Monday, September 30, 2013

A Tree Grows in Sherwood

We’ve lived in this house almost 11 years. My boys were five and eight, so this is primarily where they grew up; this is the home they remember the most.  We moved a lot when I was a kid and somehow we always adapted and it never really bothered me. Once I was grown, I had a nostalgic longing to go back to the place where I grew up, but rather than “a place” there was a series of places, a fragmented history instead of a cohesive one. When we moved here, I planned to stay for the longterm. I wanted the kids to have an address to visit in the future, an address they could point to and say, “this is where I grew up.”

My children’s father and I were the original owners of this house. We chose the lot and the model in this development and watched it being built. The backyard came fenced and with grass, but otherwise was void of landscaping. It was February when we moved in so the backyard wasn’t a priority, but as the air warmed and the outside beckoned us, we wanted to plant and tend the blank slate that was our garden. That May, the local Rotary Club hosted the annual tree sale where all trees were offered for just $10. We headed down to the Albertson’s parking lot, kicking through the sawdust they laid down for the event, and shopped for trees. We selected a few, a couple of ornamental cherry trees because I wanted spring blossoms. And then the birch. A tiny, spindly, sapling. But I love birch trees, with their beautiful bark and dense green canopy, and I hoped this one would grow into one of those beauties. We planted the trees and the birch was placed in the far right corner of the yard.

Every year the tree, much like my kids, seemed to grow exponentially. Each spring as it sprouted new leaves and soared to new heights, its trunk grew stouter, and new extensions developed from the original, until the base of the tree was comprised of multiple trunks. The papery bark flaked in red and white layers, forming ruffles that adorn each sturdy base. In spring and summer, its dense leaves rustle in the breeze and birdsong emanates from the canopy. My little $10 birch sapling became a magnificent tree.

Yesterday we experienced a wind storm. The weather predictions were ominous, gusts would be strong, and trees, still heavily burdened with leaves, would be more susceptible to damage. As the gale blew through, I kept glancing outside. The branches of my birch flailed violently. As the winds calmed, it appeared that the tree had withstood its wild battering. But in the morning I peered out the window and saw a strange gap in my tree. One of the larger branches had snapped from the trunk. It was still attached but was lying across other branches, bending and compromising them, its end resting on the fence we share with our neighbors. Horrified I summoned my husband who felt the branch was too large and heavy for us to manage ourselves. We needed help.

The arborist was friendly, coming to my garden with 25 years of experience. Innocently I thought he would take a look and consider it an easy fix, as simple as removing the broken branch. As he stepped toward the birch he gasped and said, softly, “oh no.” He surveyed the damage and assured me he could save the tree. But it would take more than just removing the broken branch. The trunk the branch sprung from, one of six, would have to be completely removed because it was going to snap as well. The branches that were compromised by the fallen one would need tending. And then tree would need to be pruned to lighten it and protect it from more breakage. $650.

Tears welled up and I felt sick. $650 to fix a $10 tree. I realized at that moment how much that birch tree means to me. How it started so small yet had grown so magnificently with each year. How it had become a metaphor for my family and the hope I had of permanence and what I wanted home to be. The tree’s roots are our roots, too. Settled in the same space.

So the arborist returns tomorrow to tend to my broken tree. It will look different, much like our family looks different than it did 10 years ago. But it is firmly planted, its roots are deep. And this is its home, this is where it grew up.

Letting Go

My oldest child graduated from high school on June 7. “Pomp and Circumstance” played as he and the other 350 plus students marched across the football field. A moment, as a mother, you can only imagine as some faint, far distant event, until it is actually happening. Of course you want it, you expect it. And then, your life with that child replays in fast, grainy snapshots, as he prepares to leave home.

A brief glimpse as your baby is born, wrinkled and screaming, until he is placed in the crook of your welcoming arm and guided to your nurturing breast. The sleepless nights and endless diapers are a blur. The first wobbly steps, the garbled attempts at words. Reading stories, many repeatedly, singing off-key, often made-up lullabies. Filling sippy cups and worrying about whether snacks are healthy enough. Trips to the park, interacting with other children, potty training. Baby gym classes, playgroup meet-ups, wondering if it’s okay that he still climbs into your bed at night. Secretly wishing that the tiny, contented sigh he releases as he snuggles up against you in the wee hours, could be suspended in time.

