My Journey with My Terminally Ill Sister and What I Learned from her Strength
Sometimes things that happen during our lives are so intense that, no matter how much time passes, we always remember exactly where we were and what we were doing at those exact moments. For me, one such moment was when I found out that my sister had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
It was the first week of January 2010, and I was sitting at my desk at work when I received that phone call. I hear her voice right now as clear as at that moment, “An, they found something on the ovary and they say it doesn’t look good.” With her words, I felt my world come crashing down on top of me. I remember staring straight ahead into nothing, going numb and all I could say in a shaky voice was “don’t tell me that.”
I immediately left the office and headed to the hospital, feeling like I was in a daze, almost like an out-of-body experience.
I arrived at the hospital and in the waiting area were my brother-in-law, nephew, and twin nieces. I was screaming inside. I was aching inside so badly but I remained calm and collected for the sake of everyone, especially my sister.
My sister always saw the glass as half full and thanked G-d that her situation was not worse. Not worse? Not worse. She actually made having cancer seem easy. Throughout the almost six years of her battle, she never complained about anything. She always reassured us that she was going to be fine. She encouraged her children to continue with their college programs and to keep up with their social lives. She encouraged my brother-in-law to be present in his job as much as possible. She was always everyone’s pillar of strength.
I knew that what was happening to my sister was completely out of my hands. There was nothing I could do to change the situation.
Even though she was my older sister I always took on the role of protecting her. I couldn’t protect her this time. But what I was able to do was bring laughter to her. She always said that I was one of the three people that were always able to make her laugh and so that became my purpose every moment spent with her. Oh, how we laughed with each other! At times, it all seemed so normal but then I would go home and break down with flowing tears. How many tears did I have left?
At times, I felt so guilty going about my daily routine – work, cooking, dishes, laundry, cleaning – things that people often complain about, things that are so taken for granted by the healthy. My sister’s routine had become blood tests, hospital check-ups, chemotherapy treatments and later on radiation therapy. I would look into my sister’s eyes trying to understand why it was happening to her and not me, but I found no answers.
I was losing more than my sister – I was losing my best friend, my confidant, my idol, the most influential person in my life. I never imagined life without her and I was scared, the most scared I had ever been.
We all lived with so much hope, praying that every blood test would prove that her treatments were working. We were all living from blood test to blood test. Relief took over when the results were good and then when they weren’t the panic would set in again. During this awful roller coaster of a journey, it became so clear just how much the simplest things in life are taken for granted and just how little material things matter.
Sometimes we are thrown gut-wrenching blows and for the life of us cannot make sense out of it. When there is no logic to something it’s best to not try to figure it out.
If I needed to sum up what I learned from all this, it would be the following:
- we have to be grateful for our health
- we have to be grateful for waking up in the morning
- we have to be grateful for all that we have
- we are stronger than we think
- we are able to control our emotions
- we have to accept what we cannot control
- falling apart does not help or change any situation
On December 27, 2015, at the age of 56, my beloved sister joined my father and left behind a loving and devoted husband, three amazing adult children, a mother and two younger sisters.
She will forever live on in our hearts and now through this article, I hope she will live on in your hearts as well.