Lesbian couple rallies after serious illness

‘Miraculous’ recovery greeted with grace and humility

It’s a rare relationship that can last for 35 years, let alone remain strong and supportive through the trials of health crises. That’s just what Susan Miller, 58, and Cyteria Knight, 60, have: a love that flourishes no matter what fate flings their way. On Jan. 17, Knight suffered a serious stroke and was hospitalized for almost two months — with Miller never leaving her side.

This isn’t the first time that the couple had to confront illness. Miller was diagnosed with bone cancer years before, and Knight was as loyal and tender through the ordeal as Miller is with her now.

“Cyteria’s taken care of me on at least two significant occasions,” Miller said. “There’s been a lot of give and take through that kind of stuff.”

This decades-long love story began in 1982, when Knight and Miller met while working at a children’s center. Knight was a counselor and Miller a clinical secretary. They have moved together through careers dedicated to social work ever since.

“Pretty much since we’ve been together, we’ve been a package deal,” Miller smiled.

While both were working for the department of social services, a unique opportunity to expand their family arrived.

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“Susan’s coworker had a little girl on her case load and just thought, ‘I think this would be a great match,’” Knight explained.

“I was her family social worker,” Miller said. “We found out years later that I had worked with her mother when she was a little girl and had no idea that years later I would end up adopting her daughter.”

It was at the home of their now-adult daughter, Raquanza Miller, and her boyfriend, where Knight felt the initial onset of her illness.

“It started because she described having the worst headache she ever had,” Miller said. “She passed out. I went next door and got a neighbor who helped us get in touch with medic.”

They ended up at Carolina’s Medical Center in Pineville, and Knight regained consciousness and began to talk. However, a turn for the worse came shortly after Knight underwent a CT scan.

“She came back and one eye rolled way back in her head, and her tongue got stuck on her lip, and then they rushed her [out],” Miller described with a shudder.

Cyteria, whose clear voice and keen intelligence are blessings after an ordeal like that, has little recollection of the early days of her illness. For two days after the crisis, Knight was in a medically-induced coma.

“I don’t recall falling ill. All I remember is waking up in various places,” Knight said. “I don’t know what happened other than to tell you that folks have suggested that I was just flat as a pancake. Just staring, not able to talk, speak well, or anything.”

After the stroke, the road to recovery was long and full of struggle. Cyteria was transferred to Carolina’s Medical Center on Blythe Blvd. in Charlotte, where she stayed a month in the ICU.

“Those people became like extended family,” Miller said. “It was very secure, they watch you 24 hours a day, and I was nervous about what the next step would be.”

But the next step was smooth and even pleasant when Knight moved to a picturesque room in the 9th-floor neurology ward. Her recovery webpage at Caringbridge.com describes the room as “much brighter…enjoying a skyview and twinkling city lights at night.”

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“We suspect that my orthopedic oncologist had something to do with us getting the most amazing room there,” Miller told qnotes. “He has a lot of clout, and he was aware of what happened. He had come to visit her in ICU.”

Upon the final transfer to Carolina’s Rehabilitation Center, the couple felt overwhelmed with gratitude. They have nothing but praise for the staff of Carolina’s Medical Centers, and say that their unconventional family was treated with respect and kindness.

“The way we’ve been treated here, I wanted a light to be shining on these wonderful people here who have been so accepting of who we are,” Miller said. “Everyone has been so gracious and so accepting. I’m sure from a professional standpoint there are folks here who don’t accept who we are and our lifestyle, but they’ve been incredibly professional about it, and it’s not been an issue at all.”

“There are a lot of stand-outs,” said Knight of the medical team. “All these people come from different age brackets and different lifestyles, and they come together as a team. They seem to respect each other’s work, and certainly care about the patients. You can tell if people like their job and are in it for the right reasons, and these people are.”

Despite the outstanding medical care, Knight’s and Miller’s struggle wasn’t limited to Knight’s physical health. The couple found themselves facing a dire predicament about where to go after release; their only obvious option was to move in with their daughter and her boyfriend, a less than ideal possibility because of the delicate nature of Knight’s health. Then, an unexpected blessing:

“I talked to my dad last night, and he’s paying an entire year’s worth of rent for us,” said Miller. “It’s more of the miracle.”

“This from a guy who really doesn’t even acknowledge the family, but he’s doing that nonetheless,” said Knight. “He can’t be demonstrative in the typical way, but he does it his way.”

With an apartment very close to the medical center where they were treated so well, Knight and Miller left the hospital on March 15, hopefully for good. Some symptoms remain — blurry vision, shaky hands and a problem with balance — but the couple are tremendously grateful to be right where they are.

“This peace came over me, it was very strange. I attribute it to God,” Miller said. “No matter what happens, things are going to be okay.”

“I’m looking at this experience as—one I don’t want to repeat, thank you Lord—as a way of getting me outside of myself and paying more attention to the world around me,” Knight said. “My appreciation for the little things that Susan does, says, her mere presence in a room, I have a deeper appreciation for that now…A room doesn’t seem complete without Susan’s presence there.”

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