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!
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.7 Comments