Letting him go to preschool and wishing he missed you, even just a little, while he was there. Kindergarten, reading Bob books, tying his shoe. Imaginary play, dressing up in superhero capes and creating worlds with Legos. Action figure, not dolls, Mom! Enduring school music programs that always included recorder versions of Hot Cross Buns. Elementary school and a big yellow bus and still needing his mom but less than before. Broken bones and stitches, and then the worst pain, teasing on the playground.

Middle school angst--for you and for him. Worrying at how big these hallways are compared to grade school. Knowing he will be physically and emotionally changing in ways you can’t stop and the symptoms of which you can’t begin to soothe. Remembering the agony of being 13 and knowing he must experience it for himself. Trying to loosen the apron strings he is demanding that you loosen and struggling to see him as the growing young man he is becoming and not the tow-headed toddler begging for another story.

High school. Really?? How did these children grow beards and get deep voices and become taller than you? Dances and dates and heartache. Crazy colored hair, punk rock band practice at your house and various extra kids raiding your pantry. GPA’s, test scores, college applications, and all this time, growing up. Preparing to leave. Four years, you think to yourself. Four years is so long! Just treasure it. And you try to but it goes by so fast. And suddenly, “Pomp and Circumstance” is playing and you are in the stadium stands and your child is in a cap and gown and is on his way out.

And now that four years have somehow seemingly defied increments of 365 long days, you must cling to a three-month summer. You still have three months until he leaves for college. You comfort yourself with how long three months is. But you know you aren’t fooling anyone, even yourself. Because somehow 18 years have passed and you don’t know where they went or how they slipped passed you. Three months is just a moment.

I sit here with now less than a month until my oldest child leaves for college. He can’t wait. He can barely mark the time between now and then. Until, in his mind, his life starts. New. Fresh. As an adult. On his own.

I can’t help but be excited for him. But I can’t help also feeling a little sad. That anti-climactic sad that comes at the end of something great. I’ve done my job. He’s on his own now. And I’m so proud! I try to pull him close for a hug now, and he grudgingly obliges. It’s okay, it’s how it’s supposed to be. But as I help him gather what he needs for his dorm room, the room that will be his home starting September 21, I can’t help wishing we could go back to that, tiny, contented sigh as he snuggled up to me in the wee hours.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Don't Be Alarmed

My mom and my sister are breast cancer survivors. I am not naive about my own risk given this family history but I don’t obsess about it until my annual mammogram is scheduled. I never like getting a mammogram--what woman does? But the procedure itself, while slightly uncomfortable, isn’t what gets me, it’s the waiting to find out if the scans are clear. Typically it takes 3 or 4 days before you get the letter in the mail. You want the letter. The letter tells you that your mammogram was clear and to come back in a year. You don’t want a phone call. Phone calls mean the radiologist sees something and you need to have more imaging.

This year I delayed getting my annual screening. I was due in November but my dad passed away, the holidays hit with a vengeance and then my husband had a heart procedure. I knew that there was way too much on my plate and gave myself permission to wait until the new year. As January started to wane, I reluctantly scheduled the appointment, which happened a couple of weeks ago.

I have always gone to the same hospital for my mammogram and the same woman, Donna, has always been my technician. Donna’s sister and mother are both breast cancer survivors, too. She understands the extra sensitivity I have about getting the procedure. So when Donna came out to bring me back to the imaging room, I was relieved to see her; somehow this consistency is comforting. After taking the pictures Donna gave me the usual info, “if the radiologist sees something you will be called back and might require more pictures.” Then she looked at me, shook her head slightly, as if to say “no” and told me that nothing “popped out at her.” I rubbed her arm in appreciation. “Of course,’ she continued, “the radiologist compares your previous films and has greater magnification...”

