Wednesday, 16 July 2014

17. The worried sister

My sister had to go back to the breast clinic this week, to investigate a suspicious lump.

Suddenly, she was no longer just “my sister”. She was “my little sister”. I haven’t felt like that about her for decades.

Oh, oh, oh, my little sister.
My sister (left) and I (1967)
She only told me about the worrying lump last week.

She had been hiding it from me (and from everyone else).

I understand this. When I went to my doctor with my newly-found lump, no-one knew except my husband. I didn’t tell anyone that the doctor had referred me to the breast clinic. I was completely convinced that it would turn out to be an innocent cyst, and what was the point of sending people into unnecessary fits of fretting?

My sister discovered her lump when I’d had my lumpectomy and was preparing for a mastectomy. My state affairs sent her into self-checking mode, and she too found a lump.

This was rather inconvenient. My mother was dying and needed endless care. The organisational rigmarole that surrounds death took both my sisters right out of their daily routine. At any other time, I would have come over to Holland and pulled my weight, but now I couldn’t.

How on earth could my sister fit a breast lump into all this?

She postponed the trip to the doctor, waiting instead for the routine mammogram she was due to have the day after our mother’s funeral.

(Which was, incidentally, also the day my sisters had to clear out my mother’s rooms in the nursing home. I, in the meantime, was back in London and comfortably settled in bed, where I stayed for several weeks. That definitely sounds like the better option.)

The routine mammogram was, of course, not enough to establish whether or not her lump was cancerous. My sister was having a lovely break in the English countryside with her friend and the marvellous Helping Dog, but a string of messages from her doctor put a nasty stop to relaxing thoughts. She was summoned back to Holland, to attend the breast clinic.

Suddenly, I saw how bad it must be for others, watching someone you love go through the mill.

Yes, it is tough for me to go through investigations, uncertainties, test results, bad news, pain, horrible treatments. But at least I know how I am dealing with it.

When it is my sister, all I can do is stand by and watch, helpless.

The thought of my little sister having to go through surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy is worse than the thought of having to go through it myself.

So I am writing this post out of respect and appreciation for all my family and friends who are valiantly standing by, watching me. Helpless, no doubt.

You haven’t shared the extent of your own distress with me, and I am grateful for that, because it really is too much for me to take on board other people’s feelings. But if my worry about my sister is anything to go by, you may very well be sick with worry about me.

The question, therefore, should not only be: How is Irene? but also: How is her family? How are her friends?

How is your sister? I hear you ask.

Here is some good news, at long last: she is fine. Her breast lump turned out to be a cyst, nothing to be concerned about, no treatment needed.

Just as well. I was already having visions of the two of us united in baldness, which would surely make our big sister feel left out. Furthermore, at the rate things have been going in this family, people could begin to think that we are making it up.

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