Today I am going to talk about my sister. For the sake of this post I will call her KK.
Prior to living in the apartment I live in now – I lived in a house, not too far from here. Like most of the houses in this city it was once a single family home that was converted into a 2 family dwelling sometime in the late 60’s early 70’s. KK lived in the first floor apartment of this house and I lived on the second floor. I owned the house & charged KK very little to rent the apartment. I would have preferred little rent and someone I knew and trusted living there than lots of rent and a complete stranger living there. We pretty much had an open door policy but we knew each other so well we also knew when to stay away.
KK passed away in 2011 a couple of years after being diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer that had already metastasized to other parts of her body. From the very beginning she refused to give in and she refused to believe she was going to die. She chose to fight and fight she did – right up until the end. She had operation after operation – most successful – chemotherapy – radiation therapy – experimental therapies – and when she passed away she had succeeded in being cancer free from the neck down. The colon cancer was not there (successful colon reconstruction) – the cancer that had metastasized to her liver was gone (successful liver resection) but the cancer that had metastasized to her brain was the bitch and ended up being the killer. After three successful surgeries to remove the brain tumors when they returned for the last time they were different – more imbedded – not on the surface as in the past – surgery was out of the question. I was KK’s health proxy and I had spoken with the team of doctors prior to them speaking with KK. I knew that she would want more chemo or radiation to fight them – I knew she wasn’t going to just give up – give in. It became a quality of life issue – it became a matter of how she wanted to live out the rest of her life – I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to tell her. I left that task up to the doctors but I did make sure that her hospital room was filled with the people she considered her friends and I made sure they knew what the doctors were going to tell her. I also made telephone calls to my siblings – none of which chose to be there. I cut my two older brothers slack because they lived out-of-state but one older sister and one younger sister both of which live in the same state – minutes away actually – for whatever reason did not want to be there.
I was right – KK wanted to fight it. The doctors, KK’s friends and myself talked for some time about the pro’s and con’s – the quality of life – her quality of life and KK decided not to fight anymore. This was in January – the doctors gave her 4 months. KK looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Can I die at home?” and at that very moment I vowed I would take care of her at home as long as I was capable of.
While KK had been going through all her battles in fighting the cancer that had taken over her body I was diagnosed with my cancer in the fall of 2010 and had already gone through my surgery to remove a portion of my lung and was recovering nicely. That night after I left KK’s room in the hospital I walked across the street, bought a pack of cigarettes and lit up. I didn’t give it a second thought – I didn’t care. I hid the fact I was smoking again from just about everyone.
I knew KK would be in the hospital for a couple more days and I also knew I had a shitload of work to do before she came home. I got to work and did what I needed to do to her apartment so she could come home. I made sure hospice was called and as wonderful an organization that they are they really don’t offer the support I needed.
It was so hard when KK came home…………..so hard………………hospice offered a visiting nurse (for about half an hour a day), a personal care assistant (for about half an hour a day), spiritual support which I declined and KK took advantage of when she still had her wits about her. She could not be left alone – the brain tumors started to affect her ability to walk and her short-term memory. I took every personal day I had, every vacation day I had and was at the point I was just taking days without pay. Thankfully KK also worked with the Chief and he and his staff were very understanding. I had no help during this time and I had some huge growing resentments against my two other sisters who just went about their lives and didn’t offer to help. I will give credit where credit is due and both brothers offered to fly in but I declined.
For two years I had taken KK to every doctors appointment, every chemo appointment, every radiation appointment, every surgery. For crying out loud I took her to her lawyers office so she could draw a will up, took her to get every prescription filled, did her grocery shopping, cleaned her apartment, changed her power port tubes, wiped her ass. I visited her everyday she was in the hospital. And now I was caring for her while she died. No help…………….bastards.
KK got worse – to the point she could no longer walk though she thought she could and would wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, start to get out of bed only to end up flat on the floor. The steroids KK had been taking before she decided not to fight it had made her huge and I just couldn’t lift her by myself when she did this and I would end up calling the non emergency fire department number for help. The brain tumors took away her ability to walk but they also took away her short-term memory – so she would forget she couldn’t walk. It really was a shit show. I called the fire department so often we got to know each other and one time while they were helping I started to laugh – laughing so hard tears were streaming down my face – when those laughing tears turned to real tears I don’t know but I remember the fire fighters looking at me with great concern in their eyes – I walked out of the room and onto the front porch for a cigarette. Some of those fire fighters sat with me on the darkened porch at 3:30 a.m. telling me things they thought I should hear and making sure I was o.k – I was far from o.k. but man oh man I was good at making like I was.
She got her days and nights confused and 2 a.m. in the morning was 2 p.m. in the afternoon to her and she would pick up the telephone and call the Chief or someone else – of course I would be sleeping on the couch in the other room and wouldn’t realize this until it was too late. Thankfully the Chief and all the others she called understood. It got to the point I had to take her cell phone away from her and lie – told her I couldn’t find it. I had to pretend to look for it for days.
KK was going down hill and I didn’t have the support I needed to take care of her. As much as it killed me I broke that vow and put KK in a hospice house. I spoke with KK before doing this but it had gotten to the point where I didn’t know who I was talking to. Was I talking to KK – was I talking to the brain tumors – was I talking to the drugs – or was I talking to combination of all. I didn’t know what she understood and what she didn’t understand. I was worn down – burnt out – tired – sad and off to the hospice house KK went.