I left the hospital and took Donna’s “nothing popped out at me” and held it close. I held it with all my might. The next day I felt anxious; more so than usual. The phone rang and my heart started racing. I nervously checked the caller i.d. and saw it was a market research company. Relieved, I decided to keep busy outside of the house to avoid obsessing about the phone. That evening when my husband came home from work I told him how nervous I’d been all day about the phone and how I’d purposely avoided hanging out there. I had even completed a small writing job at the local coffee shop rather than stay home by the phone. Gary tried to reassure me that if they had seen something I probably would have heard today. I added that to Donna’s “nothing popped out at me” and held really tight. As Thursday progressed, I thought I was feeling less anxious. Until the phone rang. It was my sister, Lisa. “Don’t call me on the home phone,” I said, “I’m so scared it is going to be the hospital.” She apologized and we continued chatting. Then I heard the beep of call waiting. “Oh God,” I whined, “hold on.” I glanced at caller i.d. It was the hospital.

Panic consumed me. “Oh my God it’s the hospital!” Lisa put on her best calm and comforting voice and said, “Ok, answer it. I will wait here on the other line.”

I clicked over. A perfectly nice lady somewhat clumsily asked me if I’d received any information or instructions. Huh? No, I hadn’t. “Well this is regarding your mammogram and the radiologist would like you to come back for some additional screening.” My heart pounded. Oh Donna, why have you forsaken me? “OK, I said.” She asked me if I could come in on the following Tuesday at 8 am. She asked me as if she were inviting me to tea. “Tuesday?” I practically shrieked. “You don’t understand, I am not OK and I will not make it until Tuesday not knowing anything.” She went over the schedule and did her best but could not fit me in any sooner.

I felt completely out of control at that moment. I was shaking violently. Odd, adrenaline-soaked thoughts bombarded me: The boys, Gary and I had tickets to see a favorite comedian on Friday. How would I enjoy it now? I was going to ruin the fun night for my family. Freddie only has one year left of high school. If I am undergoing treatment he might get really stressed because he tends to suppress his feelings and maybe he won’t graduate! I will not look good bald. I don’t want to die.

Both my mom and my sister did their best to reassure me. Going back doesn’t mean you have cancer. It just means they see a difference from last year which could be nothing. It could be a cyst. My mother did her very best “I’m not worried at all” imitation that was painfully and obviously not the case. I understood. I’m a mom, too.

I called Gary and he came home. I stood in my kitchen not able to do anything but tremble.

I decided to call the radiology department back and ask them to recheck for a cancellation. A no-nonsense woman named Betty answered. I explained the situation and asked if perhaps I could go to another Providence hospital (there are several) to have the imaging done sooner. Betty pulled my report and offered to read it to me to perhaps assuage some fears. Fat chance, Betty, but go for it. “Possible new or developing nodule in right breast.” All I heard was “nodule” which sounded ominous but then I took a breath and tried comforting myself with “possible.” “Possible” was my new security blanket since “nothing popped out at me” was clearly out the window. Betty explained that it’s quite common to be called back and that there were many things that could be construed as a nodule, which really is a very generic term and that it could actually be nothing. Betty must have heard my heart beating through the phone so she offered to make some calls to see if she could get me in sooner.

Betty called me back and told me that I could go to Providence in Portland the next day. That they were squeezing me in and might have to wait but to check in at 11:00 am. I love Betty and I told her so.

That evening we had martinis, joined some friends for dinner and had wine, came home and had more wine. I was self-medicating. I slept a bit that night. I actually had pleasant dreams but when I would wake up I would remember where I was going in a few hours and start to shake again. Then I’d breathe, stop the shaking and invite the good dreams to soothe me.

Gary took the day off so he could take me to the appointment. He was understanding, loving, kind and gentle. That’s who he is. I asked him if he was worried and I appreciate that he honestly answered yes. If he’d said no I wouldn’t have believed him or I would have thought he didn’t care. He said that whatever happens that we’d be OK and that he would be with me.

We checked in at the Ruth J. Spear Breast Center at Providence St. Vincent. The woman at the front desk gave me a form to fill out and I told her that I wanted my husband with me for the mammogram. She told me that unfortunately no one can be in the room due to radiation exposure and that the waiting lounge is for women only. This was hard for both of us but Gary had no choice but to sit and watch me go alone through the doors to the women’s lounge.

A nice young woman gave me what I must say was a very attractive robe. It was a lovely aqua color which is a very flattering on me. The fabric was quite nice, too. I stopped shaking. I joined a small lounge where several other aqua-robed women sat reading magazines and newspapers. If a stranger was transported to the lounge not knowing what it was, she might have guessed a spa. I wish it was a spa.

