Its starts with the incessant ringing of a telephone.
Its Superbowl Sunday and the Seahawks are playing the Broncos. A Mediterranean feast envelops the dining room table. Friends are piled on the couch and I can hear the distant sound of cheering coming from the living room. We try to avoid the alarming ring that seems to rip us from our reality all too frequently, but it persists.
Mom finally answers the phone. It’s my sister calling from New York. I glance past my mother to catch the score on the TV but my eyes dart back to her when I hear the unmistakable cry of pain. Something has gone wrong. She drops the phone, runs outside and buries her face in her hands. I see the bewildered look on my Dad’s face when he retrieves the phone from the floor.
An ultrasound reveals several tumors living inside of my 22 year old sister’s liver and abdomen. The doctors are certain of Cancer. The odds aren’t good.
I listen to the words being said but I can’t comprehend their meaning. I’ve lost all brain function. I feel the lump in my throat.
I book my parents on the first flight to Syracuse. They leave. I stay. We cry.
It ends with the incessant ringing in my head and an aching in the center of my heart.
Months of sleep evades us. Los Angeles to New York, planes, taxis, cars, specialists, doctors, hospitals, hotel rooms. Vending machine dinners. Church. Chemo, needles, tests, tubes, scans, pills, bad news, worse news. No news.
No one knows what to do or say. We try to stay positive in front of my sister and tears find us in the corners of hotel laundry rooms and hospital hallways. Mostly we just stare off into space until Xanax takes us off to sleep.
Thoughts of hopelessness and despair creep in but that kind of thinking will get us nowhere. We force ourselves to smile and learn to celebrate the proper dosage of anti nausea medicine. We graciously accept food and love from friends and family. We pray to the Universe, to God to Buddha. We hold each other tight.
My sister fights. When she gives up, we fight for her. In our hearts, in our minds and in our and sorrow, we lead the charge on the front lines and continue to battle against an invisible invader. But things begin to crack.
My parents look like zombies. Everyone has an opinion about how we should be coping: they tell us to be realistic. The doctors tell us not to have expectations. The side effects haunt my sister and her resolve begins to wane. It scares us stupid.
There are too many options and yet there are no options. It’s a rare, aggressive cancer and it’s stage 4 inoperable. It’s all so overwhelming. Time feels like a boa constrictor, suffocating our hearts and subconsciously dictating our every move. Impossible choices are made between the lesser of evils.
The grief is abysmal and irreparably unforgiving. We start to argue. In the darkest hours, we lash out against God, each other and the world. We begin to unravel from pressure, exhaustion and uncertainty.
An open bottle of Whiskey finds a permanent home on my kitchen counter top. I find myself talking to the ice at the bottom of my glass about faith. How is this happening? WHY is this happening? How will any of us survive this? I struggle to find acceptance and meaning in the wreckage but deep down I reason that this will call us to a higher evolution of ourselves. Maybe I’m drunk.
It begins with the buzzing of my cell phone. Its a text message.
I see my sister’s phone number on my caller ID. “When will you be home,” she asks? “I was in the neighborhood so I stopped by. I have something to tell you.”
My hearts skips a beat and I speed up my car in order to make it home faster. She had her scan today and the last one was disappointing.
I race in my front door. My husband’s eyes are red and puffy and he looks like he’s been crying. Then it I see it. Holy shit. My sister is smiling. She looks like her old self…she looks mischievous.
Sis: “So….I got my scans back today.”
Me: “And???????” I live a lifetime in those 3 seconds.
Sis: “My tumors have shrunk. I’m the first person with this Cancer to have their tumors shrink.”
I’m speechless. I stare at her but she’s blurry all of a sudden. I can’t see with all of this water in my eyes. I bury my face in my hands and I shake uncontrollably. I want to hug her so hard but she just had a new port put in and she’s sore. We talk about her progress and what this all means. She talks about her purpose in life and reflects that maybe she will have the opportunity to get married and have kids after all. I quietly die inside knowing those thoughts weighed so heavily on her.
She eventually leaves. I stay. We have one last cry. She tells me to sleep well but my mind is racing.
It ends with the sound of my cell phone vibrating on my night stand. I can hear the faint symphony of my alarm clock but I don’t want to wake up. I panic. Was it just a dream?
I roll over to look at my husband and his smile reminds me of just how real it all is and my heart bursts with hope. Today is going to be a good day.
- The Confessioness
P.S. This photo of my sister’s and me was taken at my wedding in 2011. I love the way Tahnee is laughing here. It’s how I see her…