Monday, October 21, 2013

A Tribute and a Plea

by Terri

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. It’s hard not to be “aware” – everywhere you go during the month of October there are signs and displays selling pink T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, etc. A lot of cities have walks and runs during the month of October to benefit breast cancer research.

But having lost a sister to breast cancer makes me aware of it every single day. Before she was diagnosed, the women in my family were of the mind that we didn’t have any of the risk factors so we were good, right? Yes, we had mammograms regularly but we didn’t do a self-check the way we knew we were supposed to. Of all the people in the family to get sick, she was the least likely. She ate well, exercised and took good care of herself. But breast cancer doesn’t discriminate, I’ve found. ANYONE can get it.

This post has two purposes. The first is to pay tribute to my sister, one of the most amazing women I have ever known. I’m sure everyone would say that about their sister, but she really was. In 1997, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a lumpectomy and radiation, almost five years went by and we all breathed a sigh of relief that she had beaten it. However, in the spring of 2002, just two months short of the fifth anniversary of her surgery, she got the news that the cancer was back.

That began a journey that was a roller coaster ride over the next two and a half years. Chemotherapy, loss of her beautiful long hair, more radiation, a stem cell transplant, steroid therapy, and finally the diagnosis in July of 2004 that there was nothing more they could do. The doctors had told her that if she didn’t have the stem cell transplant she would have approximately 18 months to live. So she had it in June of 2003 and she lived 19 more months. Not much of a bonus considering all she went through during those months. But she never complained. I know, hard to imagine, but she never did. She worried so much about her family and friends worrying about her that instead of feeling sorry for herself, she put all her energy into making this painful journey easier on all of us.

Even before she found out her time was short, she loved life more than anyone I have ever known. She always found such joy in the things so many of us take for granted: quail crossing the road, the full moon rising over the desert, just the simple fact of being alive. She took delight in everything around her. And she faced this new journey with no less positive an attitude.

We learned so much from her. She taught us: to think of each day as a gift and live it with joy and passion; to tell those we love how much they mean to us every chance we get; that wanting what you have is more important than having what you want; to see all the good in the world and try to give some of it back; to love the journey, not the destination, because today is the only guarantee we get. She lived her life to the fullest during the 54 years she was on this earth – hiking to the highest point in Arizona and down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, rafting down the Colorado River, hunting, fishing, and traveling. She was a high school math teacher and her students loved her (who loves their high school math teacher?)

We lost our beloved Rae in January of 2005 and those of us who were lucky enough to have had her touch our lives will never forget her.

Rae and her husband Mark at their home in Flagstaff, AZ

The second purpose for this post is to make a plea to all of you to get your annual mammogram if you’re not doing that already, to do your self-exams and more than that, to live your life with joy and passion because we never know how short or long our lives will be. We have no control over the length of our lives but we do have control over the width of them. As Diane Ackerman said:  

"I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just
the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well."

Almost everyone has had this disease touch their lives in some way. If you are able to, I hope you will give what you can to the cause of finding a cure. 



Linda said...

Oh, Terri, such a heartfelt and wonderful post! What an important lesson she shared through the way she lived her life. We should all live and enjoy our lives because we never know what will happen tomorrow. I'm always glad to see all the pink in October, bringing our focus to breast cancer awareness. We need to continue to fight this and other serious illness all year. Thank you for sharing this with us!

Viv@within the Frame said...

Terri a beautiful post . I too have had breast cancer that was picked up at a routine mammogram I urge everyone to not miss this so important check.

Kim Stevens said...

Oh boy Terri, so much emotion here...and a beautiful tribute to your very beautiful sister. Being someone who loves "the moment right now", it always saddens me when I see so many people who live for the "what if''s" and "when I", because the expectations of tomorrow limit our today's. Thank you for sharing this with us! xo

kelly said...

such a wonderful tribute to your beautiful sister. no doubt, cancer is an equal opportunity destroyer. but i can see where her joy and love of life lives on in you and your beautiful photographs. thank you for sharing her story and for the reminder to not take one single day for granted. xoxo

Dotti said...

Rae's sparkle is testament to her love of life! Oh, I know you miss her every day. But this is a timely and important reminder for all of us and so honestly written. Rae is smiling. I am religious about not only my mammogram {had it done last week, in fact!} but any and all screening tests that the doctors will run on me. None of us can say we 'won't' get it, but we can say, 'if caught early, we can lick it'. So that's my mantra. Thank you for the heartfelt tribute to a lovely woman and for a reminder that should never be far from our minds. xoxo

Barb said...

Such a moving tribute to Rae. My mother died of breast cancer and a good friend has just been diagnosed. I have my annual in Nov - I actually have the reminder right beside the computer - I need to make the appointment.

gina said...

Beautiful, heartfelt tribute to your sister. She sounds like such a wonderful role model for us all. Thank you for the reminder to take care of ourselves and enjoy each moment.

heyjudephotography said...

What a wonderful tribute to your sister who sounds like she had it all figured out. She lived life and appreciated life. Every year - mammogram without fail. Self checks, yes. Like Dotti said above, if caught early we can sure try to lick it. Lovely Terri, and big hugs to you.

Sarah Huizenga said...

Great tribute to your sister and a good reminder that this could be anybodies story.

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