I picked up a magazine and flipped through it. I did not see a single picture or word on any page. I placed it back on the table and surrendered to my own thoughts. Another woman offered me part of the newspaper. I declined. I knew I wouldn’t be able to concentrate enough to read. A woman came from one of the procedure rooms, stopped and gave a “thumbs-up” to newspaper lady and practically bolted out of the lounge to freedom. Newspaper lady explained to the room that thumbs-up woman had to come back for more imaging. “I’m glad she’s ok, she said.” I want to be thumbs up lady.

I said, “I am here for re-takes, too.” This made me laugh slightly because re-take sounds innocuous, like when your school picture doesn’t turn out. The woman next to me looked up and said, “I am, too, and I’m freaking out.” I squeezed her arm and admitted that I was also panicking.  I felt slightly better at this point. I didn’t feel alone. These women were with me. We were together.

My name was called and a lady named Suzie took me back to do the additional mammography on my right breast. Suzies live in your neighborhood and bake really yummy things like zucchini muffins with chocolate chips which are amazing especially since you don’t even like zucchini. Suzies don’t tell people they have cancer. I filed this next to “possible.” I didn’t let it go anywhere near “nodule.”

Suzie explained that she would be taking different images at various angles to give the radiologist a better view of the tissue. She said that this would be more uncomfortable than regular mammograms because they were focusing on a particular area. Each time she pressed my breast in the machine I had to hold my breath and stay completely still. She took several images and told me there would just be a couple more. She compressed my breast tissue between the plates again when suddenly a very loud alarm sounded. “Don’t be alarmed by that, don’t be alarmed by that, “ she insisted, as the alarming alarm sounded. For a brief second, I thought it was some sort of cancer alarm. That when something insidious is found it sounds an alert. Of course I knew this was ridiculous. Mostly. I asked her what it was. Slightly less frightening than “cancer alarm” was her answer, “it’s the fire alarm.” “If this freakin’ hospital burns down before I know what is going on with my boob I am going to have a total nervous breakdown,” I thought, not caring at all about any of the other patients or people in the building, which I feel a little guilty about now. Just a little. Eventually the alarm stopped and we were informed it had been a drill.

Suzie finished up and told me that I was to wait back in the lounge while the radiologist looked at my new films and then I would probably be sent for an ultrasound. I asked if I could wait with my husband. She agreed and wrapped a warm blanket around me. I sat with Gary for just a few minutes before I was called back to the ultrasound room. This time he could join me.

A very sweet young woman named Katrina introduced herself as my ultrasound tech and asked me how I was. “Scared out of my freaking mind, “ I replied. She told me that I would have some answers soon and that hopefully everything would be fine. She took me to a dark room and asked me to lie on the bed. She covered me in another warmed blanket and told me that most of what shows up on the ultrasound is not concerning. She told me that she was going to squeeze some warm gel on my breast. “Is that what they’re calling warm these days?” I asked, trying to sound funny and nonchalant, as the rather cool gel hit my recently compressed flesh. I knew better than to look up at the screen because I knew that I would see things I didn’t understand and decide that they were bad things. When she was finished she said she was going to show the images to the radiologist and that he might come in to do more ultrasound himself or perhaps just explain what was found. She told me that we would wait in this room because it offered more privacy.

Privacy. This didn’t sound good. I suddenly missed the other ladies in aqua.

Mercifully only a few minutes passed, maybe 10, and Katrina came back in. I was glad it wasn’t the doctor. Doctors tell you scary things. Katrina, with her pretty brown eyes, white smile and fashionable glasses, doesn’t give bad news. Please don’t give me bad news, Katrina.

“OK,” she said, “the doctor found a couple of things.” She started to say something else and then saw my stricken face and backed up. “First, there is nothing concerning.” Nothing concerning. Nothing concerning. I love Katrina. And I told her so.

She showed me some captured images from the ultrasound. I have a couple of small, fluid filled cysts. I also have a fibrous growth that is benign and common. Because they are so cautious and because of my family history they recommend that I have another ultrasound in 6 months just to observe and look for changes. I can deal with that. I started to cry, tears of relief. I kept trying to hold Katrina’s hand and she offered a hug. I took it.

