Why do I say this? Because my sister Ann is able to celebrate another Mother’s Day on this earth with her son and daughter-in-law. Of course, my husband and I will be hanging out with her too. Because that’s what we do now in our family - we celebrate every occasion every chance we get. We even make up things to celebrate now. You may be asking why we do this. Well, what does it look like when tragedy strikes a family? I ask because this happened to mine when my sister was diagnosed with ALL Leukemia.
“ALL” stands for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. And before Ann was diagnosed, we had never even heard of it. We later found out it usually occurs with young children. So how did our sister get it? It all started with her feeling a little weak. Then an infection in her back. She went to the doctor, who prescribed her antibiotics; but she didn’t heal and continued getting weaker and weaker. This went on for a while - too long. She continued to go to the hospital. Finally after many tests, the doctor called her and told her she needed to go to the emergency room right away. But by this time she was so weak she couldn’t even find the energy. All she wanted to do was sleep. Chee, our younger sister, who wanted to help by taking Ann, told her that she was going to be too busy this coming week and they should go now. Ann acquiesced and off they went, only to find themselves a few short hours later at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY with Ann hooked up to chemo and a doctor telling her that she had an excellent chance of survival because they had thirty years of successful experience with this type of cancer. Yes, it was shocking - to put it mildly. After all, this sort of thing doesn’t happen to us, not in our family. But this time it had.
At first we didn’t know if she was going to survive. She kept falling, contracting various infections, returning to the hospital, and ultimately faced the brink of death more than once - first with the Leukemia, and then with a bone marrow transplant (BMT). She had to fight - day after day, month after month, year after year. We did what we could to help, which didn’t seem like much at first. We surrounded her with love and compassion. Chee took her to her appointments. We all stayed with her during the bone marrow transplant. We encouraged her on a daily basis to find what makes her happy. And thankfully, she survived.
Ann now lives in Los Angeles in the winter with her son, since the weather is too difficult for her in Buffalo. She attends a cancer support group called goes to WeSpark, where they talk about the “new normal” that she had to discover. What does she want out of life now? What are her interests? These are questions I still ask her regularly. I see her struggling to find answers. Organizational skills are a problem, because of the chemo, but it’s getting better. The road has been long. But the fog is lifting. She’s confronting business more now, because she knows she’s going to live. She’s making plans. She can travel if she wants to; she proved it by booking her timeshare and driving herself to Sedona, Arizona from Los Angeles. It was her decision. She went on her own because we were all working and she wanted a change. And she had a wonderful time! I was of course concerned, but also figured that if she thinks she can do it at this point, she must be able to. It’s a really good thing!
So, what does the future hold for Ann? That’s what we’re all trying to figure out. Chee and I are recovering from the rollercoaster ride of not knowing what was going to happen next. Ann is still figuring out how to live again, but she’s doing an amazing job of it. She’s started taking friends and family on trips to her timeshare. She took her friend Susie to Hawaii; our brother Paul to Barcelona; and we’re all planning to go to Tuscany when our niece graduates from high school in June 2018. Yes, we now plan ahead, so there’s something to look forward to, something to live for, even something to argue about. It keeps the blood oxygenated - at least I like to think so!
The past four years have been a journey. The first three years were the most difficult on all of us. But now there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Seeing this wasn’t easy at first. It’s easy to walk into a room and forget to turn on the light. But what I’ve learned is that a big part of it is in the decision to do so. So we need to remember to make a decision to lift the switch.
Mother’s Day is nearing. It’s a holiday that celebrates the woman who brought you into this world. It’s a holiday that celebrates birth, and therefore life. It’s a holiday that celebrates the very building blocks and nature of family. So don’t take it for granted. Surround your family with love on this day, or any day for that matter. You never know how much time you have with each other. It’s easy to think we’re going to live forever, but that is not the case - at least not on this earth. Watching what my sister had to go through over the last few years makes me think of one of my favorite quotes from Gandhi: “Live as if you’re going to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” What would life look like if we really viewed it this way? It’s something we should all strive for.