See You “in the Morning,” Sister-Girl

Lori Ann by Tapman Media

My guys and I traveled to New Orleans the weekend before last–to lay eyes on and touch my sister Lori, to love on her and pray over her. Even though she could not verbally communicate with us, she was responsive. She even opened her eyes briefly. In our prayers for a mighty miracle, we also submitted to Divine Wisdom. There was so much light in her, still so much fight that we walked away, hopeful that we’d see her again the following weekend.

That was not to be.

My sister, Lori, took her last breath a few days after our return, Wednesday night, September 12, just before midnight. And now, I feel like I’m holding my own breath…again.

I am angry. Disappointed. Hurt. Grieving miserably. I wish I could sit this one out and not go through it at all. I draw parallels between Grendel, the monster of the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, and cancer, a horrible night-crawler that catches us unaware and snuffs out lives. Jealous over our happiness, our relationships. Our very humanity. And that horrible beast took Lori from us, like it took Karlette five and a half years ago.

One of my nieces texted me yesterday expressing her utter disappointment and anger about Lori’s passing. We were all praying that her desperate situation could become an incredible story of Divine intervention. I assured her that I share her feelings, and encouraged her to give full vent of her anger to God. He can handle it. Furthermore, He’s well acquainted with our grief and He’s just as hurt and angry as we are that we are going through this…AGAIN.

I read and reread the following quote almost daily for several weeks and finally shared it with my mom and sister:

God didn’t set this journey in motion. He’s just as angry as you are that you have to walk this road. But He promises you this: He will walk this road with you. And He will be there for you when you reach the end of it. God loves you.  –from the television series Touched by an Angel

God is a compassionate, loving Father, cradling us and weeping with us. His amazing grace, the blessed hope of Christ’s return to take us Home, preparation for the biggest family reunion ever, and a heavenly future without the suffering and pain of illness and death rescue me from the darkest depths of despair.

I already miss Lori like crazy. She was a good person, who welcomed all into her life and loved them deeply. She loved giving gifts, finding just the right thing. Like Karlette, she loved beautifying her spaces. She spent so much time babysitting many of the nieces and nephews that we can claim she “half raised” them. Her guys and two little girls (her granddaughters) were her heart, but there was so much room for many more.

Though I grieve over the loss of her, I do so with an unshakeable hope, rooted in Christ:

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. –I Thessalonians 4:13-18

“Lavender Tulips for Lori,” by Tapman Media

I Breathe. Hope.

Hope is a midwife, helping us breathe. Out with the pain. In with the Spirit. Repeat as often as necessary. And again and again. There’s no shortage of oxygen. No shortage of God.  —Jennifer Dukes Lee

I wrote the quote above in my Bible Study journal nearly three years ago. I can’t remember the specific reason why it spoke to me then, but at this moment, I am breathing hope.

We learned that my sister’s cancer metastasized to her brain two weeks ago. Radiation was stopped after a week because it was not preventing the spread of the disease and was only making her weaker. Two days ago, the doctor told her husband, my parents, and my baby sister, “There is no hope for recovery.” Plain and simple. To the point. Not what we want to hear, but the candor we need to activate hope and faith.

The late, great evangelist E.E. Cleveland, in expounding on Hebrews 11:1, told our class of wide-eyed college students many years ago that “faith is belief in the absence of evidence and in the face of contrary evidence.” I’ve never forgotten those words. They are ingrained in my spirit.

So now the faithwork intensifies. Now, we pool our faith and hope and pray and fast and plead for the miracle we know God can perform, if it is His will to do so. Because we cannot just lie down and accept that this is our story…again. We cannot simply accept that this is sweet Lori’s story. Lori with the heart of gold. Lori who has been unflappable. Lori who has found a way to praise God through mind-numbing, excruciating pain. Lori whose faith has been rock-solid, unwavering throughout this entire ordeal.

The doctor did his job. Now, we wait in hope for God to do His.

How can I have such audacious faith that GOD CAN HEAL even metastatic cancer after I’ve already lost one sister to cancer? I believe in miracles and divine interventions. I serve the Most High God who still performs divine acts in the face of human impossibilities.

So I lay all of it on the altar and praise God for what He will do, and if He allows another outcome, He is still God.

I breathe hope.

Dancing in a Pink Tutu

“It’s all about a man, his pink tutu, and raising funds for women with breastcancer.”

