Friday, August 06, 2010

Life lesson

A long time ago my sister mailed me a card. Crafter that she is, usually she makes her own cards, but this one was store bought.  The front featured a print of a painting of two woman sitting across from each other in the outdoor seating area of a European-looking coffee shop or cafe.  I really liked that card, and for a long time I had it on display on my living room shelf. 

I kept thinking that someday, she and I would be those two women, solving life's problems over coffee in a really cool cafe like the one pictured on the card she sent me.

We always assume people will be always available, especially sister-types, who always are.  But life got the better of me, and instead of focusing on making that coffee card scenario come true, I focused on my everyday trivias and worries associated with being a single parent of a rather demanding child, who was demanding because of my spoiling.

The other day I was going through the one last remaining stack of papers that I hadn't tackled when I recently overhauled my house.  I found a notebook I had been using as a diary when The Child was a toddler.  I read with interest my written rant about how upset I was that my sister had moved to Boston and our phone sessions had been pretty much cut off by her new and inevitable focus on her adult daughter whose house she had just moved into.  The lack of privacy meant that even if we did talk, it wasn't like it used to be.

Ever since the child entered my life, it has been at times difficult to find people to talk to.  My former (and all single, like me) friends all slipped away, one by one, as they discovered that now lacked the luxury of any time to myself.  I had no family within 600 miles, but at least for a while, I did have that phone contact with my sister.

In fact, she had moved to Boston because of me.  Over the phone she had told me repeatedly how unhappy she was living in our hometown, and I encouraged her to just leave.  I remember how shocked I was when, after she had moved, she told me that she had done it because I had encouraged her to.  I do remember giving her explicit instructions on how to make it happen.  My life experience, however, has been that people never listen to what I advise.  I never really expected her to listen to her much younger sister!

She lived with her daughter for a while, and I had little contact with her.  Then one day her daughter called me and said that it was too much for her and her husband to have my sister there, and she was trying to figure out a way to break the news to my sister.  Long story short, my sister moved into her own apartment, reluctantly.  It was hard for me to talk to her there, because she only had a cell phone, and our conversations were now being cut short by dropped calls.

She had enjoyed living with her daughter, and I knew she was devastated to have to leave.  Perhaps she felt rejected. 

Then, about a year after the move, I received the news that she had a cancerous tumor on her tongue.  Surgery was planned, then canceled, then she received chemo and radiation, and was told that the cancer was gone.  Phew.

A few months later she called to say that the tumor had returned.  She underwent surgery for 14 hours which included tongue reconstruction and neck lymph node removal.  She had to learn to talk again, and she called my on my last birthday.

It was the last time I heard her voice.  The tumor grew down her throat into her vocal chords and into her trachea.  Unable to breathe, she was airlifted to a surgical hospital in Boston where she received a tracheotomy.  She already had a food tube, so since then, she has been unable to talk, eat, drink, swallow, or breathe except through  the tracheotomy.  This has been her permanent state for months, and it is understood that her condition will never improve.  She continued to receive chemo to keep the tumor at bay, but during her recent CT scan it was discovered that her tumor is now growing around the tracheotomy, making breathing ever more challenging and her future precarious.

I'm flying to Boston tomorrow before dawn to see my sister.  For some reason, that card with the coffee shop picture has been on my mind today.  That coffee date I had imagined for so long with my sister in a little cafe like the one on her card is never going to happen.  Let that be a lesson to us all.



Lynilu said...

Ahhh, Betty, I'm so sorry. It should be a lesson to us all. Unfortunately, human nature is that we will all be torn by listening to this lessons, and unconsciously say "But not me." We think our shields impenetrable, the "it can't happen to me" syndrome revving to thicken those shields. Even as I say this, I know.

I'm the youngest, by a considerable margin, of my siblings. The eldest are twins, turning 79 in a few weeks; the brother relatively healthy a survivor of prostate cancer, the sister in fair health but with signs of early dementia. The next is 77 and has advanced Parkinson's Disease. The last will be 73 before then end of the month and is beginning treatment for prostate cancer as we speak. I know I will be losing some of them before long. And as I'm writing these details, the tape in my head (or should that be the iPod in my head?) is playing la-te-dah-te-dah-te-dah, so I don't have to actually hear or listen to it.

Travel safely, Betty. Soak up every ounce of sister-air you can. Peace.

B.S. said...

Thank you, Lynilu. I have a lot of anxiety regarding this trip, which starts pre-dawn tomorrow.


Aurora said...

Dear Betty,
enormous empathy to you and your sister.

Don't get me started on what I think of oncologists - I loathe them for their manipulations, omissions and deceits, all for the sake of their long-term wallets.

Cancer is merciless.

I feel for you and for her, and for what was, and what will not be.


B.S. said...

Dear Aurora,

Thank you for your beautiful message. And boy, do ever know what you mean about oncologists. For now I have to keep biting my tongue.


Monogram Queen said...

Betty I can't say it any better than Lyn did. I wish you a peaceful visit with your sister. Hugs sweet friend and i'm sorry I haven't been around lately.

B.S. said...

Dear Patti,

You're here now and that's all that matters. Thanks.


Aurora said...

Dear Betty,
Thinking of you during your trip to Boston.

It is good that your sister will be able to see you and vice-versa, and you can both speak with your eyes and hearts to each-other.

My heart goes out to you both.
If only nature could take someone quickly when they first got ill, and just let them go in their sleep without long term pain and suffering.


Big Dave T said...

This blog really saddens me. We always need someone to share life's challenges with and when I started reading, I thought this might have a happy ending. I guess it still could on yet another day, but life doesn't always go our way.

My wife and her sister are pretty much joined at the hip, so much so that I'm stuck where I'm at even though I'd live to live somewhere cheaper when I retire.

I hope you and your sister can share some quality time in Boston. There are certainly cafes there that would be considered continental.

Priyamvada_K said...

Dear Betty,
Sending prayers and wishes your way. I don't know what to say :(. Wish there was a miracle cure for cancer.

Take care,

Aurora said...

Dear Betty,
Just checking to see how you are, and how your visit with your sister was. Sending you love and courage ((hugs))