Walking the Walk

Cancer is not limited to those diagnosed. It affects family, friends, and even co-workers. I witnessed cancer up-close and personal. It is emotionless, unbiased, and destroys lives.  After a long year of living with my sister, Theresa, who succumbed to advanced stage pancreatic cancer in 2016, I sat down with the journal I’d kept to keep track of every single day of the last year of her life and wrote The Other Side of Cancer: Living Life with My Dying Sister.

In one year, Theresa had endured so much pain and sickness from cancer. Yet, she forged through with laughter, determined not to let it steal her joy.  Can you believe she planned her daughter’s wedding? As children, I looked up to her and as adults, I envied her. She made amends with people. Our one-hundred-pounds Boxer, Riley, became Theresa’s guard dog, remaining close by her side. I sensed he took his job very seriously, keeping an eye out for anyone trying to take her from us. When her bedroom door was ajar, I listened to her talking to him in a quiet voice, and I could hear his dog tags jingle when she rubbed the back of his neck. “Keep me safe, Riley,” she said. “Don’t leave me.”  About Riley, she often said, “He’s coming with me.” She was right. Months after Theresa passed, Riley passed, too. He waited for her to go first.

When I reflect, I think about Dolly Parton’s song, “I Hope You Dance.” Theresa did just that, she danced to her own beat.  To celebrate my sister’s life, I founded Find1Cure.com. My dream is to start a “comfort” home for people who have elevated to hospice care. I want to bring awareness and reassurance to those suffering from this callous disease and the loved ones who help fight the fight. I want to do whatever I can, not only in the name of my big sister, Theresa, but for the many men and women who valiantly and courageously fight the fight.

Don’t Be Afraid to Care

Annette (right) with her sister, Theresa.

Don’t Be Afraid to Care

Taking care of someone you love in a time of need can be sometimes scary.  I wanted to share some words of wisdom about being there for someone.

When my sister, Theresa, received her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, many things ran through my mind.  But, the one question that stuck with me the most was, “Who would take care of her?”  She was a single-career woman; she had the financial means, but would I want a stranger taking care of my sister in her last days?  In the beginning, I was nervous, but soon the urge to help far outweighed the fear.

There never was a question in my mind.  I knew I would step in and be there for her.  I kept a journal of our time together, knowing when she was gone I would have those memories.  Yet, the memories I took away were more than I could have ever imagined; something that can never be replaced.

I can remember her worrying about me and how my taking care of her might take a toll on me.  Even without any experience of caring for someone, I knew it was the best thing for her and our family.  She moved in with me and that precious time we had changed my life forever.

I put aside my fears of caring for my terminally ill sister, and embraced the journey; giving my sister laughter, love and dignity until her last breath.

— Annette