i guess i should start at the end. the end of my sister’s life.
Barbara had been battling cancer for six years. she suffered, no, that’s not the right word, because she didn’t suffer, she chose to enjoy the last years of her life. she was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma III.
here’s how she found out.
she and her boyfriend spent the summer in europe, traveling all over, visiting family. she loved to travel. i waited for her at the train station where i couldn’t find her. it seemed that all the people had left the train but there was no sign of her. it was like a horror movie. people walking, trailing off into the distance, leaving a big, open space behind them where the train idles, cools off. train tracks glisten in the distance.
finally i spotted her. her foot was bandaged and she couldn’t walk properly. what the hell? she told me that she had fallen off her bike and broke her toenail. it just came off in one piece.
anyway, she wasn’t in too much pain but it was just awkward for her to walk. the limp was barely noticeable. she still seemed happy. you know, they gave me a wheelchair and i was the first one on the plane, she said proudly. typical Barbara. always so fucking positive.
she still managed to have a good time. we laughed a lot, went to the beach, hung out, enjoyed our time together. she eventually left for barcelona where she suffered from severe migraines. she was in pain, threw up. she’d have a migraine every day.
she went back home to canada and went to get an mri. the doctor said that this was nothing to worry about. and had she known about the history of migraines on our mother’s side, she never would have even gone to the doctor in the first place. so there’s that, i guess.
he said to her, there’s a 99% percent chance that you’re fine.
well. she wasn’t.
damn that 1%.
she skyped me. i was still living in a rented apartment which had this weird room that didn’t really have a purpose. was it a front hall? was it a dining room? there were four doors on three sides of it, one leading to the kitchen, a second one to another small pre-room that lead to the bedroom, a third one to the living room and a fourth one to the entrance. one side was all windows. it was a mess of a room. so i decided to make it into a quasi office. i put the wobbly dining room table in the corner and my laptop on top of it. it was one hell of an office.
i can still see her face on the screen. she was smiling but i saw in her eyes that there was something more serious looming behind them.
they found a tumour in my brain. it’s malignant. i will need treatment. chemo and radiation therapy. they can’t operate. it’s anaplastic astrocytoma. stage three.
i just stared at her. in my head i’m thinking about the stages. wait, aren’t there only four stages? isn’t four the last one? then she smirks. at least now i know i have a brain. we both manage a chuckle. a sad chuckle. black humour wasn’t her style but i was too stunned to be surprised. she was awfully calm. said she would keep me up to date. i told her i loved her and would talk to her soon.
i closed the laptop.
i leaned over and started to cry. to howl. my voice wasn’t even my voice. it was a hoarse growl from the deep abyss of my abdomen. it belonged to a creature with rabies. a creature that had lost a limb. i was on my knees. i didn’t understand anything. my 27-year old sister had cancer.
fucking brain cancer?
fastforward six years.
Barbara is on her deathbed. she can’t talk. she can’t move. yet she still manages a half-smile. the tumour is on the right side of her brain. her left hand side is dead. but she still smiles. positive until the very end. i tell her that it’s ok to let go. that’s what the pamphlet said. because we got a pamphlet about how to deal with a palliative patient. how to handle the situation and what to expect. i took a picture of the pamphlet. i still have the picture somewhere. google will know, where.
don’t get me wrong, the nurses and doctors were amazing. are amazing still, i’m sure. one nurse asked if Barbara liked champagne. yes, i said. then give her champagne! she said.
see, they deal with dying people all the time. they have a system of staying strong and staying sane.
i didn’t. and even now, the system that i do have, well, it’s flawed to say the least.
i keep seeing her big brown eyes looking at me and at a world beyond. she was in between while i stayed behind, down here, in the mud, in the dirt, in the gutter. she was already looking up at the stars, reaching towards them, leaving behind the sick body that was shutting down slowly. the doctor had given her a week, tops.
another doctor that was wrong. she managed two weeks. then she exhaled one last time and she died.