Erin Weidemann was stowed away in her parents’ bedroom. She had run of the master suite, including their cozy king-size bed, for three straight days. But Weidemann, certainly not of her own volition, spent the better part of the time hugging the toilet as she sucked on Sour Patch Kids.
“Those three days were hands down the worst days of my life,” she said. “I have never been in so much physical pain.”
Far from a special retreat, Weidemann, then just 26, was recovering from a brutal treatment for newly diagnosed “aggressive variant” thyroid cancer. After a nine-hour operation to remove the cancer, doctors injected her with radioactive iodine, which, similar to a heat-seeking missile, seeks out cancerous cells, destroying them.
Because of the dangerous contamination, Weidemann had to be isolated from people for 72 hours, so after her injection, she rode home in the back end of a Suburban, covered by a blanket in an effort to protect her mom from radiation as she drove.
“When we got home, I had to sit on the curb outside so she could get the room ready,” Weidemann, now 33, said. “This meant wrapping anything and everything that I might touch in the room with Saran Wrap because if my skin came into contact with anything, the radiation would stay on it for 60 days.”
A cooler of food prepared in advance remained untouched, though she followed doctor’s orders to eat the sour candies as way to flush the radioactive material out of her salivary glands.
“Being stuck in that room was very difficult because the radiation basically affects you the way chemo does—a lot of dizziness and vomiting,” the Encinitas resident said. “I spent the good part of the first 48 hours lying on the shower floor crying because I was so sick and could not stand.”
In the fleeting moments she was physically up to it, she would talk to family and friends.
“I was lying there, super helpless,” Weidemann, a former college athlete, said. “No one was in there with me and I just felt so isolated and so by myself that I just prayed. It wasn’t like it was just a few hours and it was over. I really had a long time in there without, you know, a hug from my mom.
“It was just a dark, scary place to be in there by yourself. I just cried. I was miserable. I finally realized I’m not in here by myself. God is in here with me. At the end of three days I got to come out. I got to hug my family and I was surrounded by all of these amazing, supporting people. When you hit your breaking point, talk to Him. All He wants you to do is talk to Him and let Him in and let Him know that you know He is there.”
In the years since, she’s done plenty of talking to God after doctors quickly discovered that Weidemann’s cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in both sides of her neck, up her brain stem and into the chest cavity.
“It was everywhere,” she said.
After her initial treatment in 2007, the cancer returned every year through 2011. Her last biopsy in May was negative, the third straight good report.
“Because of the metastasis to the lymph nodes, they expect the disease will spread to other areas of the body eventually,” she said. “There is no way to know if or when this will happen. I don’t really think about it, to be honest. It’s not worth worrying about.”
Still, Weidemann admits that, early on, fear was a frequent companion.
“I was afraid and sad that I would die,’ she confessed. “I would read the op report over and over and the doctor just said how much disease he had removed from my body. He was blown away that I was even alive. He referred to me as an ‘extremely diseased young woman.’
“I was terrified that my life was over and I wouldn’t be able to get out and do some of the things I thought I would have a chance to do. I thought, ‘Well, no one will want to marry someone who might die soon,’ and ‘There goes my chance to have a family.’ I just put those ideas out of my mind as a way to come to terms with the fact—or at least what I thought was fact—that life was over and I would never have those things.”
That was before she met Brent Weidemann at an alumni event for Penn State, where she earned her journalism degree. The two had never met on campus, where he earned a degree in marketing. Despite her reluctance, her future husband diligently pursued her.
“A few years ago, especially when my diagnosis was so fresh, I was so closed off to even meeting someone to date,” she said. “I didn’t really date (not) knowing if there was going to be a future because I honestly didn’t know if there would be.
“He swore up and down, ‘I’ve got big plans for us and I know you don’t think you have a future in life and you never thought you would get married.’ He just kept saying ‘I have different plans. I have different plans.’ Now I know that was God because we are so blessed in our marriage.”
They married three years ago and their first child, daughter Rooney, arrived in March.
“Even now as a mom, I so enjoy my time with her that I don’t really think about not being around,” Weidemann said. “I know whatever impacts I’m going to have on her life are impacts that God wants me to have. So if I’m around for many years or not many years or if she’s taken whenever she’s taken, she’s a gift and we’re her parents. It’s whatever God wants it to be.”
She’s also discovered that being independent is not necessarily a virtue, even as she was forced to give up her mortgage finance job and move back home during her initial treatments.
“I’m a tough person and I always operated under the assumption that I’m tough,” she said. “’I can do it by myself, I’m very independent and I really don’t need anybody’s help.’ But it’s just not true. That experience really humbled me. It was a breaking point for me. It was hard and God was there for me.”
— by Lori Arnold
In her own words
First-time mom Erin Weidemann shares lessons she learned through her cancer journey.
Needing others: I am not supposed to carry the weight and stress of being sick all by myself. I am a strong person and, before this happened, I would have just put my head down and tried to get through it on my own. It’s good to be independent in certain situations, but not when you are supposed to rely on the Lord and lean into Him. For such a long time, I thought I could do everything on my own and that I didn’t need anyone’s help. I think as women, we are taught that being dependent on someone is weak. That is not the way that God wants us to approach the trials He puts in front of us. He wants us to let go and put our faith in Him.
Unexpected blessing: Cancer can be one of the biggest blessings in a person’s life. When I look back on it, I am wholeheartedly grateful that the Lord saw me through and continues to see me through this very challenging experience. It allowed me to completely re-evaluate absolutely everything in my life. I went back to school to become a teacher so that I can use the gifts and talents God gave me to impact kids. I met my husband and God softened my heart toward him and allowed us to build a faith-based relationship and marriage.
Fret not: There is no point in worrying. Worrying makes absolutely no sense. God already knows exactly what is going to happen, and He has everything under control. There were fleeting moments during my pregnancy when I wondered if my body was going to somehow cause our baby to be sick or to have complications. The truth is that God knitted inside me the exact baby He wanted us to have.