Today, my sister is cancer-free.
It has been a bittersweet adventure that none of us expected to be on this year. God has used this time to refine my faith and my character.
“Watch this: God’s eye is on those who respect him, the ones who are looking for his love. He’s ready to come to their rescue in bad times; in lean times he keeps body and soul together. We’re depending on God; he’s everything we need. What’s more, our hearts brim with joy since we’ve taken for our own his holy name. Love us, God, with all you’ve got— that’s what we’re depending on” — Psalm 33:18-22
I will share a small piece of her journey here — and my own, too.
Finding Out (written in June):
I don’t think I have the right to feel these emotions, to let them wash over my soul and down my face. “I’m not the one with cancer,” I think, “It isn’t my daughter,” I reason, “I have to be the stable one,” I tell myself. “She’s not even sick yet.” And, every time that last word leaves a knot in my stomach and an ache in my heart. For some reason, I keep comparing this to a car accident, maybe even wishing for that tragedy instead–wishing we knew the injuries, the cause, the outcome, wishing we were allowed to grieve normally.
I think the thing that makes me most jealous of car accident tragedies (my goodness, what am I writing?!) is that I would know what to do. I know how to show up at a hospital, I know how to help feed you, watch TV with you, go on walks with you through the monotonous halls. I know how to make you laugh and feel normal, even for just a moment. I know how to communicate details, organize schedules, delegate tasks. I know how to make your space feel clean and homey. I know how to shower you and take you to the bathroom. I know how to do.
What I don’t know: how to wait as dread marinates my insides, feeling like a different (sadder and older) person, while everything appears normal on the outsides still.
Sometimes when I am with Anna, I swear I can hear the cancer eating her insides, swear I can feel its presence in the the room, an unwelcome and uncomfortable guest. I want to open her chest and rip it out and yell at it stomping and screaming, “HOW DARE YOU? NOT HER.” But instead, I sit and listen to it humming inside of her. And it makes total sense to me when my mom says that her insides feel made up of “honey and broken glass and giant tears.”
I am hopeful. I am optimistic. Strong. Cheerful. Determined. Dependable.
And scared out of my ever-loving mind.
Helpless. Lonely. Not enough. Weak. Disheartened. And mostly, annoyed.
Annoyed that I cling to treatment details and doctor’s reports like a life raft when Coast Guard GOD hovers above in a rescue helicopter.
Annoyed that I don’t know what I believe about divine healing vs. medical treatment vs. natural remedies.
Annoyed that they pour poison into my baby sister’s veins every Tuesday.
Annoyed that everyone else’s life didn’t stop when ours did.
The Haircut (written in July):
I don’t know how you prepare for something like this. I don’t know if you can.
My little sister is coming over tonight so I can help her shave her head. She will look stunning. Breathtaking. Devastating.
Her curls were in my dreams last night: falling to the ground.
I want to make tonight fun, memorable, lighthearted. I plan to bring home some pizza, lemonade, fake lashes, big earrings. I plan to turn up the music and turn down the roar in my soul.
I think of being in her car, five Fridays ago, the words “I have cancer”, the tears, the smiles, the laughs even. The Caribou Coffee run and how every pink ribbon suddenly jumped out from all over the cafe, sticking their fuschia blades into our raw wounds. I remember the words, “I’ll have a hard time when I have to shave my head.” Who knew how quickly and unwelcome that moment would approach.
It’s not just about the vanity of it, really — it’s about something that marks you as woman being stolen from you, it’s about helplessness, it’s about standing out now, like all people can see when they look at you is the cancer, that you are no longer you–but rather you are bald, naked, vulnerable.
I know that Anna can rock an edgy and chic look like this without people assuming chemo patient, but we still know it, a shaved head gives us all a hefty shove out of the denial zone…into what? Anger? Acceptance? Sadness? I’m not sure.
There’s a sick in my stomach I can’t shake. While I am honored that she wants to share this moment with me, I wish I could somehow avoid it. Not that I wouldn’t be a part, but that it wouldn’t have to be happening, that it wouldn’t be real. That I wouldn’t have to spend my Tuesday night letting the reality of my sister’s sickness drop in thick, black curls onto the bathroom floor.
I struggle knowing if it is better to laugh with her, or to cry. To hug her and tell her I’m sorry or to talk about the things we did before, to ignore Cancer’s obvious presence in the room: staring, gloating, smirking. I struggle wanting to be solid, calm, steady and wanting to cry, wail, yell–not her! not now! go away!
I suppose I will find out. Tonight. When I shave my baby sister’s head while imagining the day it comes back in — thick, black, luscious and full of vitality and life. Because that is all you can do at this point: imagine the day.
The Treatment (written in August):
There are certain places I never imagined myself being and Mayo 10 East is one of those places, especially with my little sis. The chemotherapy unit is nice enough–warmed blankets, reclining chairs, snack and beverage bar, city view. But, also: beeping, flourescents, machines, bald heads, needles, bags, bandanna heads, scarf heads, buzzed heads and baby sister’s head. Sleeping while they pour the healing poison into her young veins.
We laughed most of the morning, mostly ignoring where we were, why we were there. And for now, that’s okay. We are all craving normal.
It is strange to be here, a few floors from where I have my midwife appointments, a few blocks from where I met my daughter, from where I will soon meet my son, here where so many happy things take place. It is strange to swallow the bitter with the sweet and to accept the balanced flavor of a difficult yet wonderful life,
(in pictures, because that day: I had no words.)
But let me just say — your words and your prayers provided an incredible peace (and JOY even) that day. Thank you, thank you, thank you.