Losing a sibling to cancer is one of the toughest challenges a person can face. This is her story.
My sister was always my hero. She was extremely intelligent, talented and beautiful. Standing a full six inches taller than me, I looked up to her in every sense of the phrase.
Our parents split up when I was six and she was nine. From then on, it was the three of us against the world - my mom, my sister and me. Some of my best memories are of the three of us spending time together, talking on my mom's bed. Nothing could stop us!
Most older sisters don't like their little sisters tagging along, but she never seemed to mind. I spent so much time with her and her friends that they all started calling me their little sister! By the time she was a senior in high school (I was a freshman), we were really close. People never believed us when we'd tell them that we were sisters - we always got along so well!
We stayed as close as we could over the years even as life brought us in different directions. She got a degree and began her teaching career. I got married, busily helping to raise two step-sons.
After she was married, we found ourselves on common ground again. Infertility isn't fun for anyone - now we were both dealing with it. Eventually, I adopted a little girl, and my sweet sister was her doting aunt. She came out to see her toddler niece in the summer of 2006.
I remember that she had a cold when she visited.
She'd been sick a lot over the previous months.
Turns out they weren't colds.
A few days before Christmas in 2006, she and I were on the phone. She mentioned that she'd been having a hard time breathing. She told me that she "was so winded that she'd would have to stop and catch her breath halfway up her stairs."
The next day, she and her husband planned to board a plane to spend Christmas with his parents. Instead of the airport, her husband insisted upon taking her to the hospital.
She was diagnosed with pneumonia... but the x-rays showed something in her lung. Scary, but family members consulted the Internet and found a type of pneumonia that included a mass in the lungs. A biopsy of the lung mass was ordered, but the lab was closed for Christmas. Since she didn't have any family history of cancer, the doctors weren't worried.
Christmas in the hospital is not fun, but she made the most of it.
I will never forget December 28, 2006.
The lab results were in.
Mom and I cried as she told me my sister had cancer.
She was 33.
Because it was such a rare cancer and she was such an unusual case, she became a guinea pig. The doctors tried many different types of experimental drugs.
She took medications to treat the cancer, then medications to control the side effects of her cancer medications, and more medications to treat THOSE side effects. Then, of course, there was chemo.
She took a medical leave from teaching the semester after her diagnosis. Being away from her students was so hard on her. Since she wasn't able to have children of her own, her students were everything to her. She did her best to stay busy, but she was so bored; she couldn't do it much longer.
The next fall, she went back to work, using a wig and scarves to cover her bald head. But the wig was hot and the scarves were a hassle, so she decided she'd be herself with her students.
She bravely walked into that classroom and talked to her students about what she was going through. They loved her for it. Many of those kids felt they could go to her with their personal problems as she'd been so open with them. Her fellow teachers watched out for her and were quick to send her home on the days she was too sick.
The roller coaster was constant.
Sometimes she felt great. Sometimes she felt horrible. Her cat had to be banned when she'd had her chemo treatments because he was getting sick from the chemicals coming out of her pores. Eventually, the cancer spread to her bones.
After the first year passed, things started looking up. The tumor in her lung was shrinking! She flew to the treatment center in Houston, Texas to meet with the specialist there.
She was told her cancer was incurable but manageable. The medications she was using were working and she could stay on them for years.
For the first time since her cancer diagnosis, a doctor - A SPECIALIST - was saying YEARS! We breathed a collective sigh of relief.
A month later, she developed a strange rash.
We didn't know then that the rash, it was the third type of cancer in her body.
Friday, May 23rd, 2008.
She was at work, but was very pale, struggling for air. The other teachers insisted that she go home. She had a doctor's appointment already scheduled that day, and during the appointment she was admitted to the hospital.
I called every day to check on her.
Tuesday, May 27th, my phone rang.
My brother-in-law said I needed to get on a plane and fly out immediately. Many frantic phone calls later, I had a plane ticket and was on my way to the airport. My biggest fear was that something would happen while I was in the air and had my phone turned off. I prayed all day long that she'd wait until I got there.
I finally made it to the airport in the early afternoon. I sat by her side, holding her hand. The doctors had put her in a drug-induced coma so she would feel no pain. There was nothing else to be done.
Just hours after I arrived, her doctor and her husband made the decision to let her go. I held her hand while she took her last breath in this world.
She was only 35 years old.
Through it all, she fought; she was a warrior!
She refused to let cancer stop her from living her life. I eventually learned that she had specifically requested not to be told what her "timeline" was; the "you have ___ time to live." She didn't want to be held back by that.
Turns out, the doctors had originally gave her six months to live. But my warrior sister, she pushed herself and fought her way to 18 months! Even at the very end, she was still fighting.
She's been gone more than four years, and I still look up to her. She's passed the Ultimate Test - the challenge to be a good person. She blessed the lives of her family, her friends, and her students. She no longer has worries of the world, the daily struggles we all deal with. She is no longer in pain.
Now she sings with the angels as she watches over our family. She reminds me to be a good person so someday, someday I can be with her again.
Addiction surrounds us. Food addiction. Pornography addiction. Substance abuse. Alcoholism. Workaholics. Compulsive hoarders. Sex addiction. Human beings are primed for addiction. And this month, in an effort to take down stigmas, to collect more stories, to help us feel less alone in our addictions, we are thrusting the spotlight squarely upon addiction.
We want your stories - are you an addict? Have you been an addict? Are you the adult child of addicts?
Please join us during our Spotlight On: Addiction Carnival on March 18th and share YOUR story as we tear down the stigmas of addiction.
My mother used to say to me, “There’s no worse smoker than an ex-smoker.”
