The Power of Unconditional Love

The Power of Unconditional Love

Breast Cancer
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by Marilyn B.

Read Marilyn's story and track her journey…

For the past 10 days I have been bathed in total love, acceptance, protection and peace. I had the great fortune of having both my sisters come to spend one-on-one time with me. No spouses, no kids, no obligations. It was a true gift.

My older sister, Donna, arrived last week to help pass the time while my husband, Jonathan, and daughter, Emily, were away and to hold my hand as I got ready for Round 2 of chemotherapy. We had a wonderfully relaxing weekend—went shopping, went out to dinner, basically hung out. She has been my protector ever since I was born. She was my first best-friend and continues to be an integral part of who I am.

Monday chemo wasn't bad. I napped through much of it, while Donna got some work done. By the time we got home, my younger sister, Kathy, had arrived to see me through the treatment week. It was the first time in our adult lives that the three sisters were together without our families or my three brothers. We were all on the same wavelength: just happy to be together.

We had a few laughs as they both tried on my wig. Once we started taking pictures, we were laughing so hard I couldn't breathe. In one particular moment I went to look at the photos in the view-finder of the camera and for one split second I forgot I was bald. It made us laugh even harder.

Magical Tuesday—no pain, no nausea, no fatigue—we went to get my bone marrow shot and went out to lunch, enjoying normalcy while the chemo began to take hold. Donna left that afternoon to get back to her family and her busy life. Kathy and I settled into a quiet, easy pace. With both sisters, the beauty of this time spent together was in the total lack of expectation. We went about our days in an organic way—breakfast, the paper, a nap, a walk, a chat, a nap, lunch. Nowhere to be, no expectations about how I should feel. My brother Bob came down for a short visit, long enough for an ego boost when he raved over my bald head.

Thursday hit me hard—both physically and emotionally. It is the relentless nausea that just won't let up. By the end of the day I was exhausted, and then the sadness came. I simply didn't want to be going through this. I have been working triple time to make sure my illness doesn't impact my life. Not only is that tiring, it has proven to be impossible.

As I was crying and sputtering and wishing things were different, my sister reminded me, "Marilyn, you have cancer." She reminded me that things aren't normal, and I can't expect them to be. While I can put on a cheery face and convince the world that I am capable of slaying the dragon, the only way to get to the other side of this hellhole is to go through it—each time, all SIX times. So once again, I'm adjusting my expectations.

I can't say Friday—my toughest day—was any better, but I made peace (to a small degree) with my body. I slept more, cried more, tried less. I also prepared for the return of Jonathan and Emily. I was worried about my hair. Although I knew Jonathan would love my bald head, I was really worried about Emily. But she came through like a trooper. I'm not saying she loves it, but she accepts it.

This morning I had to say good-bye to Kathy. My sadness was overwhelming. I felt like a chasm opened beneath me, and I was going to disappear. The tenderness I felt from my sisters was a piece of my recovery that I didn't even know I was missing: unconditional love, a lifetime of support, the permanence of family. I love them both with all my heart, and I could not imagine my life's journey without them cheering me on—and vice versa.

So now we are all back to "normal." Jonathan is back at his desk, working away; Emily is at her lacrosse game; Donna is home overextending herself with work, soccer, and doing taxes on the side; Kathy is probably halfway home, looking forward to seeing her family and anticipating the sweetness of Amelia, her granddaughter. And I am listening to "This American Life" and checking e-mails, having gotten my makeup on and my bed made. This time around, I will not hesitate to dive into a well-deserved nap.

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