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.