I’ll never forget how Connie’s voice cracked as she struggled to maintain control, her eyes bright with unshed tears, as she halting shared the news that her sister had breast cancer.
A diagnosis of breast cancer would be devastating to anyone. For Connie, the news of her sister’s cancer was particularly devastating. Connie comes from a large, close knit family of eight sisters and one brother. When I first met her ten years ago, she’d already lost one sister to breast cancer. Several years ago, she lost a second sister to breast cancer. A third sister is battling thyroid cancer. Molly makes the fourth sister to diagnosed with cancer and the third sister to have breast cancer.
How does a one cope when faced with such tragedy within one family? For Connie and her sisters, family and faith are everything. With their parents long since gone, the sisters have maintained a familial closeness that is remarkable. Holidays, birthdays, christenings, joys are all celebrated together. Likewise, when one family member is ill, the entire family closes rank and actively participates in the entire healing process. Meals are coordinated and delivered. Children are cared for by a supportive extended family. Houses are cleaned without asking. Husbands and nephews mow the grass, trim the yard, make house repairs. Round the clock “sister” nursing care is provided. A “taxi” service is provided for doctor’s appointments, surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and anything else needed. The burden of the illness is shared by all.
For Molly, the prognosis is good. Connie and her sisters obtain regular mammograms and checkups so her breast cancer has been caught early. They also participate in the Sister Study (www.sisterstudy.org) in hopes that their story will one day help to find a cure so that their daughters will not face the same heartbreak and challenges that they have faced with breast cancer.
In the meantime, they take a deep breath, say a prayer, and set about the business of healing Molly. There are no tears. There is no time to feel sorry for themselves. There is no time to ask why.