Caterina, Account Clerk for Gildan in Montreal, Canada was diagnosed with cancer in December 2018. Shortly after she went on leave, underwent two surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, but none of it has gotten her down. In fact, she’s more positive than ever. Here’s her story:
Tell me a bit about yourself?
I have two daughters, one is thirteen and the other eight years old. The older one is an angel, but the youngest is feisty! I have a wonderful husband and something most people don’t know about me is that I also have a twin brother.
I’ve been working at Gildan for 11 years in the accounting department. I have an awesome boss and a wonderful team. We all have very different characteristics, so everyone brings a little something extra to the team and complements each other. We’re a little family.
I love that because we spend most of our time at work, so we need to create an environment we are happy in. I like doing little gestures that can brightens people’s day. For example, I used to bring cake in every week, just because!
How did you feel when you were first diagnosed?
It’s funny, because it’s been a few months and I still don’t fully realize I have cancer. I had my surgery in February and just finished going through chemo, but I don’t feel it. I don’t feel sick. When my doctor told me the news, my first question was “ok, what do we do now?” Right away, I knew that this was just another chapter in my life that I needed to get through. I haven’t let it get me down. I haven’t cried a single time yet.
Who did you turn to?
I didn’t have to turn to anyone, my family was there for me right away. I didn’t have to say or do anything because their support was automatic.
I also have amazing co-workers who reached out to me. They’ve been calling, texting and inviting me to company events throughout this whole process. It makes me feel good to know they are thinking about me and that I have such amazing friends. When I go back to the office for an event, it’s nice because I get to escape my reality and enjoy time with them.
They even made me a t-shirt that says, “cancer messed with the wrong fighter”!
Are you living your life differently now?
Before I used to worry about everything, even before something would happen. Now, I take care of myself and focus on the little things.
Yes, I got cancer, but there is also nothing I can do to change it, so I live day by day.
How are you enjoying the little things in life?
It might seem silly to some, but I just enjoy the simple things.
In honor of my father-in-law who passed away from cancer early this year, I decided to plant a garden. Every morning, I get up, take care of my plants, and it makes me feel good. Then I go for a walk by myself, I get lost in my thoughts and take the time to be alone.
I also spend more time with my kids. I realized that I used to just enjoy them in the evenings or during vacation but now I get to spend all day with them. If they want to go for a bike ride I’ll say, “ok, let’s go!”. I see how being home has made a positive impact on them. Kids need a lot of attention and that’s what I’m able to give them now.
How are you kids going through this period in your life?
They are aware that I have cancer and they understand what it is, but I don’t think they truly understand that there is chance I can die from it. Sometimes they see me get better, sometimes they see me get worse. Sometimes they ask questions and sometimes they don’t want to talk about it. It’s the usual ups and downs of everyday life.
The other day my little one came to see me and said “mommy, I wish cancer never existed!” I answered, “you know, we are on this planet, but we don’t know for how long. All we can do is enjoy it.” I’m trying to teach her to always adopt a positive mindset.
Where does your strength and resilience come from?
That’s a good question, I’m not sure.
I guess I was never raised in a household that was negative. When I was young, my parents struggled to make ends meet, but they never made us feel like we were struggling. Instead they helped us embrace a positive mindset and teach us that life has its negatives but also its positives, and we simply need to accept that.
I also think my strength comes from my husband. He is a saint. He has been supportive through all of this even though the last few months have been incredibly difficult for him. I got diagnosed with cancer, his father passed away, he lost his job and then his mother got a pacemaker. It hasn’t been easy for him, but he has been positive through it all.
We’re on the same page, we have the same mentality and we take it one day at a time. We know we’re not perfect people but we’re perfect for each other. At the end of the day, I am so well surrounded there is no reason for me not to have strength and resilience. I always go around telling others “give me good vibes” because that’s what I need right now, good vibes.
What advice would you give to someone who is going through the same thing?
When you get diagnosed, it’s important not to lose focus on the people surrounding you. There will always be someone that will say the right thing at the right time, so don’t get lost in the disease and focus on the people in your life.
Take it one day at the time, and if things get even tougher then take it one hour at a time. Avoid the big questions like “will I ever be able to survive this?” because those thoughts will harm you. Focus on the little things, take baby steps because that’s what’s going to keep you moving forward.