My penfriend Christine sent me the postcard above a couple of months ago. The photo of Bob Carey, “the burly, hairy-chested man in the pink tutu,” made me smile. I have been consumed with thoughts of cancer and how much I absolutely hate the disease. It is a heavy, heavy thing to deal with for the patients and those who know and love them. I needed to remember my smile, so I picked up the postcard again late last night when the house was quiet.

I love what “the man in the pink tutu” is doing to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer patients. I love how he manages to help us laugh in the midst of some of the hardest moments. He reminds us that there is still so much more to life, so much more to celebrate, so many reasons to dance.

Cancer has taught us that life is good. Dealing with it can be hard, and sometimes the very best thing—no, the only thing—we can do to face another day is to laugh at ourselves, and share a laugh with others.  –Bob Carey

You can find out more about the Tutu Project and how to support through donations, fundraising, and/or purchase, by visiting the website: The Tutu Project.

I’m going to dance in a pink tutu. Do you care to join me?

The “Other” Sister: “I didn’t have to fight…”

Although I’ve written about my younger sister Karlette who succumbed to breast cancer a few years ago, I have not mentioned Lori, my other sister, who danced with the devil. Lori’s diagnosis came a few years before Karlette’s first. I asked her to write a blog post about her experience, but she feels that she has little to add to the conversation. However, what she shared with me during the “trying-to convince-her” discussion says a lot about the feelings of some breast cancer survivors whose battles may not have been as “dramatic” as others’.

It has been hard for me to think of myself as a survivor. I really didn’t have to fight cancer. Karlette fought cancer. It kept coming for her and she fought with everything she had. I just went through treatments and it was gone. I’m not sure if I’ve ever celebrated survival. I know that there’s always the possibility of its coming back, but my plan would be the same[…]. I never thought of it as a fight. I thank God for His mercy and for blessing me when so many others had to fight and many even lost.

When I pointed out to her that her status as “survivor” is a matter of perspective, that every year she “holds her breath until given the ‘cancer free’ news,” she responded:

I do. [But] I give it all to God. I thank Him daily for every breath I take. Don’t get me wrong. I know I, too, could have lost, but I know that it was God who fought and won. Not me–not without giving it to Him.

It has been difficult for Lori being the older sister survivor when one of her baby sisters didn’t survive. She lives with profound sadness because of this reality. I watched her go through treatment, and it wasn’t pretty. Cancer changed her life. It changed her body’s chemistry and even impacted the way she processed our younger sister’s passing. 

A cancer diagnosis–no matter how positive the prognosis–is a sucker punch that a person feels deep in his or her being. Every cancer survivor lives with the possibility that “it” may return.

That is what makes survivors survivors–not “beating” the disease or coming through unscathed but the daunting reality of the disease; they’re survivors because they can stand up in the world and move and contribute and be [whole and well] with the looming possibility of such crippling news.

We lost Karlette. That’s an awful reality that hurts like hell. But losing her makes us celebrate Lori even more. Though we may never have the answer to why not Karlette too, Lori’s survival is important. It rescues us from despair. It gives us hope. And that is certainly a reason to celebrate.

The closing lines of my favorite Lucille Clifton poem comes to mind:

come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
[from “won’t you celebrate with me“]

*Photos in this post are from Pixabay.

Pink Orchids and Karle’s Wings

“March 11.”

“Pink orchids.”

These words played over and over in my mind as I awakened from my slumber this morning.  Today marks four years since we lost Karlette, my younger sister, to breast cancer.  And pink orchids were her favorite flowers.

I’ve been fighting with a photo of pink orchids I shot at the New Orleans Botanical Gardens in January. I want it to commemorate her life. I want it to be beautiful.  I want it to represent her.  I want it to be perfect. It’s far from perfect, but it’s what I have until I get back to New Orleans and capture them again.

Pink Orchid, New Orleans Botanical Gardens

I realize my fretting over the orchids has a lot to do with my trying to cope with March 11, a date that gives me anxiety, although I think about my sister every.single.day.

Before her death, Karlette and I had plans to write the stories of her brutal battles with breast cancer and what we’d hoped would be her victory.  I have the pictures, but without her voice,  I know it will not be the story she wanted told.

Some aspect of her story will be shared eventually, but for now, I’ve decided to honor her memory in another way.

Recently, I had the privilege of writing postcards to breast cancer patients with whom my only acquaintance is that someone they know is in one of the same Facebook groups to which I belong.   I prayed and used my sister’s experience to guide me as I wrote.  I thought about what she would say and how she would encourage women.  It dawned on me that sometimes a small thing such as a postcard or note goes a long way to cheer someone who is struggling with this disease, and honoring Karlette does not require a monumental gesture.

