Strength Comes from Within

“Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.” Dr. Robert Anthony

My sister was diagnosed with colon cancer in September. You can read about her story here. She is 35 years old. She is a mother of two, ages 1 and 4. She is a daughter, a wife, a sister, a neighbor, a friend. She could be your neighbor, your friend, your sister. Charlotte had surgery in early October to remove the tumor. The surgery went very well and the tumor was removed without any complications. Within about 6 weeks, she was back to driving. She was able to pick her daughter up again. She looked good, a little too thin, but good. Yes, she has lost quite a bit of her strength but she will regain it back soon enough once she is finished with her chemo.

Chemo. We were not quite expecting her to suffer as much as she is suffering with her chemotherapy. Her first round was the Wednesday following Thanksgiving. She went in on Tuesday to have a port put into her chest so they could feed the medicine directly into her. This chemo is much less invasive than older treatments. Sounds direct enough. When she came home that first Wednesday, I was at her house as were my parents. My mom took everything in stride. I could feel my father beginning to unravel. He took one look at his daughter with her medicine in her pouch and the tube running from the container into her chest and he started to cry. He kept it together, at least until the next day when my mother told me that she came home from Yoga that night, and he had spent the entire evening crying.

The chemo hit her very hard, harder than she or any  of us could have expected. She was so nauseous the next day that she could not eat anything. Her stomach began to cramp and she got so dehydrated one day that she thought she was going to have to go to the hospital to get an IV. She handled it herself and ended up not having to go but it was clear to her and to all of us that the next 6 months was going to be long. 12 sessions of chemo. Every two weeks. Every two weeks of feeling like crap. Not being able to pick up Eleanor. Spasms in her hands. Unable to drink cold drinks. Nausea.

I often think about what Charlotte must be feeling. I don’t know how I would handle everything that she is going through. When I wrote the “I am Thankful piece,” back in November, I asked her to review it first before I published it. She read it and wrote me back immediately.

“hey emmy,
very nice. thanks for making me cry finally 🙂 thanks for writing the post. it did make me cry and i really try hard not to cry these days because i am afraid i won’t stop. thankfully jack walked in the room and that made me have to stop crying. jack and eleanor have most definitely helped me through this because i CAN’T fall apart.”

She can’t fall apart. She tries not to cry and you know, she does a really damn good job of not crying. Does that mean the rest of us can? I make a point of not crying. I tell her that I can’t wait until she is able to train again. I tell her how beautiful she looks. I ask her what she needs from me. I volunteer to pick Jack up from school. I ask her what we can fix her for a meal. What does she need from the store? Does she want us to take Jack for the night again? Falling apart is not in my vocabulary either.

Last weekend, her Klezmer band, The Lost Tribe, performed at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore. It was a battle of the bands, Lost Tribe vs. Charm City Klezmer. Uhh…once again, Lost Tribe kicked some a**%^! They performed last year too and Charlotte was, of course, phenomenal to watch. She is the singer for  the band and she brings so much energy and charisma to the band and to her performances. I love watching my sister perform. This year, she was definitely nervous about the gig, as we all were, for obvious reasons. She had her second round of chemo the Wednesday prior to the performance on Saturday. We were all on edge. How was she going to feel? Would she be able to sing? I was leading the dances again and the band could easily play just dance numbers and forgo the vocals. It would all depend on how she felt.

The Lost Tribe

Now, anyone else I think would simply say “No, I am sorry. I cannot perform,” but that is not my sister. When I walked into the theatre Saturday night, she was sitting in the audience listening to the band. She looked beautiful. Tired but beautiful. I could tell she did not feel well and it took all of her energy to not cry. She started to when I sat down next to her but quickly wiped them away and pulled herself together as best she could. I told her how wonderful she looked and that she was going to be fine. I will not lie. It is not easy to see my sister who is usually the life of the party, any party, look this way. But she was there and I was there and we were going to get through the performance together.

I could see her starting to get excited as we waited backstage during the announcements. We were  introduced, and we all walked out on to the stage as the audience clapped and cheered. Charlotte took the mike, said a few words about the first song and the band started to play. The moment she opened her mouth, I started to cry! She sounded amazing. The audience began to clap and sing along with her. It took all of my strength to hold back my own tears as she sang and smiled and rocked. No, she was not as talkative as she usually is during a set but it did not matter. No, she did not jump around the stage as she normally does as she sings. But she sounded beautiful, she looked beautiful and she stayed strong.

The band played for 50 minutes. It was a huge success. Charlotte looked at me after the last dance and smiled. I could see the relief in her face. She had done it.  Once she was backstage gathering her belongings, she told me that performing tonight had to be one of the hardest things she had ever done. “It was harder than childbirth,” she said. She looked worn out but still as beautiful as ever. As we walked out of the building, people were congratulating us on the performance, telling us how much fun they had, how wonderful the band was, did they have a cd? Charlotte politely thanked them but I could see she needed to get out of there. My parents drove her home that night and my mom called me the next day to tell me that Charlotte was utterly exhausted. “I knew this was going to happen,” she said, exasperated. “Of course she is tired,” I said. “It took a lot out of her. She will be fine. I am glad she did it. It was good for her.” “Well,” she said, “She is sleeping now and will not be coming to your holiday party.” “That is okay. Let her sleep,” I said. Two hours later, she arrives with my mom and my nephew. Nothing keeps Charlotte down.

I try to keep telling my mom that she has to stay positive and keep encouraging my sister. Charlotte does not want to feel sorry for herself and she does not want others to feel sorry for her either. All she wants is to feel better, be with her family and focus on the positive things in her life. When she needs help, she asks for it without hesitation. This was not easy for her to do in the beginning. I understand this feeling. We want to be able to do for ourselves but real strength comes from asking for help when you need it and not being afraid to ask.

Physically, my sister is not as strong as she was three months ago. She has lost weight. She has lost muscle. She does not have the appetite she once had. She is tired much of the time. She is sometimes uncomfortable. She has to be careful when she picks my niece up on the days she comes home from chemo because Eleanor sees the tube coming out of her chest, and she wants to grab it. She still has to deal with my nephew and his occasional tantrums when he comes home from school. She is still a mother and a wife. Her strength now comes from within. Back in July, she was busy trying to get physically strong. She had no idea that in September, not only would her physical strength be tested but also her emotional and mental strength. I have always believed that between the two of us, Charlotte is the stronger one. Now I am even more convinced than ever.

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” Ghandi

2 thoughts on “Strength Comes from Within”

  1. Emily,
    Absolutely beautiful in so many ways. Cancer is a horrible thing and so many who are diagnosed find strength they never knew they had. Then, those who surround them discover it as well. You are blessed as a family with strength of body, soul and spirit and because of this Charlotte will succeed in fighting this. My love and prayers are with all of you as you travel down this path.

    1. Thank you Shannon. She is so strong, and we are all so proud of her. Charlotte looked wonderful Sunday night. The next few months will be a roller coaster ride for all of us but we will all get through it together. 🙂 Our family has always been close… is more important now than ever!

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