Stronger Together: The Impact of Cancer

Six years ago, I was walking through the local Target with my two young boys in tow. We were shopping for a birthday party when I received a call from my little sister. She told me she was waiting for a biopsy result which would tell her whether or not she had breast cancer. I stopped in the middle of the aisle to listen.

She was 32. I was 37.

She received the news that she had stage 2 breast cancer. We soon found out that both of us were positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation.

Four months later, I received the news that I had stage 2 breast cancer also. It was a blur of a year. We chased each other through treatment. Both of us juggled being moms and running a family of young children. Shortly after receiving her cancer diagnosis, she had found out she was pregnant with her sixth. I have four.

We each agreed and ultimately chose the most aggressive forms of treatment available.

December of that year, I went with my sister to her fourth round of chemo. I remember watching her. I was in awe of her strength. I watched as her port was accessed and her drugs were given with such care. It was a sacred time sitting together in those chairs. We talked about life. Time passed. She finished up with chemo and we walked out to her car. We put on our seatbelts and talked about what was next on the day’s agenda. She had a few errands she needed me to run on the way home. As I went to start the car, I was at a loss of what to do that could ease my little sister’s suffering.

I reached in my purse in search of anything that might help and remembered the See’s butterscotch lollipop I had been randomly carrying around. I yanked it out of my purse and held it in front of her. She looked at me puzzled. Then a slow smile spread across her face. I watched her as I exclaimed, “You were a good patient!” We both began to laugh at how inadequate the words were to describe the experience. How many times before had we taken our kids to the doctor and after the visit given them a lollipop as a reward for good behavior. With lollipop in hand, I pictured Baymax from the movie “Big Hero 6”. I could hear his voice, “You have been a good boy, have a lollipop!” The treat seemed to fit the bill.

I drove to the nearest post office and told my sister that I’d be right back. As I exited the post office, I looked at the car where my sister was sitting. I saw her reclined in the front seat, bald head, lollipop in hand, smiling and saying “Ohhhhh, this is so good!”

We chased each other through treatment. Each of us took our turn experiencing surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgical reconstruction and continued preventative medication. We teased each other over time as lollipops were passed back and forth. The lollipop came to represent bravery. We had been brave.

That bravery continued far longer than expected. My sister’s cancer came back and more treatment was needed, until ultimately, she was out of treatment and her time on this earth came to a close. She passed on her birthday which was the same weekend as my own birthday. That was a little more than a year ago.

It was a hard day this last September as her birthday and one-year anniversary since her passing coincided on the day I sent one of my sons off for a two-year mission for the church. All the tender feelings were there as I missed my sister and grappled with the realization that I was still here on earth able to witness this milestone in my child’s life.

As I left the hotel that morning, before sending my son off, I walked past the front desk. There sitting on the counter was a dome shaped container full of colorful lollipops. I watched as each of my children took one for the road. My sister was close on this day when I was not only celebrating her but also doing something really hard. I was saying goodbye once again, this time to my son. I smiled and through tearful eyes, took a lollipop.

Later that day, I visited her grave. I remembered all she had been through. The struggles. The laughs. The tears and hugs. I gently placed a lollipop on the fresh cut grass. I thought back on our journey together six years prior. 

As time continues to march on, I try and focus on those lollipops and being brave.

I carry this lollipop of survivorship and honor the life of my sister. She will always be walking this path with me, reminding me that I am strong. I am here. I am alive. As a fellow cancer survivor friend once told me, “Cancer doesn’t count my days, God does.” I live with that hope in my heart every day. To all my fellow cancer survivors out there, you deserve a lollipop, for you are truly brave. We get up each morning, look in the mirror and see in us what might feel impossible. But we do it anyway and move forward in the light of hope and peace.

This post was written and submitted by a CURE reader. The article reflects the views the author and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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