Derry woman shares caregiver story for national campaign

 COURTESY PHOTOKristi Mason of Derry is part of a new patient awareness campaign featuring a series of heartfelt letters written by caregivers and cancer survivors to their newly-diagnosed selves and other caregivers. Mason was caretaker of her husband, a survivor of head and neck cancer.

DERRY — Kristi Mason knew she would care for her loved one when help was needed most.

When her husband Andy was diagnosed with head and neck cancer, she jumped into action to be his supporter, caregiver and best advocate possible.

Mason is part of a national patient awareness campaign, "With Love, Me," presented by Merck's "Your Cancer Game Plan," featuring a series of heartfelt letters written by caregivers and cancer survivors to their newly-diagnosed selves and other caregivers, and touching upon what they wished they had known when they were first diagnosed or providing care.

Mason's husband was diagnosed in spring of 2016.

"He had noticed a spot on his tongue," she said. "He kept looking at it."

A visit to an ear, nose and throat specialist provided the news no one wants to hear — it was cancer. This one, the doctor said, had a probable high cure rate.

That was good news, Mason said, but soon the surgery and eventual chemotherapy schedule started. It was a very aggressive treatment, six rounds of chemotherapy and 30 radiation treatments.

Mason watched her husband lose about 85 pounds due to the treatments' side effects and also had two daughters to care for. 

She reminded herself to look for moments of laughter, to find ways to bring joy to the family during the tough times and realize at the end of the tunnel there would be new purpose in life and reasons to keep moving forward.

"The only thing we could focus on was getting cancer kicked out our lives," Mason said.  

After cancer diagnosis and treatment, Mason said she wanted to do something, to find a way to support others going through similar experiences and advocate for information about her husband's cancer, prevention, early detection and awareness. 

Mason searched for ways to become a patient ambassador of sorts, and became aware of the "With Love, Me" awareness campaign.

"I was looking for families like myself, I wanted to show people there is a positive side," she said.

As part of "With Love, Me," Mason was asked to write a letter to herself, to talk about her husband, her family and how she took care of things and her loved ones as cancer took hold.

"It's a very inspirational campaign," she added. 

Drawing on her experiences and those of her family, Mason's letter became a tribute to her husband's strength, but also a look into the times he couldn't hold his head up, or how treatment was ravaging his body and soul.

With cancer now in remission, Mason said the family keeps a lot of laughter at hand as they remember what they went through.

As a caregiver, Mason said she learned a lot about herself.

"And we talked about it and said we can get through this, there is an extreme bright light at the end of the tunnel," she said. "Let's roll up our sleeves and go and that's what we did. There are stresses at every different phase. There are times he was so sick, but when treatment ends, recovery is just as hard."

Mason said anyone taking on the caregiver role finds a learning curve in the process. It's not easy, she said, but she now hopes to help others find their way.

"I had to reach out, everyone was happy to help when we needed it," she said. "That was the biggest learning curve. It's OK to ask for help."

A gallery of patient and caregiver letters, including Mason's, appear on withloveme.com. The site also offers additional resources and information for those impacted by cancer and those in caregiver roles.

Mason can also be seen reading her letter to herself at yourcancergameplan.com/people-living-with-cancer/with-love-me/kristi.