Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Breast Cancer : Sisters share — even a scare


On a warm Tuesday morning in 2004, I leave work and drive to the doctor’s office where my twin sister has an appointment to discuss the persistent pain in one of her breasts. Although Gayle insists I shouldn’t come, I insist on being there.

Elaine, our older sister, has driven down from Tyler the night before. We aren’t expecting bad news, but should it come, we want to be there for support.

By the time I arrive, Gayle is already with the doctor. Elaine sits thumbing through old magazines. We hug each other and make small talk.

After an eternal wait, Gayle appears and breaks the news: The doctor wants her to go over to the hospital for a mammogram and a chest x-ray.

My heart races, but I don’t panic. The last thing Gayle needs is for me to get hysterical.

When we were little, I occasionally got hysterical. If Gayle was having dental work done, I screamed bloody murder in the waiting room. When she got a spanking, I went berserk. I didn’t want anyone hurting Gayle.

Today, people throw around the term “soul mate,” but Gayle and I are real soul mates, although we often refer to ourselves as “womb mates.”  We’ve never experienced life without each other. And I can’t imagine having to.

As we work out the details of what is to come, I manage to remain calm. Gayle will go for the chest x-ray, then to the hospital for a mammogram in the afternoon.


We head over to the imaging center across the street and settle into the chairs in the waiting room. The gravity of why we are here hits me. What if Gayle has breast cancer?

About one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. I have friends who’ve been through it—some did not survive. My throat hurts.

The door opens and a kind woman takes Gayle away. Watching her go leaves a sinking feeling in my stomach. Elaine reaches for my hand.

The chest x-ray is over in minutes. With time to spare, we decide to have lunch at a nearby eatery. My appetite has vanished, but I order my usual and join my sisters at a small table.

After a prayer, we launch into a conversation about what ifs. It is a lighthearted conversation, but the seriousness of it doesn’t escape us. We talk about treatments for breast cancer, reconstructive surgery, and about life afterwards. Underneath the chatter, I sense that we’re all in agony.


Suddenly I want to reach out and touch Gayle’s hand. I want to look into her eyes and let her know how much I love her, but I fear I can’t say anything without falling apart, so it goes unsaid.

We finish eating, drive back to the hospital and sit in the breast center’s waiting room. There are magazines and we each take one.


Growing up, one of our favorite events was the arrival of a new Sears & Roebuck catalog. What followed went something like this:  Elaine held the catalog and sat between me and Gayle on the sofa. 

Opening to Page 1, she would point to the page and say, “Gayle,” which meant that it was Gayle’s turn to look at the pictures on the page and make up a story about them. Gayle might say, “That’s me in the red dress, and that’s my best friend in the black hat. We’ve just been to see the Queen of England."

On Page 2, Elaine would point and say, “Dayle,” at which time I would concoct some tale about the images there. On the third page, Elaine would point and say, “Elaine,” then proceed to spin her own lively story.


On and on the chant would go. Page after page, it was Gayle, Dayle, Elaine. Our hopes and dreams were whispered over the pages of a Sears & Roebuck catalog. Now, my only wish is for Gayle to be OK. Please God, let Gayle be OK.

It helps to know we aren’t alone in our anxious waiting. In hospitals across America, other sisters are clasping hands, hoping and praying that it will not be their loved one who must embark on this intensely personal journey. But every three minutes, a woman in this country is told she has breast cancer. Truth is, we’re all afraid. And it is our fear that unites us and energizes us in the fight for a cure.

A cheerful nurse appears and escorts us through a door. From there, things move quickly. Gayle is taken into a room, the mammogram is performed and the results are read by a radiologist, who isn’t totally pleased with what he sees. Although no masses are seen, there are some dense areas, so he orders an ultrasound.


By this time, I have resigned myself to the idea. If Gayle has breast cancer, we will get through it. I think of all the difficult things my sisters and I have been through in our lifetimes, and I know this will be no different. Together—and with God’s help—we will endure whatever comes to us.

After a while, the radiologist emerges, smiling. I take that as a good sign. “You can go in and see her now,” he tells us, and we do.

Gayle is beaming. Turns out, there is no evidence of cancer, only “normal fibro-glandular changes” in the breast. A collective sigh of relief fills the room.


