I wish you could meet my brother-in-law.
Paul Lewandowski is tall, good-looking, kind, and an All-American great guy – the kind of guy you always hope your daughter or your little sister will end up marrying.
Deb, Mary, our brother Tom, Tom’s little girl Kelsey, and I sat in the waiting room of the hospital. We’d all had a chance to hug Terri before her operation. She was calm, focused and ready. Now Paul, who had stayed by her side until she was wheeled into surgery, walked out to join us.
“Well,” he said shakily, slumping into a chair and rubbing the moisture from his eyes, “she told me I’m supposed to make you laugh.”
I wanted to hug him. But sometimes, hugging’s the worst thing you can do, especially when it’s your emotional brother-in-law trying to pull himself together.
Terri’s last minute instructions to Paul before her surgery didn’t surprise any of us. She and Paul are two of the funniest people I know. Their kids are hysterical, too. A big family has to make its own fun, and the Lewandowskis are masters at creating their own entertainment.
One of their favorite “road” games started with my nut-of-a-sister. In their extended family van, the “good ol’ Econoline”, they jokingly call it, Paul would pull up to a stoplight, and Terri would pretend to be dead asleep for the benefit of the other drivers on the road. Smashing her face against the passenger window, she’d relax her gaping jaw and unleash a long drool of spit from the corner of her mouth.
Paul was the straight man. His role was to remain alertly business-like as he stared intently out the front window with his hands gripping the wheel precisely in the 10 and 2 position. But the six Lewandowski kids in the back would rock with laughter and provide Terri with play-by -play commentary.
“Okay, Mom,” Ben would snort, “the guy’s just looking over. Oh man!” An explosion of giggling shook the Econoline. “You should see his face!”
Reaction is every thing to the Lewandowskis. If they can’t shock and mortify their fellow man, what’s the point of living?
Paul kept his promise to Terri that morning in the waiting room. We talked and laughed and played “Go Fish” with our niece Kelsey. But all eyes were on the clock.
“We’ll be in the operating room about three hours,” Dr. Grange had explained to us, “unless we find something in the lymph nodes.” The plan, she said, was to check the sentinel node, the first node where breast cancer would spread. If the sentinel node was clean, there’d be no need to check the others.
After three and a half hours, we were getting jumpy. Every time a shadow passed by the swinging doors of the operating room, our hearts skipped a beat. Finally, though, Dr. Grange and Dr. Montag came striding out the door.
“Nothing in the nodes!” Dr. Grange reassured us right away.
The relief was enormous. Deb hugged both surgeons, and we all clasped each other with happiness. Terri would be in recovery for the next hour or so, the surgeons explained. By the time we finished lunch, she would be in her hospital room.
Kris, our stepmother arrived, and our youngest sister Caroline. And finally, we were allowed to see Terri. I was a tiny bit anxious to see my little sister without her breasts. It’s hard to admit that. Would she be traumatized, I wondered? Maybe she’d be drowsy and out of it from anesthesia.
She was neither. Alert and smiling, she greeted us triumphantly. “I’m on the other side!” she sighed in happy relief. And even without her boobs, she was still Terri.
A nurse strode into the room to check Terri’s morphine drip. “How would you rate the pain,” she questioned, “between 1 and 10?”
“It’s around 4,” Terri quipped, “but I want you to keep the morphine coming, so I’m saying 8.”
The nurse laughed and assured her the last thing she wanted was for Terri to feel pain.
“When can you go home, Ter?” I asked
“They said tomorrow if I’m doing cartwheels,” she said. “I practiced one in the hall just now.”
All the way home, Deb, Mary and I marveled at Terri’s humor and resilience. “Life is good,” I sighed.
It was good to enjoy the moment. As it turned out, it was only a moment.
Deb and Mary were scheduled for their yearly mammograms in two weeks.
Deb would be next.