MB and I have been friends a long, long time. Way longer than this blog has been alive. We worked together, laughed together, cried together. After reading this – I cried again. I saved my last guest post for her, for Mother’s Day. Love you, darlin.
Another Similar Chapter
by MB from Mamalicious
Anyone who knew my family during the 1970s probably reflects back by remembering a nice, normal, happy family consisting of mom, dad and three daughters. “Even our dog is a girl,” my dad would proudly say when boasting of living in a house with all females. We lived in a great neighborhood, in a wonderful house. We were kind of a modern-day Little House on the Prairie, enjoying life with family and friends.
But they also probably remember this: in 1973, my older sister, Leslie, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and our lives changed forever. I don’t think even the adults in our world had the slightest idea about how the next six years would unfold.
I was completely unaware of what her diagnosis meant or could ever mean, so “normal” for me became watching my sister endure treatments that ravaged her body in various ways. Somehow it was “normal” that she had chubby cheeks. And sometimes she had no hair. And often times she experienced tremendous pain. Hospital visits and stays were routine and one or both of my parents being away with her was just a way of life for us.
I remember feeling like most of it wasn’t real – as if I were watching a movie about a girl who was sick all of the time. I can honestly say that I can recall very little about my childhood. I see glimpses, but many of them are not pleasant. I suppose I have blocked most of what happened during those six years.
In 1979, leukemia got the best of Leslie. She died at home in the middle of the night, with my parents at her side. I call it my life’s most defining moment, though I think it was more like a six-year defining moment (if that’s possible).
Her illness was long and excruciating and somewhat public. She was the only kid in school who had such a disease. Our church and schools supported us however they could. Our friends and family offered support by mowing the lawn (I called them the “lawn brigade”), by cooking meals and by picking up where we struggled. My parents are proud people and I’m certain that it was hard for them to accept help, but lots of people cared about us.
Our whole community chipped in to help during Leslie’s illness so when she died, it wasn’t just our family who was affected. I am 41 years old and am still approached by people who say that Leslie’s illness and death was one of the hardest things they have endured. My closest friends from that period (who are still my closest friends) were impacted as if they’d lost a sibling, too. Leslie’s death touched people in intimate ways and people were, at times, profoundly changed.
I can honestly say that I think about Leslie every single day. I remember very little about her now and I only have a few pictures to remind me how she looked but her handprint on my life will never go away. My therapy sessions are chock-full of conversations about Leslie and how her death has impacted my living. My daughter carries her name as her middle name.
In the last few years, my sister and I bought homes in the neighborhood where we grew up. Our closest family friends from childhood did the same. I have often wondered why we all ended up back here, revisiting the place that brought us significant pain in losing Leslie.
Last week I figured it out. I know why we’re all back home.
My beautiful, almost 10-year-old nephew, Calvin, was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma. My youngest sister’s oldest son, my parent’s first and favored grandson, has a blood-bourne cancer.
When I learned of the diagnosis, I could barely speak. To me, cancer has meant suffering and pain and absence and grief and anger and hurt-beyond-repair. To think that my family – whose lives were already devastated by cancer – would have to endure it again? You can imagine the conversation I had with God on that day.
It is not difficult to explain the cruel irony of his diagnosis. It is difficult to explain how profoundly affected all of us (family, friends, community) have been in the last few days. Those same people who offered help before have shown up yet again, ready to fight another fight and determined to kick its ass this time. While excruciating, I cannot tell you how strangely healing that community support has been for me.
It has been 30 years since Leslie died. Three decades of cancer research has been done and I can only allow myself to believe in the treatment that Calvin will receive. While my mom can barely lift her head off the pillow today, I am standing strong and at the ready. I will do whatever it takes to make sure that Cal gets the best treatment possible, that he is never alone and that the other little ones know what to expect as we embark on this ass-kicking journey. We learned a lot through Leslie’s death.
I guess it’s time to put those lessons to use.