January 7th, Atlanta GA:
I got a flu shot today. Not because I like vaccines. For the most part, I have no use for them. But the flu is rampant right now. Nearly epidemic proportions. The shot is supposed to reduce the risk of infection by 60%, or so said the evening news. For someone I love, I’ll take those odds. I don’t even flinch when the needle hits.
January 24th, Baltimore MD:
My sister sits at the cancer center. She’s weak. She’s lost all her hair, her eyebrows. All food tastes like crap. She’s dropped 35 pounds. All movement is exhausting. Today is her last chemo treatment. Every treatment has been like a wrecking ball to her body. Hopefully, it’s been a bomb to the Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC breast cancer) inside her.
January 25th, Atlanta GA:
It’s OMG early. It’s freezing outside. And dark. My husband is taking me to the airport, and as we drive along I-85 southbound I regret not having a single pink item in my closet. I think about every week that has passed by since I saw my sister right after her mastectomy. Since then, I’ve called her nearly every day.
I worry about coming into contact with people who might have the flu and am glad I packed hand sanitizer in my purse. Again, I’m not sure how effective sanitizers are, but every little bit helps. Maybe I should have packed a four-leaf clover. Hubby gives me a kiss and a hug at the curb. With a last wave, he pulls away from the curb and heads back home. Once inside the terminal, I lug my suitcase and laptop toward security. Afterward, I head for the closest bathroom and wash my hands, careful not to touch anything on my way out. Then I head for the train that takes me from the terminal to the gate. Again, I wash my hands before finding my gate. Although it’s only an hour and forty-five minute flight, BWI seems like it’s a million miles away–just like it has been since September and I was last there.
January 25th, Baltimore MD:
The plane lands and I seek out another bathroom and wash my hands. People must think I’m some OCD germophobe, but I have the best reason in the world. My niece picks me up at the curb. When we arrive at the house, I wash up. Yes, again. Sis looks every bit as bad as I thought she would, and yet she looks good, too. It’s good to see each other in only a way sisters this close to each other understand. Gaunt and ravaged by this awful disease, she’s still my rock. She’s still my Sampson.
January 26th, Baltimore MD:
Today is my sister’s birthday. Today, the entire family has the best reason to celebrate, and we all have the best present ever.
We celebrate because it’s more than the day she was born. It’s because we’re grateful she’s still here.
Tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. Atlanta GA, Baltimore MD:
I’m a writer, and I’d love to give you a happy ending here. Truth is, this story can only unfold one day at a time, one step at a time. My sister still has a way to go down this road. Once she’s made it through this last dose of chemo, thirty-six straight days of radiation await her. Every step down this road and every day is filled with hope. We cling to it gracefully or like drowning rats. Sometimes, it’s a little of both. Either way, we refuse to give up. I dedicated DON’T FEAR THE REAPER, a story of love and death to my sister. It was fitting, as the story itself revolves around two sisters who can’t imagine being apart. I can’t imagine a day without my sister in it. Fortunately, she’s still here and I’m grateful for every day. As anyone who’s battled cancer, either one-on-one, or on the sidelines, hope becomes a four-letter word for courage. We need all the hope there is, for on this road there are monsters. There’s no silver bullet, no arrow to silence cancer. No shortcut through a sunny field of brightly colored wildflowers.
For everyone who thinks “it’s nothing” please schedule a doctor appointment and verify that’s the case. I know you are busy taking care of everyone else and everything else. But you can’t continue to do that if you don’t take care of yourself first.
And it’s not nothing. It’s everything.
Please don’t risk it. Be someone’s best next birthday present ever.
For every cancer survivor—whatever the kind—I’m so glad you are still with us. You are indeed a gift, and definitely the hero of your loved one’s story.