Let me tell you my sister, Cait’s, story and how incredibly proud of her I am.
This is a long story, so I am going to try to break it up into several parts. It is all factual/non-fiction.
I am posting this on my blog for several reasons: It is very personal and I don't think anyone would publish it as such. It is also very long.
I don’t know why I decided to sit down and write this – TODAY, NOW. Sometimes the mood strikes when it does (even years after an event happens) and you have to go for it. I have written very little about Cait and her story. Maybe I feel guilty because I haven’t called her for a long time. Since our dad died a few years ago, we haven’t been as close as we were. I wish that I could do something to change that. I will try.
Mashallah. Mashallah. Mashallah. Always thank God for your blessings.
I have always been close to my sister. We are “Irish twins” – meaning born in quick succession. I was born in April; Cait was born the following May. Until Cait turned 18, we had always slept in the same room. My mother used to say that one of us would talk in our sleep and the other would answer. Similar to twins, we know what each other is thinking, feeling, going through.
I decided to make a major life change in 1993 and move to Kuwait (not because I wanted to escape from anything, but because I wanted to discover something), but a nagging voice inside my head told me to wait. I had planned it for years. I don’t know why, but when I was made my first job offer here by an IT company (with all the benefits and aspects I was looking for – including relocation), I turned it down. I told the GM, “The timing is not right.”
The next year in 1994, Cait was 8 1/2 months pregnant and had ahard time breathing at night. She went to a doctor who advised her to deliver the baby first and then have a chest x-ray. 2 weeks after she had my nephew, the doctor found a tumor that was “the size of a large coffee can” – pushing her lungs and wrapped around her heart.
Her son was born healthy and smiling. On the starry, clear night he arrived, a deer ran in front of my car on the way to the hospital. It stopped in front of me, seemingly to look directly at me, and disappeared into the trees. I have always taken it as an omen; perhaps of good things to come; perhaps of the type of person that my nephew has to become – graceful, concerned and observant like his mother.
Cait and her husband worked for the same company as sales people. They did IT recruitment sales. She had taken maternity leave, but needed to take more time off to start chemotherapy. The company told her that she would have to take leave without pay or quit (an illegal action by an employer in the States, but sometimes difficult to enforce).
They made a decision that they would both quit – that the ethics of the situation required an immediate move. What kind of company would do that to anyone with a newborn and a new mother going through cancer?
Both Cait and her husband had non-compete clauses in their employment contracts which wouldn’t allow them to work for a competitive company (as sales people in placement companies) within a 50 mile radius of Washington, DC. The next big city to Washington is Baltimore and to get there every morning would have meant a 2 hour drive each way. Cait’s husband decided with a newborn at home and a wife going through chemo, he should risk it and go to work locally for a competitor. Cait was still at the company, trying to determine where to go/what to do next.
The company still gave her a hard time, making it more and more difficult for her to take time off for any reason. She spoke to many lawyers – most who didn’t want to take her case because it would be lengthy and expensive. She finally found someone who would help her. The company said that if Cait sued, they would counter-sue her husband for breach of his non-compete.
At about the same time, Cait started negotiations with one of her former clients, Carl (not his real name). Carl offered to start-up a business for Cait. Placement/recruitment companies have a very low overhead: all you really need is a desk, a phone, and a pad of paper. She started working with Carl; she did the work, Carl did the books.
This was all while Cait went through chemotherapy with an infant. She had lost all of her hair, but was an amazing fighter. I went with her when she had to buy a wig. We tried on different kinds and had laughs (“…this one is for the boardroom, this one is for the boudoir…”), but it was serious.
There are so many things that you learn about cancer – and so fast – when someone you love is diagnosed. I noticed the way people looked at Cait when she had cancer; as if all hope was gone. You can see it in the eyes – it is a particular look people get when they know someone has cancer. You can’t do that. It has a very negative affect on the cancer patient. I tried my best never to treat her like she had “it”; to maintain the same mannerisms I always had with her. Cait told me that my mother treated her like she was a china doll about to break; and that her husband pushed her to do too much; but that I had remained the same.
Almost all the way through the treatments, Cait didn’t want anyone with her except for her husband. She is very independent and didn’t even want people to go shopping for her. She’s a rock.
The day that Cait was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma (which is one of the most treatable forms of cancer – again, thank God), my mother called to tell me. She was crying and she said, “I’m so afraid Caitie is going to die.” I thought about it for just a minute and my immediate reaction was, “No she isn’t. God wants her to get through this for something better.” I didn’t just say it, I knew it; I felt it.
For the next 9 months, I had recurring dreams. It started out nightmarish: I was in a small wooden crate, hugging Cait. The water was dark, murky, and cold. It was getting through gaps in the wood planks of the crate and we were both cold and scared. The shore was far away and the waves were very high. As the dreams progressed (and so did Cait’s chemo treatments), the boat got progressively bigger and more solid. The water got calmer. Less water leaked into the vessel. We always hugged each other. The boat got closer to the shore. … almost there, but not quite.
(I’m sitting here at my desk with tears in my eyes because it was as if it happened yesterday. I can still feel the water and the emotions.)
Cait left her former company and decided not to sue. They decided to leave her husband alone. Cait started up her new company with the help of her partner.
Cait’s son, Alex, was an incredibly healthy (Mashallah) baby. Our family was so happy to finally have a youngster in our midst. We are a small family and there were very few children around. As Cait said, she thinks that Alex protected her from the cancer while he was forming as a strong human (that he has become today).
I am glad that my aunt was alive to see Alex before she passed. My aunt Virginia was the family matriarch; she was more like my grandmother than an elderly aunt. She taught us strength and extreme loyalty. She stuck by her convictions and could usually get things done by sheer willpower alone. She died the winter after Alex was born.
Several days later, Cait went in to check on the progress of the tumor. When things are bad, doctors and nurses leave the room. Cait was left alone to worry while the doctor and technicians checked the x-ray. They said that something must have been wrong. They did the test again. They finally came out to tell Cait that they thought they had made a mistake because they couldn’t find the tumor on the x-ray. It was gone. (Mashallah, mashallah, mashallah).
We believe that my aunt must have had a chat with the angels when she arrived in Heaven.
My last dream of my sister’s ordeal: Cait and I walked along the beach, looking out at a vibrant pink sunset over glass-flat water. It was warm. I could hear a strange thumping noise in the distance, but didn’t think much of it. I asked Cait if she would like to stay with me for a while near the water. She said that she was off to have a dinner with her husband, so I lingered a while as she left. I continued my way down the beach and the thumping noise got louder. I looked over at a very old, wrinkled, white-haired man who was hammering on an object on the beach. He looked at me and smiled as if I had known him forever. Only then I saw what he was working on: He was taking the wooden boat apart.