I’m sitting here pondering how to approach this subject. I’m so conflicted about everything, I can’t decide between wanting to pull my hair out or to just sit down and cry.
When I was little, I could never quite get my sister’s name out right, instead of “Linda”, she was “Nana”. Since then she’s been “Nana Banana”, “Banana Head”, my father’s favorite nickname for her, “Doodah”, “Minnie Two” (I have no idea where that came from, so don’t ask) and as of late, she and I have been calling each other “Turd”. It’s normal sibling stuff.
When it comes to Linda, I think she’s the most beautiful woman ever created. Blue-green eyes, perfectly shaped eyebrows, full lips, a quick sense of humor, lots of common sense, just an all-around beautiful person. She’s got a great sense of fashion and she’s given birth to the most prized person in my life, my nephew, Ryan.
Growing up, she was the innovator that came up with a technique I call “Ice cream hush money”. Every Friday, she’d pick me up from middle school and we’d have the afternoon together at Polar Bear Ashburn’s for Banana Splits, Turtles and all kinds of treats. So that made me owing to her, so if she was going to get into trouble and she needed me to cover up for her, it was my job to make sure I covered for her best I could. I sure did like those Fridays. I never told that she forgot to pick me up from my piano lesson, or that she left me sitting in front of the school for 2 hours when she was supposed to pick me up. For those rare moments when she messed up, I covered for her because she went out of her way to always take me along wherever she went. Whether it was taking me to work with her at the waterpark or out with her friends, the old saying, “Where you wanted one, you got two” always seemed to be the case. Amongst her friends, I was their little mascot.
When Linda was 18, she moved into an apartment with her best friend Lexie and they were thick as thieves. But, it also meant that at 14, I had no one. No one to go to Banana Splits with on Fridays, no one to check on me or steal the knobs out of the television set in my room to make sure I was doing my homework instead of watching television, playing with my Apple IIe computer or playing video games. I didn’t have many friends that were my age. All my friends were her friends and well, since they had all graduated high school and left for college, it meant that I was alone and had to fend for myself against school bullies and the like. As you can imagine, I felt pretty abandoned.
In 1986, she married my ex-brother-in-law and moved to Missouri. We didn’t see her much in those 20 years until two years ago when her marriage disintegrated and she came out to live in Vegas with the rest of us. After she got here, it wasn’t long until she had a job, was working 50+ hours a week and living in her own apartment. She grabbed hold of the future with both hands and made things happen for herself. She met her boyfriend Carl and they’ve been together ever since.
Two weeks ago, as I was heading into my Nevada School Law final I got a call from my sister to ask me for a favor. The favor was small, nothing huge, just something quick. When it comes to the people I love, if they ask for a favor, my immediate response is “Anything you’d like” and I leave it to them to tell me how I can help them. So her favor was small, just a need to put me down as contact information for something, and that was it. Easy peasy, nice and easy.
It wasn’t until after I got home from my final that I called my sister and talked to her some more that the bomb was dropped into my lap. “Sher,” she said calmly, “I have breast cancer.” As soon as she said those four words, tears starting streaming down my cheeks. You know, I wasn’t quite ready for that. My sister is the queen of healthy eating, she works out, she’s always been really active. Then boom. Breast Cancer. I didn’t get it. I still don’t. I don’t understand how this could have happened to her.
Let’s set the way back clock for the early ’80’s. We were competitive swimmers back then, and well, one afternoon at swim practice, doing relay drills, a boy dove into the pool directly on top of my sister. Her body went from being a straight line to being a U, and it’s not the proper way you’re thinking of either, he bent her body into a U in the wrong direction, the front part of her stomach became the bottom of the U and her feet and hands made up the top parts. Get the picture? If you didn’t cringe, there’s something wrong with you. Well, this is the point where her back problems started. She suffered for months with stinging sensations, limb numbness, the whole nine yards, so finally, after multiple doctors visits and so forth, my parents took her to a specialist and upon x-raying her back and doing CAT scans and the lot, they put her into the hospital. One evening after reviewing test results, the doctor comes in and tells my mother, right in front of me, that my sister had cancer. I was 10. My sister was my idol and I was faced with the possibility that my sister had cancer. That night at home, I wailed. Tears streaming down my cheeks telling my mother, “I don’t want Nan to lose her hair! I want my Nana!!” That’s all I could think of, the girl who I thought was the most beautiful woman in the world and had the most beautiful, perfectly styled hair was going to have it all fall out because of chemotherapy. I was freaked out and completely beside myself. My mother held me and said, “No, she doesn’t have cancer. Let’s just wait and see what happens, but you need to be strong for her, ok?” I nodded and tried to hold myself together.
