Saturday, July 16, 2011

Journey's End

Mary went off her pain medication two days after her surgery.  Next week, she'll be back to work cleaning houses with Deb.  She's Super Woman, that girl.

I'm trying hard not to hate her just a little bit.

The week before Mary's surgery, something strange occurred to me.  Mary's operation - the last for all of us- would fall on July 7th, one year to the day after Terri's breast cancer diagnosis.

"I can't believe it!" Terri gasped when I reminded her.  "It's like a sign or something."

All the rest of my life, I will never forget the call Terri made to me on that warm July day from the WalMart parking lot after hearing the results of her biopsy.

"I've got it!" she sobbed. 

In that second, all our lives changed forever.

My little sister Terri is my hero.  She was the first to confront the unthinkable and overwhelming idea of a double mastectomy.  She was the first to undergo an operation to remove her breasts and to wake up in her hospital bed to pronounce, "I'm on the other side!"  She was the first to sit nervously in the plastic surgeon's office and feel the injection of saline expanding her chest muscles to create new breasts.

Because she was brave, Deb and Mary and I were brave.  And now it's over.  What a harrowing, emotional journey it's been.  But who better to share it with than your sisters and best friends?

From July 7th last year to July 7th this year, we lost our breasts and got new ones.  We discovered how to sleep sitting up, wash our hair without lifting our arms, and hide our boy chests behind carefully arranged scarves.

More than that, we discovered we could get through any thing as long as we had each other.

There are still moments of despair and grief at the loss of our breasts.  Much of that grief is for Mom.  She's missed out on so much these last 32 years.  But it is because of her that Deb, Mary, Terri and I will survive. We will live to see our children grow to adulthood.  We will know our grandchildren.

I miss my mother so much.  Terri, who is too young to remember all the subtle nuances that were uniquely my mother's, is more like Mom than any of us.  It's her quick-witted, outrageous sense of humor.  It's the way she gently turns an infant on her shoulder and kisses it tenderly on the cheek.  It's the spot-on imitations she does of her kids that make us gasp for air laughing.

She makes Mom feel very near.  But I see Mom in all my sisters.  She is in Deb's laughter, in Mary's expressive brown eyes, and in Caroline's plucky resolve.  We have felt her loving spirit encouraging us, comforting us, applauding us.

"Don't be sad!" she tells us.

I know we'll see her again.  And Dad, too.  But in the meantime, the terrible fear that ruled our lives is gone at last, and the future that always seemed uncertain  is folding out in front of us.  Mom would want us to enjoy it.

And so we will.
For our kids.
For ourselves.
And for Mom.