcoran / RNZ Photography)