That night we went to the comedy show and I laughed. A lot.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What Really Counts

We are evaluated from the time we are in utero. Quantifiable measurements are assigned to us throughout our lives. When we're born we're given an Apgar score which measures our health at birth. We're weighed, our length is determined, even the circumference of our head is measured. As babies and small children we continue to be measured and weighed; the percentile of our growth compared to the "average" child is charted. In school we are graded, earn a GPA. If we play sports our stats are recorded; even in band we're seated in order of ability. We take standardized tests and strive for high SAT scores. We go to college and collect a certain number of credits to graduate. We start working and earn a certain salary and hope to be compensated according to ability and experience. We become consumers and earn a credit score.

Obviously there is merit and necessity to evaluation and measurement and scores. But are we reduced to the sum of our collective numbers? We seem to work so hard to achieve the quantifiable rewards society dictates we should want. But there are so many aspects to life that can't be measured, certainly not accurately, anyway. I left my career to raise my children full time. I didn't earn a salary, I had no title other than "mom." How can my success as a parent be measured? Does this make me less of a person than one who has a title and earns a salary?

Yesterday a friend of mine called and shared with me that her daughter, a high school sophomore, appears to be ranked number one in her class based on completion of freshman year. My son, also a sophomore, attends the same school. Instead of feeling excited for her, I felt sick for my son, and if I'm honest, for me. I got off the phone and went straight to my son to find our if he, too, had brought home his transcript.

My son is intellectually gifted, sophisticated beyond his years. He always has been. Raising a kid like this presents its own challenges but I never expected his performance at school to be an issue. Smart kid equals good grades, right? In reality, my son's grades are average, sometimes they are poor. He receives comments on his report card regularly that indicate "he performs below his ability." Recently at a school conference, his history teacher said that my son was a challenging student because he aces the tests but doesn't complete the "busy" work designed to help him study for the tests. The school has a system of evaluation. Kids are graded. It's practical. The reality is that this system doesn't take into account the gray areas of ability. My son's grade point average is not an indication of his intellect. Yet that's the tool we have to measure him and if he wants to go to college, he needs to measure up.

I know that out of 372 students at my son's high school he does not rank anywhere near number one. And when my friend shared that her daughter is at the top, it brought out this nasty competitiveness in me that numbers tend to provoke. I was mad and frustrated and I took it out on my son. He didn't know where his transcript was. I told him our friend was ranked first in the class. I was unkind to the point of cruel to him when I guessed where he might be ranked. This was not a proud parenting moment and I'm writing this to sort out why I handled this so poorly and inappropriately.

The reality is that I am mad at the system. I'm not mad at my son. The intellectual part of his brain developed so fast and dominates him, to the extent that I think some of the common sense neurons, the ones that help us understand we still must hand in our homework even though we already know the material, just haven't developed enough. His success depends in part on measuring his ability yet the system we have can't accurately measure his. By virtue of the system, he becomes average.

We're competitive by nature, survival of the fittest and all. And what is "fit" is determined by numbers. But I hate to think that the sum of who we are can be reduced to empirical evidence. When my newborn son was handed to me, I wasn't thinking of his current stats. I wasn't wondering what his grade point average would be or how much he might earn in his career. I just unconditionally loved him. As his mom and while I still raise him, I need to help him navigate life, including the numbers. But most importantly, I need to support him in his efforts to figure out who he is. And that he, more than anyone else, needs to be happy with who that is. And being happy and living a satisfying life isn't determined by metrics.

I've apologized to my son. I hope he's OK and that I was able to explain what happened. I have no intention of finding out his ranking at school now because how proud I am of my son can't be measured that way. What I am determined to do now is to love and embrace the child I have, not the one society says I'm supposed to have. That, you can count on.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Hate Mongering Through Bible Verses

Today I read a Facebook status that read: Pray for Our President, Psalm 109:8. This Psalm is sometimes referenced as "A Prayer for Obama" and has been popular on the internet for awhile now.

The referenced Psalm reads: "May his days be few; may another take over his position."

Perhaps people find this a creative or even "cute" way to express their dissatisfaction with the current administration. I wonder how many of these people read the next line of the Psalm: "may his children be orphans and his wife a widow." The entire Psalm is actually a prayer for the demise of an evil person.

I have no doubt that many people posted this without looking further than the one line. But posting this reference is basically publicly wishing the president dead. This is insidious enough but it is all the more heinous by using the Bible to convey this desire!

