|Cassandra Hogue (left) with her sister, Caroline at LIVESTRONG event.|
Joan Didion wrote those words in her recent memoir, Blue Nights, about her 38-year-old daughter who was seriously ill. Those, too, were my thoughts when my 58-year-old healthy sister was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer that was particularly difficult to treat.
“How can this be happening to her? How can this be happening to me? I cannot bear to lose my sister.”
I am certain every family member of a cancer survivor has had similar thoughts. For me, shock and fear predominated my emotions for three months after her diagnosis.
“How could her doctors have missed this? Why didn’t they find this sooner?”
For six months she had not been feeling well and was losing weight. I was outraged, disappointed, frightened. I didn’t voice this to my sister, but she knew how I felt, and I knew how she felt.
I tried to stay positive and stay focused on the tasks at hand. I began organizing her medical care. I made her appointments at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, where doctors thankfully saw her within two weeks. We waited for PET scan results to determine if the cancer had metastasized.
The next month was the seemingly endless round of medical tests, procedures, surgeries to insert a chemotherapy port and feeding tube and radiation therapy appointments. I did inordinate amounts of research to educate myself about the disease, the statistics, treatments, mortality rates, alternative therapies. I went to support groups and read up on caregiver roles, but I was still in shock, still expecting our special exemption from sickness and suffering.
My sister told me one night when we were having a long honest talk. “Let’s make a pact that we can always cry together,” she said.
I cried a lot in those three months.
But then, I unexpectedly turned a corner. Maybe I just exhausted that leg of the grief cycle. Who knows? I participated in the Philadelphia LIVESTRONG ™ Challenge Cycling event sponsored by the Lance Armstrong Foundation. More than 7,000 people participated – many of them cancer survivors, family members of cancer survivors or had lost loved ones too soon.
I talked to so many people that day. I heard many stories, so much suffering and so much strength. My sister came to every rest stop, with a great sign: “My sister is riding for me.” She had just started chemotherapy and radiation, and was wearing sun protection, but she looked great.
I had to just get back on the bike and finish the ride….no time for crying now.
And no special exemptions.
More next month…
Learn more about the LIVESTRONG ™ Cancer Survivorship Center at the Abramson Cancer Center.
Join the 2012 Penn Medicine/ CHOP LIVESTRONG ™ Challenge Team.