Later, as we walk slowly to the parking lot, I realize that it is in the disquieting struggles and fears of life that families come together and find the strength to survive, to move forward, to cope.

With the sun on my face, I inhale the warm afternoon, deeply grateful for my sisters beside me. Our little circle—Gayle, Dayle, Elaine—has been strengthened once again.



***

This essay first appeared in The Dallas Morning News on October 19, 2004, and, later in the book, Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul 2.

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22 comments:

  1. you are right that it is the hard things
    that draw people together. i am glad
    your sister's report was good, though!

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  2. How fortunate you are to all have each other!

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  3. Your story has so many things going on, all very profound!
    Cancer, sisterhood, concern, love, being there, joy and God. Beautiful!

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  4. Sisterly bonds are a powerful thing. Yes, happy endings are the best.

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  5. So glad your story had a good ending. You are so right of course though. As I went through my journey with breast cancer I honestly don't know what I would have done without my sisters. They saw me through every single step of the way. A bond like no other. I can't imagine how wonderful it would have been to have an identical twin sister. A bond you'd have to experience to know I have a feeling. I use to pretend I had one, haha. Enjoy your day!

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  6. Oh how blessed to have such a closeness with your sisters. Mine lives very far away and rarely see each other now that our folks are gone. I wish we could be together more. You are a lucky gal and I enjoyed this touching story.

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  7. You ladies are gorgeous--inside and out! Wonderful story of hope and family support!

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  8. So glad you had your happy ending! It must be so fun to have a sister! Enjoy each other.

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  9. Oh, thank God, Dayle, that your sister was okay. I pray that we will all be spared the agony of breast cancer. Oh, I think it must be soooo devastating. Thanks for the story. Susan

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  10. As a sister, I could relate to this post from the beginning to the end. I know the bond that sisterhood brings. I can only imagine the twin sister bond. It must be wonderful!

    I'm so glad the story ended with the "easy" ending, but I am equally confident that the three of you and the God you trust would have made that ending GOOD no matter what.

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  11. Thank you so much for sharing this. It's hard to explain the bond of sisters. I am blessed to have a sister and a cousin that is just like my sister. We share good times and bad. What a blessing! Sweet hugs!

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  12. You are so blessed to have your "soul mate" for the good times and for the bad!! You're blessed with only a scare!!

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  13. Oh, how I related to this post. *sigh* I even felt my heart race while I read it... Had my own scare just last month, about which I will be sharing on Kelley Highway later. Phew x 18 for us all.

    Beaming like sis, for sure!

    ~Kelley

    Thanks be to God!

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  14. Dayle - What a precious post! I have three sisters and know that when one of them hurt, I hurt. I know how you must have felt. When my youngest sister passed away from congestion heart failure at 51, it was like part of me left too. In a sense, it did. But, thank the Lord, your outcome was good. How safe and secure she must have felt with you two beside her to go thru this.

    One of my favorite sayings is "Friendship divides the grief and multiplies the joy". So true.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Judy

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  15. Hi Dayle! Oh, what post and I'm rejoicing with you over the results! You sisters are all so pretty and close. I don't have any brothers or sisters so I've always envied those with siblings, especially close ones like y'all!
    You are an excellent writer also. Thank you so much for popping in to see me and you are a sweetie,
    Shelia ;)

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  16. nice post thanks for sharing..found you thrue other blogs..looking for to visit more..blessings

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  17. Not all memories are lovely memories

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  18. ...now that published before I finished!
    I meant to say that not all memories are lovely memories because of the circumstances surrounding them - some are lovelier because of the outcome. This one had that feature, certainly, but best of all was the love and support among sisters.

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  19. What a powerful record of anxious moments, Dayle! You were living your drama the summer I lost my mom to ovarian cancer. I am so glad your outcome was more joyful. The various photos of you and yours sisters, from childhood through adulthood, were a treat! Three beautiful women - and what truly makes you glow is the obvious love and deep connection you have with one another. What an incredible gift!! Thank you for sharing it with us all.

    I've been largely absent from Blogland for the past almost three months - trying to get a season of way to busy under control and return to some balance in the hours of my week. Good to be back and gleaning inspiration from sweet sisters like you!

    Joy!
    Kathy

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Dear Readers, I adore your company and your comments. If you ask questions here, I respond to them here, so please check back when you have a chance. Kind regards, Dayle