I do not actively practice any religion but I was raised in a Christian home. I know many great Christian people. As with any group, there are an unfortunate few that can end up being the voice of many. There are so-called Christians that foster hate by cherry picking scripture to justify their prejudices. I can't think of a more un-Christian thing to do. It is a shame to let this ugliness become the poster child for Christianity yet this is what people are doing by posting this Psalm in this context.

I enjoy and appreciate that my Facebook friends represent different faiths, cultures, political persuasions. But no matter what our beliefs are, I encourage dispensing with hateful messages to express our views.

Friday, April 24, 2009

In Memory of Nana

My grandmother, Margery Tovey, passed away in her sleep on April 12. I was not able to travel to England for her funeral but my mother did and read this on my behalf at the service.

This Easter Sunday is a stormy one. Rain is falling and bits of cherry blossom are floating about like snowflakes or confetti. I can clearly hear my Nan say, “hark at the wind!”

As humans we know ours -- and everyone's -- time is temporary. But there are some people you cannot imagine leaving. We need, maybe even expect, some people to live forever. If anyone could defy mortality, it would be Nan.

Yet despite Nana’s indomitable spirit, she left us today, as all humans eventually do. I cannot believe she is gone, I cannot accept she is gone, yet I can reason she was nearly 90 and had been very unwell. But she was different. Small in stature, but mighty in will and constitution, I doubt I will ever again know a stronger person, male or female, than her.

Nan was smart in an innate, empathic way that cannot be learned. She was sensible and knowing. Her desire for fairness and justice often found her putting her own needs last to insure all was right with everyone else. She was born to take care of others and I know it must have been hard these last few years to rely on people to help her. This was not her nature.

When I was at University, Nan took care of me. I have fond memories of staying with her for weekends when she’d cook up a storm for me not just while I was there, but to pack me care packages of dinners and goodies to hold me over and offer me respite from Uni food. It is no secret that her chocolate cake was my favorite and she supplied me with one every time I visited. My ongoing dependence on tea was developed during this time, and whenever I put the kettle on, and it goes on many times a day, I think of her. But Nana did more than cook. She listened without judgement, and she counseled with seemingly divine wisdom, choosing the words and when to say them, carefully and lovingly. I so appreciate the nurturing she gave me during that time and I know my parents, who were an ocean away, did too.

Nana was funny and witty and had a wonderful laugh that I find myself replaying over and over again in my head. She was willing to give anything a try. She was creative and spontaneous. She had an amazing memory. The old village way of life is dying out in modern England, but Nan kept it alive with her colorful stories of Barns Green’s folk through the ages. I feel as though I was there and knew all those characters. She could recite Shakespeare, including all her lines when she played Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She recited classic poetry. When she visited us in America one summer, I had just returned from French camp and had learned to sing La Marseilles. To my delight, she had learned it years ago, and sang it word for word with me.

She loved animals, both domestic and wild. When she spent time with us in Washington, she’d get up early and sit by the back door, waiting to spot the raccoons. She loved their little bandit faces and would sit for hours in the hope of spying one. When we eventually emerged from our beds, she would delightedly tell us about her critter sightings.

I am so grateful that she was able to meet my boys and visit with them at our home in the States several times. She loved them and she loved to hear about them. She laughed that Nan laugh so heartily when we shared tales of their mischief or their funny remarks. When she was here she’d spoil them with ice cream and Legos and hugs and love. She always asked how the little boys were even after they grew to be not so little. They loved her and have their own special memories of their time with Nana.

In Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck asks, “How now spirit? Whither wander you?” I see Nan in a garden, it is not too warm or too cold, she doesn’t even need a cardigan. She’s sipping sherry with a lovely bit of bread and cheese. She knows we are all taken care of and she is content.

Above the whistle of the kettle, I hear Nan’s laugh. The impression she left is too great to forget and so she stays with all of us who were privileged to know and love her, which thankfully is the next best thing to living forever.