So today, instead of suffering silently this awful loss, I’m reclaiming March 11.  Today, I am launching Karle’s Wings, a postcard ministry aimed at sharing with breast cancer sufferers and survivors beauty, light, and joy–characteristics Karlette embodied.

If you or someone you know would benefit from a postcard from Karle’s Wings, please complete the contact form below. The  information will remain private and will not be shared with anyone beyond the purpose of addressing a postcard, note, or letter. Within days of receiving the request, you, your family member or friend will receive a handwritten, personalized postcard from Karle’s Wings.

Love and light…

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Photo by Tapman Media, New Orleans

To My Colleague with Breast Cancer: You Have This Moment

faith

I read a little of your story today and it broke my heart. I see you wearing courage and faith openly, but I know you’re hurting, suffering, and perhaps afraid. I want to talk to you, but I don’t know what to say.  That I’m praying for you? I am.  But how many times a day do you hear that?

Whenever I see you, I think of Karlette, my little sister. The loss of her. The grief that still challenges every waking minute.  The sorrow that changed me. That changed all who really knew her in unspeakable ways.  Knowing this very real loss of her, I cannot offer you empty platitudes and mere words. I will not ever say to you what many cancer patients often hear:  “You’re a fighter. You will make it.  You will come through this.”

hope

I don’t know that. Neither of us do. Unless we are speaking of a future in the heavenly realms, earth offers no guarantees. Faith that can move mountains assures us that God is faithful. But. Faithful God allows grief, disappointment, and sorrow.  No matter how unfair or mean or downright unacceptable it seems to us—faithful God says, “some sicknesses are unto death, some for testimony.”  This can be a hard, hard pill to swallow.  But it is truth.

I wouldn’t say any of that to you either. You already know it.  You began this difficult line of thinking when you first heard the diagnosis or when the treatments did not bring desired results.

Then, I remember a conversation with Karlette on one of my visits.  In 2011 or 2012.  She had so many battles, so I’m not sure of the year.  She was weary of people seeing her as a cancer patient, as a cancer victim.  When people saw her, she felt, they saw cancer and not her.  She wanted to talk about MORE than that.  She was so much more than that, but when cancer takes over your body and your life and you can barely lift your head most days, even you begin to wonder.  I remember saying to her—you are not your cancer.  Or maybe, she said to me–I am not my cancer.

I say it to you–you are not your cancer.  You are more than this disease that disrupted your happiness and altered your life so completely that you are no longer who you were. I say to you–embrace the uncertainty.  Live and dance and love in beauty and in the sacredness of your being, and be everything you are in this moment.  Only this moment is sure.

love

“Breast Cancer Has No Face”

Today marks two years since my younger sister’s passing due to cancer.  It’s not easier, as some assured me it would be.  Every day I think about her. Every day I fight tears and nail-spitting anger.  Every day I remind myself that this life is not all, that I have a “hope burning in my heart” to be reunited with my sister and other loved ones some day.

Last weekend, I did a bit of organizing and finally emptied some boxes of “nonessentials” from our move two and a half years ago.  As I emptied a box, here and there, I stumbled across something connected to my sister: an essay she wrote and sent for my review before submitting; a recipe for a smoothie she shared because I don’t like eating breakfast; an old journal with the plans we made for the book we were going to write together about her experiences; a prayer written in tears, pleading for her healing.

I found wrapped in lots of tissue the extras of the beautiful sun catchers she made for a women’s group I coordinated.  She’d made a similar one for all of us sisters for Christmas one year and since I liked it so much, she volunteered to make some for the group.

There is always something in a box or in a book or even on my cellphone or saved to my hard drive…these beautiful reminders of her life on earth.

There’s this precious angel saved in a text message.

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She sent this to me the night after she read my blog post that championed her “fighting like a girl” against the cancer monster.  She made the angel for a bulletin board in her middle school classroom, probably for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  In the 10-25-12 text message she wrote, “My angel is missing her halo.” For me the missing halo has become a metaphor for Karlette as she walked this earth.  She was indeed an angel without a halo to many through her many selfless acts.

In her message she also wrote the title of this piece, “Breast Cancer Has No Face”–her socio-political statement about a disease that has no boundaries, no consideration for a person’s name, income, or status, and certainly no cure.

For me, its face is very real and it bears the eyes of my sister.