Cancer from the Sidelines – Part 2

Suzanne and Diane
Diane and Suzanne (and dog, Smokey), 1964.

In the fall of 2007, my sister Diane was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Diane is a very no nonsense kind of gal, so when she received her diagnosis she asked what she needed to do. And then she soldiered through it.

I never saw my sister cry.

Even after the surgery to remove both of her breasts. But she did. Months later when it was all behind her. She just didn’t know how to reach out and share what she was feeling.

It breaks my heart to think of how she lived with all that fear by herself.

I wish we’d known. I wish I’d understood then, as I do now, how scary it was for her. But Diane, like our mother, has always been so strong and brave, and private.

Three months after Diane’s diagnosis, my sister Pamela called. Being the nurse in the family, Pam had become the official family bearer of bad news, and I could hear in her voice that this was one of those calls.

It turned out that Pamela, too, had breast cancer.

Oh God, please, no more, I cried.  Please let this phone call simply be a Nyquil-induced hallucination or a really bad nightmare.  But it was not to be so.

Pamela’s diagnosis hit her hard. It was excruciating watching her suffer as much as she did. Pam is the next youngest to me and we have always shared a very close relationship.

I’d held my mother while she died, sat by my father’s bedside during his final moments, and did what little I could to comfort my sister Diane after her surgery, but watching Pam suffer through her illness was almost more than I could bear. I prayed (begged and pleaded) so much that I was sure God was getting tired of hearing from me.  What I wouldn’t have given to trade places with her, for at least some of the time.

If only we could share her disease, like we’d shared so many other things our entire lives.

But as it turned out, the only thing we could share was her suffering.  And so we did.

Me and my sister, Pamela (and her husband)
Me and my sister, Pamela (and her husband)

And while I was grateful that our mother didn’t have to watch two of her babies go thru their horrible ordeals, I also wished that my sisters had been able to feel the comfort of her loving arms around them.

After surgery, because of two affected lymph nodes, Pam went through six months of chemotherapy and radiation.

And now, five years later, both of my sisters are still cancer free.

Pam and Suzanne, Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, Santa Barabara (39.3 miles).
Pam and Suzanne, Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, Santa Barabara (39.3 miles).

Pam and I have become closer than ever since her diagnosis. We have become advocates for breast cancer, and participate annually in some breast cancer event together. Most recent was the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in which we walked 39.3 miles (26.2 miles on day 1, followed by 13.1 on day 2).

The walk was physically grueling and more rewarding than I can say. It was such an honor to walk beside my sister. Her courage and her strength never cease to motivate and inspire me. Next year we plan to rollerblade a marathon.

Yes, standing on the sidelines of cancer sucks. Big time. It makes you feel helpless, powerless, and it rips your heart right out of your chest. And it changes you. Forever. You feel humbled and honored to know these brave warriors and to have been even a small part of their heroic journey. And at the same time that you pray you never receive such a horrible diagnosis you ask yourself, could I be so brave?

Everyone’s life has been affected in some way by cancer. How has it affected your life? Do you draw inspiration from the courage and bravery of friends or family members who have battled cancer?

Repost from October 8, 2013

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