T’s sister was diagnosed with breast cancer a month or so ago. She received her diagnosis on the day her oldest brother died, and it was Christmastime. She has three little daughters. The youngest isn’t even in school yet. She turned 40 a few weeks before the diagnosis which is almost impossible for me to fathom. She was only three years old when T and I started dating. When she was six, I traveled to California with her, T, and their mom to visit their grandparents. She was just learning to whistle on that trip. I shared a bed with her for two weeks on that trip, and she whistled late into the night. I can remember gently lifting up her tiny body to move her over to her own side of the bed each night. She was eight years old at our wedding when she was a junior bridesmaid in our wedding. She was missing her two front teeth, and she cried like her heart would break when T and I left the wedding reception that night.
She spent many nights with us during the early years of our marriage. We’d take her to Taco Bell, for ice cream and to Indian pow wow’s. We invented an indoor, candlelight golf game to play, and she wore an apron to help with housework. She was our weekend babysitter when Andrew was little. It was a sweet deal. We allowed her to bring a friend along and paid her with pizza and movie rentals.
Today, hundreds of miles away from us, she had a double mastectomy. There are multiple tumors, and they’re large. She will have a month of recovery after surgery before beginning a grueling regimen of chemotherapy.
I have navigated this day, and the weeks prior, with a heavy heart. I hate the thought of the anguish and pain she has been going through and will face over the coming months. I hate it that her life will be forever changed, because there is no way to face such things without it fundamentally changing who we are as a person.
My other sister in law has kept me up to date throughout the day. I ache for what she is going through, too, her husband, my 80 year old mother in law, and my three little nieces. I hate it that this one sister who was the baby of the family and cherished by all has to go through the evil that is cancer.
And so we trudged through another work day hundreds of miles away from our family, but we were with them in spirit and in prayer. We were not asked to be there, and we know that our presences would have accomplished nothing. This was a time when more people would have complicated an already difficult situation.
The contrast of my day with that of my sister in law’s was drastic. I felt guilty to enjoy a productive meeting, a bowl of soup for lunch, and a song playing as I drove home from work. How can one life be so normal, mundane even, when another lays helpless on a table while doctors slice away hoping to eradicate the killer? I squeezed my eyes shut several times today in a prayer of thanksgiving for this normal and boring day, and I prayed for the life of my sister in law.
Tonight as we waited for word that she was out of surgery, I started in on the laundry. I needed to wash the bedding for our new bedroom furniture that will be delivered tomorrow afternoon. T was working on wiring in the basement. We’re knee-deep in the middle of a major home improvement project. I’m excited to see how things will look with the new furniture and with one little corner finished in the mess of our house. I felt a pang of guilt to be happily anticipating these meaningless changes in our lives.
I finished folding laundry and grabbed the basket that sits on the shelf in the laundry room. Whenever a stray sock shows up, it ends up in the basket to be sorted out later. I called out to the girls to look through their sock drawers for strays, and soon they joined me in the sock sort. We talked quietly as we paired the socks. We wondered at where their missing mates might have ended up. We found a few single gloves and a dog bootie. I breathed in a deep sigh as we returned the non-paired stray socks to the basket. The sorting and the conversation with my daughters had eased the tight knot of stress between my shoulders.
Simple days, days without pain, when loved ones are within the sound of our voice are days to cherish. I told my girls that I love them and that I was grateful for their help and their company.
Tonight I pray for my sister in law. I want her to have thousands of mundane days ahead of her, days full of work and simple chores like sorting socks with her daughters.