And really, she was right. There is nothing worse, as a smoker, than an ex-smoker sauntering around saying things like, “If I can do it, anyone can do it!” or “I used to smoke 5 packs a day, and look at me now: I run 10 kilometers a day!” Or some other such ‘meant to be inspirational, but just sounds like gloating bullshit’ bullshit.
Because the truth is (well, at least for me) being addicted to nicotine and trying to quit has been one of the most hard things I've done.
It seems fairly common for people (parents, grandparents, aunt, uncles) to have the attitude, "It’s only smoking; thank God it’s not drugs." How can people still think this?
Smoking is dangerous. It kills you. Cigarettes, and the people who smoke them, are apparently one of the biggest drains on our health system (here in Australia, and I assume most everywhere).
I’ve been a smoker for the better part of 17 years (started at 15), and my mother died from lung cancer about 18 months ago. She was only 52 years old. She also started smoking at 15, and despite trying to quit for most of her life, only managed to do so once she was diagnosed with lung cancer. To be honest, she really only stopped because she felt so ill that she couldn’t physically sit up or move around to get outside to smoke.
I watched the person I love more than anything crumble and fall when she was first diagnosed with cancer. She said things like, “I can’t believe I have been so stupid.” Or, “Why didn’t I just stop?”
Then I watched her go through chemo, lose her hair, and feel constantly sick. We thought she was making a good recovery: x-rays showed no sign of the cancer in her lungs, so she went into hospital to have a huge ovarian cyst removed.
She had lost so much weight. The cyst was so large, you could see it sticking out of her stomach - a big lump. Unfortunately, she never recovered from this surgery. She went home, and became sicker and sicker. She ended up back in hospital where they eventually discovered the cancer had moved to her brain. They described it as a layer of butter spread over her brain, which is why it took so long to identify it. There was nothing to be done. The doctor said she had weeks.
She wanted to go home and be in her own bed in her own house. Getting her from her hospital room into the car and then from the car into the house was an ordeal. The cancer was pushing against her brain, the left side of her face didn’t work, she could hardly talk, she had no balance, and couldn’t walk; I practically carried her all the way in. She hadn’t eaten or drank anything substantial in weeks. She was really, really sick.
Once she was inside the house and in bed, that’s where she stayed. She didn’t want to move. She got confused about time, about people, about herself. It was distressing to say the least.
My younger sister was already living with her, so she and I stayed with her for the next 5 days. The palliative community care nurses were so wonderful - they put a line in and left us with enough drugs to keep her comfortable. We knew that if we had any questions, they were only a phone call away.
One of the nights was particularly hard; my sister hadn't slept in days, so I offered to would look after Mum that night. She kept trying to get out of bed. It seemed she'd forgotten that she couldn’t stand; she was talking, but because the left side of her face didn’t work, I couldn’t understand what she was saying. I kept pumping her with drugs every couple of hours to try and keep her calm. I gave her the last one at about six in the morning.
That was the last time she ever tried to communicate.
I am really lucky that I have an aunty (mum's sister) who's a nurse. She came and stayed the next two nights which took some of the pressure off me. I don’t know what I'd have done if she wasn’t around.
In fact, all of my mother's family was in and out - we all sat around and watched her body shut down. Her brother and sister-in-law had to travel a fair way to be with us; as he arrived, her breathing began to change. It seemed she'd waited for all of her family to be in the room, before stopped breathing. The "weeks" that her doctor had given her to live ended up being five days.
Then there was the funeral.
I went through all this, seeing the person I love suffer and die, all caused by evil cigarettes, and STILL I am struggling to quit. (4 and half weeks quit at attempt number 3 gazillion as of today.)
I can understand now why ex-smokers walk around with that ‘if I can do it, you can do it, too’ gloating look on their faces: I’m pretty sure it’s the only way you can stay quit. To feel like you are better than the average smoker. Or something.
Smoking is as much of an addiction as any other drug, and I think it should be treated as such.
My mother died on Saturday.
Her death has triggered what is likely to be a full-blown family war...and I am going to win.
I'm sorry my mother is dead... sort of. She had beaten lung cancer ten years ago, and just last year, she beat throat cancer. You would think that someone like that is just friggin' hard to kill, and you'd be right... but the ability to fight disease won't keep you from a serious brain injury. I am glad that she is no longer suffering such terrible pain.
My brother and sister are angry with me for not visiting my mother in her last days. They see my absence as some sort of betrayal. Of course, it isn't anything of the sort... it is just who I am and how I am wired.
You see, I want to remember my mother as she was before she was deathly ill. I saw her last year, right about this time, while she was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation and it took me a long time to recognize that the person that I was looking at was actually my mother. I didn't want to have that happen again, especially with tubes draining blood and other fluids from her brain.
I guess that makes me shallow. No, wait... it isn't shallow at all. According to my loser, mama's boy brother, it makes me "pathetic". Yeah, that is what he said to me the last time I spoke to him, several days before mom died. I haven't been in touch with him since, and I am not likely to be for the rest of my life (at least, if I can help it).
So, then my stupid sister called me last night to tell me about the grandiose notions that she had for my mother's funeral, and how much of it she wanted me to pay for. Well, I can tell you that after I got up off of the floor, I had to explain to my idiot sister the minister, that mom couldn't have all of those things based upon the value of her life insurance policy. My sister basically decided to do whatever she wanted to do, even though what she wants is contrary to my mother's wishes.
It gets worse, but I don't have the energy to write about it right now.
I need to take a nap, because I will need the rest for when that fighting stars...it promises to be a brutal battle...but then, those are the only ones I know how fight.