CancerQ Co-Founder, Zach Weismann, opens up about when he and his brother & Co-Founder, Bradley, lost their mom to cancer, the struggles that ensued, and the motivation behind CancerQ. Article originally appeared on Medium, February 16, 2016.
"My Mom Wasn't Supposed to Die"
“Not her, not now,” I would tell myself.
In September of 2014, I lost my mom to pancreatic cancer after a 4 month extremely difficult and courageous battle. As one of her primary caregivers, I was there nearly every step of the way. Every slowing step, every struggling sip & bite.
At only age 28, I never envisioned I would be caring for my mom. We were extremely close, legitimately good friends, and I was the ultimate momma’s boy — and damn proud of it.
She was the one who cared for everyone else. At 60 years old, her energy, love, and care for others was infections, admirable, and impressive. She nursed her elderly parents. She always took care of my brother, Bradley, and I. Always checking on us, encouraging us — she was the wind at our backs no matter what. She and my dad had in recent years celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary with us in Napa. Their relationship was rooted in respect and they led by example — not only of course living with one another, but also working together every day for nearly 30 years as partners of their own private CPA firm.
There are so many elements of caregiving, fighting disease, and loss that no one prepares you for.
What does it mean to be a caregiver? Am I going to become a caregiver myself? What about work and a career? Can I take time off? Should I continue to work, should I quit?
How does everyone else handle this? Why didn’t anyone ever tell me how overwhelming this would be or help me prepare? Where are all those who have gone through it before? How the hell did this happen to us?
What will the future look like? How do I prepare for a new normal, a life without that I never wanted, never envisioned, never imagined? All at a pace I can barely comprehend…
I’ve come to learn the world that has been created for us, the world we live in, has just a sliver of uncertainty. In this sliver of uncertainty lives life, death, the fear of the unknown, excitement, anticipation, joy & tragedy.
Will we live, will we die? What does the future hold?
As a boy and well into adulthood, I always said a quick prayer before bed. I was raised Jewish, reform, and consider myself to be somewhat religious, a 21st century Jew. “God, please bless my family and me with love, good health, and safety. Amen,” I would whisper before drifting off to sleep.
The loss of my mom taught me that no matter how hard we pray, how hard we sometimes have to fight, and the tight grip we hold on loved ones, two out of those three elements we actually can’t control. We can’t always control our safety nor good health. Sometimes they are just beyond our grasp. They lie in this sliver of uncertainty.
But one of the three we can always control:
We can control the love we give to others, to family, and even to ourselves. No one, no thing, can take love away from us, not even death.
Even through the grief, I remain hopeful. Even with the loss of someone who instilled so much confidence in me and made me feel rooted in this world, I remain hopeful.
But damn, it wasn’t easy.
An ambulance visit at 3 am because my legs wouldn’t stop convulsing during an anxiety attack. Pulling off the road in the middle of no-where Texas because I felt a panic attack coming on. Nights waking up startled, fighting to catch my breath, fearful of triggering an attack. An anxiety attack with convulsing legs again in Sedona, Arizona at a 5-star resort (I’m probably the first to have an anxiety attack at one of the most beautiful places in the US). Heart palpitations, migraines, and more.
On the darkest of days, I thought it would be easier to end the pain, even envisioning how I would do it. I’m ok opening up about my vulnerability and difficulty, because it’s real. And unfortunately, I’m not the only one. There are thousands of us.
But through my loss, I’ve leaned on the love and support of family & friends. I wouldn’t be here without their love.
My best friend agreed to marry me the day before my mom passed away. And she’s been by my side every step of the way. Seeing my mom light up after I proposed is a moment I will cherish forever. My mom knew our love well and knows I’m in good hands.
I’ve made new, unexpected, and welcomed friends. I’ve connected with others who have experienced loss through The Dinner Party and become the first dinner Host in Dallas. I’ve met other families and survivors through the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, which has become a second family. I’ve met many caregivers, such as author Richard Anastasi, who has become a mentor and even friend.
My brother, Bradley, and I have even co-founded a start-up that designs products and services for those facing cancer called, CancerQ.
Our mom’s nickname was Q, short for Questioner, and this site will soon become your cancer headquarters. We are launching our first product next month and can’t wait to share it with all those who desperately need it, hoping no one has to go through what we went through as a family.
My message is to those going through it and to those who don’t know they are about to go through it: you’re not alone, there are others of us who never thought it would happen to us. But we are here and will get through this, together.
And cherish every moment. There is inherent beauty in it, the question is can we pause long enough to see it.
Together is courage.
- Zach Weismann, CancerQ Co-Founder