I have been so busy lately that I haven’t blogged or even really kept up with my FB page. My mind has been consumed with so many emotions over the past months. My sister who I have written about before has really been through a really tough time since arriving home from rehab after her cancer surgery. She came home and from my point of view, started going downhill almost immediately. She started her chemotherapy and almost immediately had some serious side effects of this really strong combination of drugs that was meant to kill the cancer cells that continued to grow in different parts of her body. The particular type of sarcoma she has is quite aggressive and the only way to even try to keep it at bay is to endure this awful trio of medications that are pumped into her already weak body. This is given continuously over the course of a week while hospitalized. Confusion, memory loss and twitching set in and they had to stop the treatment because those are serious nervous system side effects that can be fatal.
She was sent home to recover and recouperate and for the team of doctors to reconvene and try to figure out a way to help keep this beautiful soul alive. While awaiting these answers however she had a few more backslides, first was the extreme nausea and she was unable to really keep anything down. Dehydration, and UTI’s ensued which led to more time back in the hospital for a second time. This last time she spent a few weeks in the hospital. Pain meds being switched around wreaking havoc on her and worrying all of us who love her so much. She was pretty out of it for well over a week. She became swollen and could hardly feed herself or hold her cell phone. Still she insisted that she wanted to keep fighting, despite all of us telling her it was okay to say enough was enough. We didn’t want her to feel like she had to suffer through more treatment and being so crippled with sickness just to try to stay alive. She would be a shell and not have any quality of life at all.
She then met with her doctors and found out that her cancer had spread and grown into her lungs. It was then that she made the decision to accept hospice care and live however many months, weeks or days she has left as happily as she can surrounded by those she loved and who loved her.
When she told me her decision, my husband and I both were on the same page and knew that we needed to pack up our kids and granddaughter and spend some time with her while she was lucid and could enjoy having company. Our goal was to make new memories with her, share old stories, laugh, smile and even cry with her. Making plans for when she does leave this earthly plane.
We found someone to keep an eye on our house, bring in the mail and feed the cats. Packed up our van and the 6 of us hit the road and headed south. It was a long ride, but I must say that even though everyone was in closed quarters for so many hours straight it was actually enjoyable.
When we arrived she was awake sitting in a hospital bed in her living room, and her smiling at us bald as the day she was born! She looked beautiful despite looking tired. I hugged her hard and she hugged hard right back. I touched her head and she smiled and said, “It’s a good thing I have a nice shaped head huh?” She could always make a heavy moment lighter. We talked and she got to hug her nieces and nephew and she got her wish to be able to hold my granddaughter. Who had never seen a woman with no hair before so she had a curious look on her face, looking more like a grimace and from that day on she was dubbed ‘Grimace’ by her Auntie Tobi. We visited daily and spent our days just hanging out around her bed, we laughed and told jokes and re-told stories from our youth and things we remembered. She got to see my granddaughter take her first unassisted steps while we were there and laughed as she toddled and stumbled. So proud of herself and her ability to move quicker each time she tried. We spent almost 4 days just sitting with her talking, eating, laughing and loving.
Our baby brother who is almost 35 yrs old came in for 36 hours and assisted our sister and her daughters in making her final arrangements. It was good to be together with them, we all got to spend some time just being together telling stories, taking pictures and making some new memories. It had been many years since we were all in the same room together. Not by choice but circumstances kept us apart but never out of touch with each other. We all live 1000+ miles apart from one another in 3 different areas of the country. Life and it’s commitments speed by like a freight train. I believe that after this trip we are all more closely connected to one another and we are definitely more aware of time. We don’t know exactly how much time any of us has in this world. My sister being sick and knowing she will sooner rather than later be gone from us has really given us a wake up call that time does not stand still for anyone. We all must live each day to the fullest, love those close to us deeply, and make memories every opportunity we get! Life is too short!
It has taken me awhile to write this post, because it wasn’t easy to see my sister so fragile. To know that sometime in the not so distant future I will receive a call to tell me that she has passed and is no longer suffering from this wretched disease. But knowing that she will no longer be in pain I hope will be of some relief to all who know her. I don’t know how I will react, I cannot predict that. I do know it will hurt a lot and there is no way to ever prepare yourself for that kind of pain. I just wait and will deal with it when it happens.
Our last day there was bittersweet, we got up early, showered and packed up the van and had breakfast at the hotel. We drove one last time from the hotel to her house where we all sat and talked and laughed. My brother, who is a professional bagpiper pulled out his pipes. He had told me the night before that he brought them so he could play for her. We all sat silent as he tuned up and began to play. The eerie drone and then the sweet sounds of Amazing Grace filled the room. Everyone transfixed on him playing his instrument perfectly and hauntingly. I took a few chances to glance at my sister who was beside me and she had her eyes closed and was just breathing in the music so deeply. Tears flooded my eyes and I fought to keep them back. He played a few more tunes, some more upbeat and we all clapped and my sister and I swelled with pride in front of everyone. It was after all our baby brother playing that beautifully haunting instrument.
Time to say goodbye and I just didn’t want to. I knew that this would probably be the last time I would see her alive. That made me sad and angry all at the same time. My heart hurt so bad as the kids all hugged her and told them they loved her and then went outside to wait for us. My husband hugged her and kissed her head and told him he loved her and I could see the tears welling up in his eyes as well. He headed towards the door. It was now my turn, I leaned over to hug her and because she knows me so well she told me not to cry. I held in the tears and sobs as hard as I could. All the while I told her how much I loved her and she whispered in my ear. “Don’t you be sad for me, I will be okay. You are such a great mom, Melissa and I am so, so, so proud of you. Your children are beautiful and it shows just how well you have raised them. I love you, please take care of yourself and be happy. Celebrate the life I have had not that I will be gone. I love you!” I sobbed in her ear and told her how brave she has been and that I couldn’t have asked for a better sister and friend. I told her how much I loved her and that she has always been my hero. We broke our embrace and I cried hard as I hugged my brother and thanked him for being able to come so we could all have this memory. I turned for one more quick look at my sisters face, as if to burn it into my memory so I wouldn’t ever forget her!!
My husband took the car keys and helped me into the van and I cried till we were almost to the highway, and then I just sat quietly holding the chain she had given me with my fathers ring that she got when he passed away many years ago and a silver Harley Davidson ring she had found in her yard years ago. She gave me these the first night we were there and had just kept them in my purse the entire visit. I had taken it out as we pulled out of the driveway and found that for the next several hours I just couldn’t even put it down. I held it tight in my hand as if it would send some signal to my dad to let him know to prepare for her arrival some time in the not too distant future. I felt almost calm after a bit and as the miles of highway filled the space between my sister and I, I knew that no matter what she would always be with me.