Saturday, November 3, 2012

My sister has breast cancer (or: Time to put on your big girl pants)

I am sitting in a hospital waiting room while my sister undergoes surgery for a double mastectomy.

I am surprisingly calm. I think it's because I haven't really dwelled on what's actually happening to my sister's body as I type. She is 49 years old and takes such good care of herself that people regularly ask which one of us is older (I am nearly 10 years younger). We had no history of breast cancer (or any cancer, for that matter) in our family. So as we waited for biopsy results last month, I thought surely we were in the clear. It wouldn't touch us. Cancer, that is. And then, all it takes is one phone call, and there It is. It becomes part of your family. Your life. Your everyday. We all have to check off the "yes" box on the medical questionnaires that ask about your history. It looms.

In one month, I have learned more about breast cancer than I have known my whole life. I think I might have learned a lot about my sister and myself, too. It's all very surreal. This moment, it is surreal. This post. Surely, I will wake up and say to Hubby, "I had the weirdest dream..."

This past month has been one of the hardest for Hubby and me. As if the c-word weren't enough, there's been Other Stuff. (I feel the need to state, for the record, that the boys are good...knock on wood. I'm so superstitious). It seems that Life has decided we've been good and calm for a while, so let's shake things up a bit. Let's make those two grow up some. They are always so good together, so let's see what they can do when we throw some shit their way.

So far, so good though. At least there is that: when push comes to shove, we pull each other in. There is light in that. There is grace.


Mixed in there in all the crap, in all the horror, the fear, the anxiety, the general bad luck, there is grace. I am realizing that already. But you gotta go out there and look for it, find it, grab it, drag it into you. But it's there.

I've seen grace in the way my sister has stood tall during this, and in the way she's allowed herself to crumble, on some days, when she's had to, to cry and be afraid and wail, and then pick herself up. Or, maybe more importantly, find someone to do it for yank her up by the shoulders and slap her around. It takes grace and dignity and courage to keep your chin up, to be brave and strong. But it also takes grace to know when you can't dig yourself out, to recognize you've gone over the edge, to the dark side, and to know you need to find the way out but you can't do it for yourself.

I've seen grace in my brother-in-law, who was always a man of few words and even less emotion, who told my sister he didn't care if they took her breasts and her hair; all he wanted was her to be at his side.

I've seen grace in the way my parents have put up a front and held themselves together for my sister's sake, and do what they have to do for her, her kids, her husband, and for me, and my kids.

I've seen grace in the way people at work, friends, acquaintances come to bat for my friends walk the line between distraction and a shoulder to cry on.

I've seen grace in Hubby, who woke up early with me today, and when I insisted he go back to bed, that there was nothing he could do, he simply sat next to me, took my hand, and said, "Then I'll just hold your hand while you have breakfast."

You hear all kinds of stuff about how people cope with the hard stuff in life. And then it's your turn, and you just kind of muddle along, and you go through all kinds of emotions and thoughts: denial, anger, frustration, fear, optimism, hope. Everyone copes differently. I'm starting to realize that the only thing that gives me hope in tough situations is the possibility that good might come out of it on the other end....that when the dust settles, you will be a better person for it. That's all I've got to hold onto right now, for me, for my sister: that we will be, somehow, better for having been forced on this journey.


  1. Oh Liz! I so understand where you are right now. And you are right when you say that you have to pull that Grace with you, force it to stay and haul your ass out of the suffocating reality that you find yourself in. The new normal. Know that you have a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear, a sounding board and researcher whenever, wherever you need it.

  2. God bless you all as you support your dear sister in this dreadful new phase of her life.. Its the toughest thing to see someone go through such a terrible time, but I hope and pray with you all that she will win and beat this terrible thing.. Hugs from across the pond for all of you..janzi

  3. Oh Liz! I'm in tears over here. Am keeping you all in my thoughts and prayers.

  4. Oh Liz I'm so sorry - will keep your family in my thoughts and prayers

  5. Oh My! That's so sad. I'm sorry to hear about your sister's condition Liz. Your family will be on my prayers. Everything will be alright. Just have faith.
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  6. Thinking of you and sending you and your family strength....

  7. sending all best wishes to you & your sister.
    louise x

  8. I hope and wish everything to be ok and blessed for your sister and your family. Be strong, all of you. She needs you!

    Best wishes from Greece
    Hope (thay's my name)

  9. Be strong Liz! Sending all my best wishes to you and your sister! xx

  10. Praying for courage and healing.

  11. You and your sister are lucky to have each other, treasure that... and God willing she is going to be fine, and you will indeed both be stronger...your family sounds wonderful.. best to you, Kit

  12. Hi Liz...I am so sorry, I am catching up and I came across this post. I am so sorry and I hope by now that at least some elements of what you have written here have become clearer. I hope your sister is through the worst of the operation recovery. I hope that you are OK. Not much I can say really but life has a way of doing this doesn't it? Stay strong. Lou x

  13. Wow Liz, I am so sorry to read this....I am thinking of you all and can't imagine how hard this is for you XX

  14. I don't know you and just found your blog while I desperately Googled "sister has breast cancer" TRYING to find someone out there who understands... God bless you for this post. My sister (11 years my senior, now 55 years old) was just diagnosed - gosh, it's been less than a month ago. So much changes with that phone call, huh? She's already had a mastectomy (last week) and we found out yesterday it's spread to her lymph nodes. So...there we are. I'm just looking for other sisters who have been through this, who are putting into words what I'm feeling. And while I HATE that your sister (and you) are going through this, I thank you for your words to a stranger... Prayers that she is doing well now in her journey.


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