The Last Sister Standing

Repost from August 2017

For some reason, I found myself thinking about my sisters today? Maybe it’s because of all the death and madness and we are forced to embrace these days? Grief seems to be an all too common emotion these days. Most people could not have imagined that a time would come when hundreds of Americans would be dying daily!

Even worse, loved ones must hold on to the thought of experiencing any resemblance of closure, since planning for timely funerals is out of the question. My heart goes out to every person who has lost a loved one to COVID 19, the coronavirus. We must grieve with them because the pain they feel is too deep for a few people to properly acknowledge. When we say “we are all in this together” this time every living person should mean it! I remember how I felt when I lost my only two sisters like it was yesterday.

And, I remember thinking, “nothing can be as bad as this?” But, today, I’m reading about multiple family members dying within weeks apart due to contracting succumbing to the deadly COVID 19 virus. At least, I got to say goodbye, to one sister. And, the one that I could not say goodbye to in time due to logistics did not die alone. So, some of what I said in this post in tribute to my sisters, holds true even today.

Never take the importance of knowing for sure that somebody you love knows that you love them. Never, put off apologizing to somebody you have wronged, offended or treated badly out of anger or selfish pride. Pretend that today is the last chance you have to let those you know how much you love them. While this post is about sisters, it is not reserved for sisters. If the shoe fits wear it and apply what you have read accordingly.

The last few years have been almost too much to bear but then there’s God the One who makes life all worthwhile. I am forever grateful to Him for bringing me out.

On May 26, 2017, my last sister passed away after fighting a two-year battle with IBC-Inflammatory breast cancer. Prior to her passing, my younger sister died suddenly following an unexpected massive heart attack. Our family had no idea that she was ill nor that she had heart problems. Her cause of death was “degenerative heart disease.” She passed away on January 8, 2014. My heart is heavy but with God’s help, I will press on, striving to do His will.

About two years ago my oldest sister was diagnosed with (IBC) Inflammatory Breast Cancer. I say about because I am still not sure that she told us the moment she found out. I think she waited. Fast forwarding: In early May 2017 she called me to tell me that her cancer had not only returned but had spread to numerous places in her body.

She also reminded me again that (IBC) is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer. Months before that though her team of doctors had told her she was cancer free following a double-mastectomy, ongoing chemo, and radiation. Imagine my surprise in the first week of May when she told me her cancer had spread to her brain, bone, liver, and tailbone? My first thought was, “how could it have spread if doctors claimed to have gotten it all?”

Devastated but still hopeful I began to mentally prepare for visiting her in Atlanta within the next couple of weeks. However, within what seems like hours those plans changed. The next day my sister called again. She said, “I need you to come.” My sister is a very independent person. She almost never asks for the help of any kind from others, so by then, I began to feel “some- kind- of- way.” Plus, I could tell by the tone of her voice that I needed to get there like yesterday. I immediately made arrangements to get there in two days. She had been in the hospital for a few days by the time I got there but was released the same day I arrived.

The following days of her life had already been planned out by medical staff. They included almost two weeks of radiation treatments to her brain, eight consecutive treatments to be exact, with the possibility left open for more. Her doctor wanted to start them immediately. The good thing, ” she was in good spirits.”

My sister had not been eating much but thought she had? Three tumors had formed in her brain, one wrapped around an optical nerve. This one was of most concern because it could cause blindness if radiation could not subdue it, while steroids worked to shrink it.

my sister was ill and how her life had changed drastically due to (IBC) inflammatory breast cancer. After I arrived in Atlanta last month the two of us spent every weekday going to doctor appointments, radiation treatments, and the like. As far as we knew the radiation treatments were working. Her appetite had returned, she was in a cheerful mood, we were eating out, even shopping a little; talking a lot about our lives. We had been waiting for May 14th to come around, this was the day that her doctor would be meeting with us to go over my sister’s progress reports, discuss the prognosis, and whether any changes in treatment need to be made.

Finally, that day came. It was not a good day but the information we received about the cancer was pretty much expected. Doc told us that it would be a few months before he could determine how successful the radiation treatments and steroids to shrink my sister’s brain tumors had been. He asked my sister if she had been in pain, she said no. He said good but she said, “I’m still having trouble with my peripheral vision?” Doc said you are; I don’t want you driving anymore.” The reason he said that is because my sister was dozing off in his office while he was talking to her. She had been doing that on and off for at least two days. However, I assured the doc that my sister was not driving and would not be for any reason. I had him laughing about how she reaches for her car keys and puts them in her purse as soon as I park the car. He laughed.