It was a beautiful facility that anyone could be with her at anytime of the day. I had checked it out in person before hand and again on-line with KK. There was a huge deck off the back of the house – KK could be put in a wheelchair and sit outside – there was a beautiful kitchen that anyone wishing could come and cook homemade meals for KK or any of the other residents of the hospice house. She could have visitors 24 hours a day. Most importantly she would get the care she needed 24 hours a day – 7 days a week by professionals and I wasn’t going to collapse from lack of sleep or a nervous breakdown.
BUT……………..the siblings (most of them anyway) quickly started giving me shit about putting KK in a hospice house. The same siblings that not once offered to take a day off of work to care for her or give me a break. I was in a no win situation – I felt guilt for having to put KK in a hospice house and I was receiving shit from siblings near & far for doing so. I remember her first night there very well because she called me at 3:00 A.M. in the morning (before the hospice folks unplugged her phone) and she was giving me a list of things she wanted me to bring over. When I ask KK did she know what time it was she hesitated for a moment – as if she was looking around – and said, “yes, it’s 3.” and I said, “Yes, 3 o’clock in the morning KK. I was sleeping. Can I get the rest of the list when I am fully awake?” KK proceeded to cry and apologize and explain to me about the tumors and what they were doing to her brain which I already knew but I let her explain it to me anyway. Needless to say I ended up getting out of bed, doing what I needed to do to go out, gathered the things KK wanted from her apartment and going over to the hospice house at 4 in the morning.
KK was in the hospice house a grand total of 2 weeks before she passed. The first week she was very much aware and had frequent visits from her friends and even most of her friends couldn’t understand and gave me shit why I put her there. The friends didn’t understand her ability to walk was gone – her friends didn’t understand that the tumors were messing with her memory – I just looked like the bad guy to most. The second week KK slipped – something happened – slept most of the time – stopped eating – stopped drinking – and by the end of the 2nd week she passed away peacefully in her sleep.
The days following KK death were much like the days following my parents passing – a complete shit show. I was grateful – extremely grateful I was not the executor of KK’s will – that at one point it had been my “other older sister” but KK changed that to her lawyer when the “other older sister” read KK’s will and said and I quote, “I’m not doing this shit.” KK’s lawyer and I had become close over the last few months of her life. Her lawyer guided me through some difficult times and gave me advice when things turned ugly. KK’s lawyer also controlled her finances which was a blessing because when the sibling vultures descended upon her apartment after her passing the lawyer quickly put a stop to that and told everyone that KK’s will would take care of her belongings.
Even making the arrangements for KK’s wake and funeral which she very carefully detailed in her last will and testament was difficult and if it wasn’t for her lawyer and one of her very close friends I think I would have committed an act of murder. I could see the headlines now, “Sister kills sister at other sister’s wake!” Seriously my “other older sister” was screaming in the funeral home because she didn’t understand why we needed to spend all that money on a casket if she was going to be cremated. Well “other older sister” it is not “our money” it is KK’s money and this is what she wanted………….damn it. That is just one example of the shit show my siblings can create.
These siblings – the one’s who didn’t help – the one’s who wanted KK’s belongings – were also the one’s who sat in the very first pew of the church crying the loudest. I sat 3 rows back – next to one of KK’s closest friends – and didn’t shed a tear. As awful as this might sound I was relieved KK had passed. I felt a sense of relief – I know that must sound terrible. I was relieved for a lot of reasons – relieved she was free – free from the cancer she fought so hard against. I was relieved I didn’t have to care for her anymore – that there wouldn’t be anymore doctor appointments, surgeries or chemo appointments. I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to make sure her prescriptions were filled or food was in her apartment. I didn’t shed a single tear during the days following KK’s death. I was like a robot – doing what needed to be done – going through the motions.
KK had never been married and never had any children. Though there was almost a 10 year age difference between us we were friends in addition to sisters. We vacationed together – we went to the beach together – we went to baseball games together – our relationship was not always prefect and sometimes we drove each other crazy – but the bottom line was I loved her and she me.
The majority of KK’s ashes are still in the urn sitting in my spear room. Some of her ashes are at her favorite baseball park, some of her ashes are in Italy with a nephew, some of her ashes are at her favorite beaches, some are in these little tiny crosses that hang on a necklace of a couple important relatives. If I am going someplace KK liked or I know she would have liked I bring some of her ashes. It is what she wanted.
It has taken me a long time to write this post about KK – days – weeks – I write a little and keep going back. And as I read over this – it just doesn’t sound right. I think it comes off like I was a saint. Believe me – there were times I just couldn’t or didn’t want to “do it” anymore. Taking care of KK was the hardest and most difficult thing I have ever done. In the middle of all this I remember saying to BFF if I ever get sick I am not fighting it. I had seen what KK was going through and what I was going through helping her. As plain and simple as that I just said “I am not fighting it if I get sick.”
Well, who knew………………………
I miss KK but I don’t miss (I know it sounds awful) taking care of her.
*Nothing to report about SEH as I have been ignoring his telephone calls. There are 12 unheard voice mails on my cell phone and probably more on my house phone. I am the Queen of ignoring telephone calls when I want to.
*South Shore Friend was not feeling well and did not come up for the weekend. There is a part of me that is bummed and a part of my that is relieved.
*Looks and feels like “Old Man Winter” has finally arrived. Cold and I could have sworn I heard the meteorologist mumble something about snow……………Nooooooooooooooooooooo
*I am going to get my sorry ass off the couch now and hopefully spend a little time with an adorable 2-year-old….I hope.