Together for 35 years, truly through sickness and in health, Cyteria Knight, 60, and Susan Miller, 58, have seen more than their share of challenges. Knight’s stroke early this year initiated a long journey toward recovery, and even more trials with mounting medical bills and ineffectual bureaucratic “aid” programs.
In spite of it all, this couple’s love and support for one another uplifts them without fail. They have also found that their lifetimes of kindness to others and careers in social work inspired their community to aid them in their time of crisis.
“I do not know how other people manage without the help we have been so blessed to receive,” Miller told qnotes.
Readers first met Knight and Miller shortly after they moved to the Carolinas Rehabilitation Center, following a month in the ICU and a transfer to the neurology ward (see “Lesbian couple rallies after serious illness,” goqnotes.com/50051). Now, the couple have a small apartment close to the hospital, where Miller’s father paid a year’s rent — a huge surprise to the couple.
“My father likes Cyteria but doesn’t want to like her, because she has the nerve to be African-American and my life partner,” Miller explained in an earlier interview. “He’s incredibly conservative…you just can’t make sense of it. It’s wonderful.”
“Thankfully that is taken care of for now,” Knight said. “I am so amazed that we have received so much help from family, friends, and even people we don’t know, and I am so grateful!”
Though one major bill was paid, financial struggles have not ceased. The couple had nothing to put in their new home, and slept on a leaking airbed for quite a while. Then, friendly supporters donated a queen bed, furniture and even a new desktop computer.
Despite these incredible shows of support from an entire community, there is a long road ahead. Nevertheless, Miller and Knight are optimistic and remain happy, together, handling each hurdle as it comes.
“Our faith in God, the power of positive thinking” are the keys, Miller said, adding, “the support of loving family and friends (some of whom we have not seen for nearly 15 years!) the Carolinas Medical ‘family’ and our dear little service dog, Halo.”
Halo has become a major source of comfort and safety for the couple. On top of providing emotional aid, service dogs are highly trained to perform tasks for those with disabilities. Some dogs can even warn their humans of impending seizures. For Knight, merely walking Halo is one more motivation to be physically active and recover her strength.
Knight struggles with some remaining effects of her stroke: peripheral vision impairment, balance, fatigue and memory loss. Another aneurysm lurks in her brain, which doctors want to address with further surgery. Miller and Knight are anxious to respond to this threat, but financial concerns have stalled their plan.
“Susan and I cannot work now so we have no income,” Knight explained. “My medical bills are mounting and I have to have another surgery. We cannot pay for follow-up medical appointments. We cannot pay for my eye exam and glasses as prescribed.”
The issue is exacerbated by the foot-dragging timelines of the government programs meant to help people in these situations. Knight’s Medicaid and Social Security benefits have been excruciatingly slow in coming.
“I am fearful and frustrated,” Miller admitted. “We worked within the system as child protective services social workers. We try to be patient and understanding…We have been told that her Medicaid and Social Security are contingent upon each other and the process can take up to seven months.”
Though their daughter, Raquanza, had paid out of pocket for some prescription medications, Knight and Miller have no way to address their ever-increasing medical debts without the help of Medicaid. They cannot even afford to get the eyeglasses that Knight needs after the stroke damaged her sight.
Miller set up a GoFundMe page, which has raised a little more than a fourth of their goal. She also chronicles her partner’s recovery on their CaringBridge site, writing updates as the situation progresses.
“We are learning so much and really value the support,” she wrote in a June 1 update. “[Cyteria] has split vision in both eyes which results in her seeing only half of everything… She is managing to walk with a cane although she tires easily. We walk the Little Sugar Creek Greenway and really appreciate the benches along the way.”
Aside from any financial support, Knight and Miller say that there are equally important ways for supporters to show that they care.
“Please send encouraging cards to Cyteria Knight, 1030 Edgehill Rd. S., Apt. 111, Charlotte, NC 28207. She would love to get mail besides medical bills!” Miller said. And to thank an invaluable supporter, the couple hopes “for someone to plant a garden for our dear friend, Samis Rose.”
Personal friends and supportive individuals have played a large part, as have professionals from the Carolinas Medical community. Several staffers there reached out to the couple, inviting them to a traumatic brain injury support group and even encouraging them to found their own focused on aneurysm recovery.
“We have been inspired by Dr. Jacobs, chief trauma surgeon who is a ‘thriver’ himself,” Miller said. “We are participating in a Gratitude Research Study as well as a storytelling documentary for CaringBridge. We are learning to take things one day at a time and ask for and receive help.”
All the couple’s supporters are invited to a Nov. 4 celebration that they’ve entitled “Cyteria’s Rocking Recovery Rumpus!” Their gratitude for their community is matched only by how grateful Knight and Miller are for each other.
“A room doesn’t seem complete without Susan’s presence there,” Knight told qnotes in March. Now, she’s as certain as ever that they can thrive through anything together:
“These challenges have strengthened our relationship.”