Monday, September 15, 2008


I have a sister. Just one. No brothers. When I was 3 my dad brought me to the hospital to pick up my mom and my new baby sister, Lisa. She had a shock of black hair that stood straight up, the envy of punk rockers, had they existed in 1969. Despite a couple of unfortunate incidences that were taken out of context (I was found hovering over her bassinet with an open diaper pin pointed at her belly, hey, I was trying to help her with an embarrassing diaper issue, and another time she was crying so I thought I'd help my mom by retrieving her from her bassinet. Was it my fault I was a small 3 year old and so could only grab her by the neck to carry her to mom? I did my best.) anyway, I liked having her around.

When we were little girls we played together all the time. We played baby dolls, and barbies and acted out scenes from Little House on the Prairie. I bossed her around. She bugged me. We had fights that included hair pulling and nail scratching. Once she made me so mad that I swiped at her, catching the tip of her nose with my fingernail. In her school photo from that year the focal point is a big scab. I lied and said I was just swinging my arms around and that it was an accident. It wasn't, but deep down I was still happy to have her around.

When we were teenagers we shared clothes, a car, sisterly secrets. I helped get her drunk for the first time and walked her in the snow (her adamant request) to help her feel better. Before she got her license I drove her and her friends to and fro which was a pain. But despite the bickering and eye rolling there was no question that it was good to have her around.

I went away to college but our relationship remained tight. We started funny rituals like giving each other corn-themed presents (don't ask), making/decorating ugly cookies at Christmas, and doing the limbo to "Feliz Navidad." She went to college, too, and while we lived in different countries, we wrote letters and sent each other funny packages. We saw each other at holidays and during the summer. Being away at school had given her the confidence to be opinionated. I no longer dominated, it didn't matter anymore that I was older. She wasn't fond of any of my boyfriends and it really frustrated me. But it was because she had my back and while I didn't want her to be right, I was glad to have her around.

I moved to L.A. to marry my now ex-husband (who she may have been at least partly right about) and she moved home to take care of my mom who was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She lived with our parents for several years during some very difficult times, doing her best to offer support as they struggled with financial and health problems. I lived far away, had a baby and a different life. This sometimes created friction between us, but I was thankful that she was around.

I moved back to the Northwest and she fell in love and got married. My boys were at that prone-to-injury age and their father was constantly traveling for work. The kids' emergency room visits seldom corresponded to times my husband was home. But my sister was always at the ready to meet me at the hospital and take care of the well/uninjured child while I stayed bedside for the stitches and/or bone setting. When my oldest son seriously broke his arm Lisa stayed with me because I was really freaked out. The doctor wouldn't let me stay in the room while they anesthetized my son and set his bones. I was terrified. I stood outside the treatment room door which had a window with a blind, closed from the inside. My sister craned her neck and told me she could sort of see inside. She ran color commentary on the procedure, telling me that the doctor had given a thumbs up to the nurse and that all my kid's monitors were blipping away just fine. When everything was over and my son was pain free and happy with his new purple cast, Lisa admitted she never saw a thing. She didn't want me to be afraid. I tried to be mad that she lied to me but I was truly grateful she was around.

My sister has a daughter. She was born last year, 6 weeks premature and gravely ill. The complications could have also killed my sister. My niece was in the NICU unit for 6 weeks, defying all odds by recovering completely. She is a gorgeous, thriving toddler, a vision of health. Throughout the ordeal I marveled at Lisa's bravery and unwavering belief that things would work out. I'd been a mom for a lot longer than she had, but she was an inspiration to be around.

My sister, as I type this, is lying on an operating table having a double mastectomy. She, at 39, has breast cancer. One breast was affected and the doctors felt it best to remove it. Given her young age and motivated by her baby girl, she decided to have the healthy breast removed, too. Why worry about the disease striking again? She will need to undergo chemotherapy and radiation. She has a long, difficult journey ahead of her. It doesn't feel real. Each day at 7:12 the school bus picks up my boys. Each day the paper is on the doorstep. Each day the normal daily things happen. And I can almost forget that my sister is facing this battle. But the painful reality is there, jabbing and daring me to sink to thoughts of the worst case scenario. Of not having her around.

Her prognosis is excellent. She is feisty in the best of times. I have dealt with her when I've pissed her off and right now I SO would not want to be that cancer. Bring it on. It doesn't stand a chance. Because her daughter, her husband, her mom, her dad, her extended family, her friends and her big sister, who by the way is ready and poised and not afraid to use an open diaper pin if I have to, need her to be around.