When I told him how she gives me driving directions like a live GPS lady. I said, “actually it’s like I’m driving Ms. Daisy.” He laughed again. I was thinking about my sister’s situation as I described the driving ordeal to her doctor. It became clear to me that she was holding on to whatever she had left. After all, she had to give up her home, her job and now her car. So, I could understand why it meant so much to her to hold on to her car keys for as long as she could. Not only did I not fuss with her when she gave me driving directions, “most of the time, LOL,” I handed her the car keys with no resistance or comment.

After that conversation concluded Doc said to my sister, I want to talk to you about your prognosis. He asked my sister if she wanted me and one of her adult daughters to sit in, she said yes. Fast-forwarding, Doc said my sister was looking at about (6) months to live but he replied, ” we are not God, that number could be more or less.” As most would probably expect we were devastated but tried to stay strong for my sister who by the way took the news like a “child of God.” In fact, she said ‘I’m not believing that report, I am putting it all in God’s hands.” We all agreed, thanked Doc for his time and left out headed home only to prepare to come back the following day for more radiation. By this time my sister had adjusted to her new life and rigorous treatment schedule. at any rate, over the next few days I noticed that she was becoming weaker, experiencing marked shortness of breath, and for the first time one day, she asked me to park and get a wheelchair for her. Well, I had been trying to get her to let me get a wheelchair for her for more than a week by that time but she would not let me. This change of heart began to worry me. This change in how she navigated through the hospital took place around May 17th.

On the last day of radiation, which marked her 8th treatment I noticed that she was pale, weak and extra short with me. I talked to the nurse about my concerns. She suggested that I follow my instincts, meaning take my sister to the emergency room to be checked out. I decided to do that. She was admitted that evening. Over the next three days, doctors increased her oxygen level from 2 to 12. Another thing, she began to have abdominal pain, which she wrote off as gas from a piece of chicken she had eaten at least 24 hours earlier. Her vitals were going crazy, up and down all day and all night long. My nieces, her daughters and I took turns spending the night at the hospital. At least 4 times that week different doctors asked if my sister had shared her “last wishes” with us. I still did not get it.

Finally, I asked one doctor why they kept asking the same question? She apologized, said they had to do that to make sure that the patient’s wishes are honored whenever possible. This time the doctor began having the conversation about “having done all that they could do for my sister.” She said that my sister’s breast cancer had spread so rapidly that there was nothing they could do to slow it down; it was in the liver, the brain, back and I forget where else. So, I’m thinking to myself, “what are you saying?” You just said two weeks ago that she had 6 months?” The doctor started asking about whether we had spoken with the hospice team? I told her, yes but we didn’t discuss putting my sister in hospice. The doctor replied, “you may want to meet with the hospice team to have that discussion.”

After talking to the doctor, when I went back in my sister’s room I saw her in a different light. I realized that she had made peace with passing through to get to the other side. Having inflammatory breast cancer was no longer a threat. My sister had taken back her power refusing to become a slave to disease. For the last couple of days, she had to be helped onto a bedside commode, assisted when she was done, helped back into the hospital bed; worse, she had started to have severe pain, so much that she started asking for pain meds. This is another thing she had refused before that day. Something was happening to her. She appeared to have made decisions without consulting the family. Perhaps that was best. I’m sure she knew that the family would try and force her to take whatever the doctor wanted to give her if he said it would keep her with us longer. At any rate, on that day, May 25th, 2017 my sister took a turn for the worse. Within hours she was in hospital hospice. On the following day, May 26th, 2017, at 12:20 pm she passed away. She’s Gone!

My sister passed away two weeks after she had been given 6 months to live. Her doctor did say that he was not God, was only going by medical data on patients with stage four inflammatory breast cancer, and was in the same age group as my sister. Doc said, “only God knows.”
My sister had a relationship with the Lord, and I could see it all over her face when she told her doctor that she put her life in her God’s hands.” For that, I am so thankful. While we did not want to see her go, we did not want to see her suffer either.

RIP my sweet sisters…I’ll loving you all forever!