“What I’m trying to tell you, is that this is unfixable.”
There was no out-of-body experience where I float above the doctor while he tells us. Only what seemed like weight, crushing the life out of the room.
Confusion – did he really say that?
Nothing seemed real. The words, the doctor, the furniture, the air. Nothing.
She had been sick for months. A horrible cough. The cancer that she had successfully fought never really crossed my mind. A clean pet scan in December made us think that particular chapter of life was finished.
But, spring began, and with it her persistent cough. Shortness of breath. Feeling completely run down. Three different hospital stays, every time ending with doctors thinking they had turned the corner.
Then, the arrhythmia. Her heart racing for no reason. Another trip to the hospital and a ct scan that revealed a tumor in her heart, as well as some suspicious spots on her lungs.
Open heart surgery. Waiting for hours for the doctor to come out, only to be told it was cancer.
She’ll need a little chemo, he said.
I kept my composure, and then went to a garden at the hospital, called Crystal and sobbed.
The cancer she had successfully fought less than two years ago was back. Squamous cell carcinoma, to be exact. It had grown on her tongue, of all places. Surgery removed the tumor as well as a lymph node, and radiation had taken care of the remaining cancer.
The doctors were optimistic, so we tried to remain hopeful.
She weathered the open heart surgery well, but remained weak. In the meantime, a spot on her cheek began to grow. I didn’t say anything, but really had concerns that it was more of the insidious disease manifesting itself.
A trip to the hematologist confirmed it. He looked at it and with a shake of his head told us that it was indeed the cancer moving through her body.
Go home, he said. Call hospice. Make yourself as comfortable as possible.
That was an incredibly long drive back. Particularly when I was trying to keep my emotions in check.
I got Mom and Melissa settled in. Sent messages to people that I thought needed to know.
Started the drive home, but made it about two blocks before I stopped. I broke down.
Why? The question just kept resonating.
Tears. Sobs, full body sobs.
I watched beautiful wildflowers blur past my window, almost as a cruel reminder of the complexity and beauty and fragility of life.
Composure, and then U2’s “Beautiful Day” playing through my stereo. I lost it again.
I watched the sun set behind a beautiful cloud bank, questioning the higher powers that I felt had turned their backs on me, my family.
We had no idea how much time was left. Several trips back and forth from our home to Mom’s, where my sister decided to spend her final days. We took the girls to spend some time before her health took a decline, which came quicker than we hoped.
I worked, but was only there. Meetings were excruciating; how could I just be sitting there when I could be spending time with them before the inevitable?
Jobs were finished with a huge sense of urgency. I constantly thought of the time that was slipping past me that I desperately needed to gain back.
I settled in for the final two weeks. Progressively, she got weaker. She spent her birthday struggling for every breath. Katie broke away from band camp to spend the day with Melissa, getting a few more moments with the aunt who doted over her.
Time has a strange elasticity. There were times when it seemed like time was slipping away at an increased rate. Then, while we waited for end, it stretched. It crawled. It mocked us.
Not being able to go anywhere for fear I would not be there when needed. It actually grew into anger at times. Why was she being forced to endure this?
Three weeks to do the day that the doctors deemed her condition unfixable, it was over. At about 6:15 in the morning on June 25, she took three quick breaths and then stopped.
I spent weeks afterward feeling guilt that I was actually relieved that it was finished. I think my grieving was done in the weeks leading up to her passing.
It’s been less than two months since the passing of my sister, and I’ve lived in a bit of denial. It all seems like a bad dream. I still catch myself thinking about texting her to tell her something silly, and haven’t let myself delete her contact information out of my phone.
But it has changed my approach to life in some ways. I can’t sit by as easily and let time slip past. Having lost both my sister and my father in the past five years, as well as an uncle who was dear to me, I no longer can be idle in my relationships as I have in the past. I’m trying to be better at telling people that I appreciate them and love them. I told Melissa that numerous times leading up to her death, making sure that if she didn’t know it before, she certainly would know it in her last days.
Hopefully, my family and friends will know it as well.
We were very different people, Melissa and myself. Yet, she was a very loving big sister to me. Having no children, she doted over her two nieces to an extent that I feared could require parental intervention. Particularly when she tried to intervene in disciplinary matters involving the girls . . .
Goodbye Melissa. I’m glad you’re whole again. I’m glad you will no longer suffer.
But, know that I’ll miss you every day.