February 18, 2021

I have four sisters and while we have lived in different states, I feel like we have done a fairly decent job of staying in touch with each other. Over the years, we’ve been able to get together for various holidays. But it’s been hard to keep up with each other’s daily lives as our families have expanded.

Since my cancer diagnosis, I’ve been talking to my sisters a bit more, especially Laura, who also had breast cancer years ago. It’s been good to connect on a more regular basis, and I’m thankful for that.

December 18

One of my sisters isn’t coming to Christmas this year. And I’m kind of relieved. See, all four of my sisters and I decided we’d go to my mom’s house for Christmas. Laura’s husband is in Afghanistan, so she’s coming with her two kids and maybe two dogs. Tammy lives by my mom, so her whole family will be there. My younger sister and her husband are flying in from Las Vegas. (People actually live in Las Vegas. It’s weird.) I’m going with my two kids and my dog. And Brenda was initially coming up from Florida with her two kids. Her husband was going to be working. It was going to be a great Christmas because we would all be together which rarely happens. Until Brenda’s husband lost his job and found another in Texas and then he was going to come up too since he would have a break before he started working. And that’s when I stopped looking forward to our big family get together.

See, Brenda’s husband is an abuser. I’m no longer softening it. They’ve been married for years and he’s progressively gotten worse. Or maybe not because it’s hard to tell what the real truth is anymore. For years I was a sounding board for my sister’s complaints…starting with his controlling behavior. His accusations. His anger and threats. The first time she told me he hit her, she made excuses for him. His drinking hard alcohol, which he normally doesn’t do. His stress. His whatever. I told her then she should get out, but he apologized and promised and for a while, things were better. She asked me not to say anything. The next time he hit her it was worse–worse threats, worse anger. She hid outside in the bushes at their house while he searched for her, yelling to her that he was going to kill her. Finally pushing her into the living room furniture, breaking a table. Still she stayed. The day she called and told me that he had been arrested, I was grocery shopping. I listened without talking while she described how he had tried to kill her, really meaning it this time. He had ripped off her underwear and choked her with it. She had a burn mark across her throat because of it. I went home, shut myself in the bathroom, and cried. And then I called my older sister and told her everything. Said I planned to go to Florida to get her. We told my parents and made a plan. But Brenda found out and begged us not to come because this was finally his wake up call. He was going to get help and things would be better. That was a couple of years ago, and things aren’t better. They’re just different. Four months ago she called because she found out about his cheating. She finally was going to make a change. I was ready once again to do whatever I could to help her out. Then three days later, after he begged and cried and made all the same promises, she decided to stay.

I know my sister needs help. Her kids need help. My brother-in-law needs help. But at this point, I don’t care about him. I don’t like him. I don’t respect him in the least. I told Brenda I couldn’t pretend to be happy to see him. I told my mom that I was afraid I’d say something at Christmas and makes things worse for my sister. And maybe I don’t have the right, but I’m angry. I’m angry at my sister. I’m angry that she continues to stay and that she doesn’t see her own worth and that she’s doesn’t acknowledge how it’s affecting her kids. I’m angry that I keep trying to help and she won’t let me. I don’t agree with her choice to stay. I don’t agree that instead of coming for Christmas, they are driving to Texas to stay in a hotel because they sold their house and haven’t found a new one yet. I find it all so unbelievably unbelievable. But I also know that statistics say it takes at least 7 attempts before someone actually leaves an abusive situation. She’s trapped in something that is too hard for her to get out of right now. But when she does, I will, of course, be there. My anger isn’t blame, it’s just anger. Relationships shouldn’t be that way. My once independent sister is someone I don’t really know anymore. My nieces will have scars from living in an abusive family that even they don’t understand. It shouldn’t be. So, selfishly, I’m not-so-secretly glad that I won’t see my brother-in-law next week. But I’d trade the holiday to bring my sister home.

