This I Believe

Susan - Los Angeles, California
Entered on July 18, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: family, illness

This I believe: Sisters, even sisters with whom one has limited contact, can save your life.

My mother used to say “be good to your family, they’re the ones who’ll always be there for you”. I always thought that statement was wonderfully romantic but now I know she was right. My sisters saved my psychic life so that the doctors could insure my physical well being.

Last year when I was undergoing intense, cutting-edge treatment for cancer, I took the scary and risky step of asking my sisters to come to California to hold my hand.

I was blessed during the chemo-therapy prior to surgery to have a group of friends giving me rides to the doctor’s office for infusion, bringing me lemon pound cake and buying me special soaps and oils for my bath. They were also there to insure that I was eating and that my dog was walked.

And yet, having my sisters – my blood family – with me when I was at my most vulnerable was more reassuring than I ever thought it would be. Prior to my health crisis we had what I might call a “polite” relationship. I ask them about their children and grandchildren; they, in turn, ask about my career moves and friends. Occasionally we even share drafts of writing projects: my younger sister is a poet and I am writing a cookbook. We are also sufficiently respectful that we don’t ask many questions about the normal crises of being married or of living singly.

However, with my cancer, I needed to put my mother’s lessons into practice. I asked Betty and Buff to be with me at a time when I was physically and psychically vulnerable. And they came through.

As most people who have dealt with severe health crises know, few words can lessen the intensity of the experience. However, the fact that I had tangible proof I was part of a family, that my sisters were invested in my well being was a powerful balm. Oh, yes, my treatment team was key in getting the necessary medical support, but the presence of my sisters kept me in the state of mind needed for recovery.

My sisters talked to the physicians to inquire about procedures and about my progress. It was so reassuring to know that they were demonstrating to my treatment team that I was part of a family. The risks of being single include the aloneness that comes from having to go through a health trauma without husband or siblings. By no means does this statement diminish the importance of the army of friends who were with me throughout my treatment.

At the same time, having my sisters with me brought back a feeling of belonging I had not experienced in many years. There is something immeasurably comforting about being at my worst around people who really know my history. I believe that sisters have the power to save your life.