My mother is probably the best Dr. Mom you will ever meet in your life. The next day, we went back to the hospital. While I was playing video games with my sister on my Atari 2600 that had been moved to her hospital room so my sister had something to do, my mother went to talk to the doctor. She looked at the doctor straight in the face and said, “I don’t think she has cancer, let me see her x-ray.” The doctor took my mother into a room and put the films up on the wall and turned on the light to illuminate the x-ray. In the middle of her back was a very large shadow, from what I recall, it was about four inches long. The doctor points at it and says, “That’s cancer.” My mother replies, “You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, that’s a blood clot.”
As the story my mother tells goes, the morning Linda was going into surgery, she looked at my mother and asked, “Do I have cancer?” My mother held her hand and said, “No baby, you don’t.” As my mother tells the story, she said that there was a cross on the wall next to my sister’s hospital bed. She looked up at it and thought, “Don’t you make a liar out of me.” The doctors came in shortly after, took my sister into the operating room, removed exactly what my mother said it was, a blood clot, and she was fine for years. The cancer scare was over. My Nana got to keep her hair and we returned to a normal life.
Until now. Now I’m not sure if God made a liar out of my mother or not. You could argue that the reference only pertained to that small, fragile 14-year-old laying in the hospital bed. Or you could argue that God welched on the deal, that when my sister asked “Do I have cancer”, His divine intervention and my mother’s answer of no would have held true until Linda reached old age.
All I know is that twice is far too many times in your life to be told that your sister has cancer. Especially when her approval and company is amongst the most prized things in your life. My sister has had a very profound influence on me. She was the one who taught me not to judge other people, to not spread rumors or talk behind people’s backs and all of the common sense stuff I harp on all the time. She was my idol for most of my adolescent life and into my early 20’s. She was the one who always had the nicest car to drive, the biggest house and all the trappings of success. She was the cat’s meow on so many fronts, it didn’t matter what I did, she was the king of the hill so to speak. It didn’t get much higher than her.
So now, I’m sitting here writing in my blog because at this very moment (6 am) she’s having her IV inserted before she goes in for her double mastectomy.
Growing up, my sister developed her breasts fairly early, I think it was around 13, but I could be wrong, but her chest filled up faster than a balloon on a helium tank. The kids used to call her “Dolly Parton” because her chest was not quite proportional to the rest of her body. The poor thing started wearing underwire at 14 or 15. That’s a lot for a young woman to hold up, but sufficed to say, her breasts have been a part of her identity for a long time.
All of the women in our family have large breasts. There is not a single member of the IBTC (Itty bitty tittie committee) in our family. It’s just the status quo. But, as a wonderful genetic gift from my mother’s side of the family, we also have fibrocystic lumps in our breasts as well. None of us has ever had problems with them. Ever.
What my sister has is called DCIS – Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. To quote Breastcancer.org, it says:
“Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer. Ductal means that the cancer starts inside the milk ducts, carcinoma refers to any cancer that begins in the skin or other tissues (including breast tissue) that cover or line the internal organs, and in situ means “in its original place.” DCIS is called “non-invasive” because it hasn’t spread beyond the milk duct into any normal surrounding breast tissue. DCIS isn’t life-threatening, but having DCIS can increase the risk of developing an invasive breast cancer later on.”
When Linda showed us her x-rays and mammogram films, all over her right breast is peppered with cancer cells that show up as light spots on the x-ray. They were everywhere. It was the most mortifying sight I’ve ever seen. It still didn’t make sense to me. I’m the smoker, I’m the one with the horrid eating habits that doesn’t go to the gym half as often as I should and she’s the one with breast cancer! I don’t get it!!
Part of me thinks that it’s very unfair. That it should have happened to me. If anything happens to me, I’m not that big of a loss. I’m just a career student who has no children, sits at the computer far too much and really has nothing to live for. Linda, on the other hand, is a force to be reckoned with, she has her son, her boyfriend, her best friend, all of the other people who depend on her. She’s a major loss if anything goes wrong. Why did it have to happen to her?