November 11

The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation. – George Washington

Veterans Day. A US holiday to celebrate everyone who has served in the armed forces for their sacrifice and dedication. I’m thankful tonight for my brother-in-law who is currently in the Middle East on his third tour of duty–another year away. When he got to Kabul, he spent the first couple of evenings sleeping on benches. Instead of complaining, he said he was happy to have good food and was looking forward to a bed. He’s professional military and one of those men who knows exactly what he’s getting himself into, but does so willingly because he believes that what he’s doing matters. And he must be doing it well since he’s now a lieutenant colonel in the army. I know the military life is hard for my sister and her family. My brother-in-law spends a lot of time away, even when stationed in the States. I’m proud of him and my sister because dedication on that level is a family effort for them. His response to my sister’s Facebook post on her gratitude for his service today says it all: Without the families’ support, all of this would be hard!! So, the true sacrifice goes to the families left behind to take care of the home front until we come home.. Love You!!

March 7

Today I am thankful that I got a chance to see my sister and niece for a short visit. They stopped by my place yesterday and spent the night on their way to my niece’s college. She had an orientation today, and I happen to live along the route there. While I didn’t see them but to say a quick goodbye before they left today, we were able to hang out a little bit last night. Well, my niece hung out with my daughters, while my sister went to dinner with me and some of my friends. Overall, we had a fun, albeit short night. At one point, my niece made the comment that she could always come to my place on holiday breaks instead of going all the way home, which was actually a welcoming thought. Not one I think my sister would prefer, but I liked the idea that my niece may feel comfortable doing that. It also reminded me of how much I wish I had family who lived closer. For most of my adult life, I have not lived in the same town as anyone in my family. I’ve gotten used to it, of course, but every once in a while I long to be able to simply drop in on a sister or my parents. Just to hang out and stay for dinner. Or have them do the same to me. In the absence of that, I love that sometimes impromptu visits like yesterday’s happen. And now that my niece is going to be away at college next year, maybe the visits will become more regular. That would be cool.

Day 23

At the risk of being too personal, I’m going to admit to having a mammogram today. It’s a pretty routine procedure for us women, I know. I think it’s also safe to say that it’s uncomfortable for all and nerve wracking for some. I went into this procedure just a little nervous for a couple of reasons. My doctor was upset to find out that it had been a couple of years since I’d gone and mentioned feeling something strange during my last routine visit. However, the main reason he was upset is that there’s first generation breast cancer in my family. My sister was diagnosed and had a double mastectomy before she was forty.

I’m thankful today for the fact that my visit turned out a normal reading, but mostly that my sister is still cancer free. She was diagnosed in January 2007. Two months after our dad was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Wow that was a tough year. And my sister faced her own cancer with such amazing courage, it’s almost easy to forget she had it. My large family is scattered around the country, and she lived in Kentucky at the time. My oldest sister and I traveled to Kentucky to be with her and help her for a few days after her surgery. When we showed up at the hospital, we had to laugh because she was wearing an Alice in Wonderland Cheshire Cat top with the caption “Poof…gone.” on it. (Our family’s sarcasm knows no bounds.) And after the surgery, when we helped her do the basic functions: get in and out of bed, shower, dress without screwing up the drain tubes and bandages, she didn’t whine or even complain much beyond making comments about the awkwardness or uncomfortableness or general pain of it. Granted, we didn’t stay with her for the duration of her healing, but I can say with certainty that she dealt with her cancer like she deals with all things in her life. Straight on. Head held high. Doing what she needs to do without falling to pieces, like she would have every right to do. Like many of us would do.

I admire my sister’s bravery; words fail when I think of how proud I am of her. As anyone who has been touched by cancer knows, it’s not something that goes away completely. It’s always there, in the back of the mind if no where else. Since her initial diagnosis eight years ago, she has had different follow-up surgeries and routine checks and rechecks. Thankfully, all is still well. She doesn’t talk about it much. She made it through and has continued on beyond it. On a daily basis, it’s easy to forget about until something as mundane as a routine mammogram reminds me. My sister is a cancer survivor and is still a beautiful role model in my life. What a blessing it is to say that.