When I found out about her cancer, I called the ex. He’s the one who really showed me there was no God and that atheism isn’t a bad word. I railed at him. I asked him, when you’re as low as I am, abandoned, beat down, depressed and filled with the other fun filled drama that I have, who do you turn to? Where is the comfort? What the hell do you do when things get this far down the tubes? Who did he lean on? I wanted to know! He’s got his bitch that looks like a bassett hound and when things go to shit, he’s got her! Who do I have? No one. He had no answer for me. Given the man I’ve found him to be, I’m not surprised in the least. His attempt to comfort was useless.
Then I went to my usual source of friendship and camaraderie, my online worlds. I’ve got tons upon tons of friends online, but there is not a single one of them nearby to hold me while I cry. They’ve been holding me up while things have gone from bad to worse this year and with this latest round, they’ve shown their colors, being true friends to the last. I can’t say enough about my friends and guildmates in Klatoo Verata Niktoo in World of Warcraft, they’ve been my saving grace.
As for my Mom and Dad, we’re all seven ways from Sunday about the whole deal so that’s not really much to go off of either. My mom’s not exactly Miss Sensitivity or Miss Congeniality. Last night, while she was making my father’s birthday enchiladas, she broke down and cried, telling me how scared she was. My father is just hanging back and waiting to see what happens. I don’t even know how to talk about this with my family because we’ve got no common ground to work from. I’m a liberal atheist while my family are a bunch of conservative Christians. Ok, you can’t find a common ground on that one, no matter how hard you try. Even when I do express how I feel about things they are called “screwed up” or “we just don’t talk about those things”. What I want to know is what kind of God would allow this to happen to my sister? What kind of sadistic bonehead deity would give her a life filled with so much bullshit that she’s broken because of it??
This whole time, I’ve kept my distance from my family. For lots of reasons. I’m the one who has had to be strong for everyone else. I don’t want to crack in front of them because that’s not their job really to comfort me. I know we’re supposed to lean on each other, but that’s not how my family works really. I don’t trust them to comfort me when I need it. Usually when I’m upset, I get dismissed or laughed at or some other insensitive response. I can’t take that. I shouldn’t have to really, so I keep my distance, alone and really trying to make sure I keep up a strong front, leaving my weaker moments for time between me and the four walls of my apartment.
Since the news of the cancer has come down, my sister has gone from “don’t tell anyone” to “tell everyone”. The sad part, I found out later on, is that I was the last one to be told about her cancer. She had told all of her friends in Missouri, her boyfriend, her best friend, the ladies that work at the school my mom goes to, which by the way, when my sister informed my mother she had breast cancer, she told her “don’t tell anyone”, the next day, she’s sitting at school and someone who works at the school, basically a perfect stranger to our family, walks up and tells my mother how sorry she is Linda had breast cancer. The whole world knew and the only person who didn’t was me. I was the last to know. How am I supposed to feel about that? Was she trying to save my feelings or was it that she didn’t care for me to know until it was inevitable that I would find out anyways? What the hell is that? My mother found out only hours before I had. If that had been me, the only 3 people in the world that would have known I was sick would have been my mother, father and sister. Then I would have told everyone else when I was ready.
For the last 2 weeks we’ve been inundated by her Cancer Bag, her cancer ribbons, her cancer this, that and the other. X-rays, mammogram films and all of the other stuff so she could “educate” us on it. Pressure to get a mammogram was heaped on us, which I agree, self-exams and mammograms are good things, but to have it shoved down your throat? Not comfortable when you’re facing the fact that my sister has cancer and I really don’t know what to do. I feel helpless.
People rely on me to fix things. I’m the one who comes up with solutions when there are problems. But I don’t have a solution for this. I can’t lay on the table for my sister while a part of her identity is stripped from her body! I don’t understand how someone so beautiful could be hacked into pieces like this! I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what to say! Worse part of it is that I know my sister doesn’t believe in me enough to let me help take care of her when that’s all I want to do!
What do you do in moments like this? Do you cry, do you scream, do you look up at an imaginary deity and scream WHY?????? Knowing that there will be no answer, only silence as the surgeon’s knife slices into her body to remove the cancer.
I’m trying my best to remember the banana splits, the childhood moment she and I were in her new car and trying to get up a steep hill when she started up the hill in third gear, only to stall in the middle. I’m trying to figure out what I can do for her when her best friend is already in town as what I see as a clear sign that her flesh and blood family are too incompetent to take care of her.
I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m crying. I don’t know what to do. My sister has breast cancer, but it’s the most highly curable form. And at 9am the surgeons are going to cut up my big sister and I can’t do anything about it.