10.30.2013

my sister


For months I’ve thought about this post.  I feared it.  I thought about how incomprehensibly painful it would be.  I wondered if I would actually have the guts to do it.  I’m deciding to do it although it might be too soon.  I want to share with you all where I am right now. Today.  October 30th.  Exactly one week after I buried my sister.

About three and half years ago, my sister saw our local doctor about a cough.  She had bad allergies.  This wasn’t odd or unusual.  The meds our doctor prescribed didn’t seem to help and the cough continued to get worse.  It drove my sister nuts.  She coughed and attempted to clear her throat constantly.  She described it as a tickle in her throat.  After several attempts of trying to control it with meds that didn’t work, her doctor referred her to a pulmonologist.  She went through several tests and biopsies that all came back inconclusive.  After about three months from her first doctor appointment she was told what we were all fearing.  She had cancer. 

Holly was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma on August 13th, 2010.  It was Friday the 13th.  I’ll never forget it.  I was on North Padre Island with Jeff’s side of the family.  Cell service is very poor there.  I had missed phone calls from Darren and I couldn’t get back in touch with him.  After spending several hours at the beach we started to head back to Port Aransas.  As we moved closer inland I impatiently watched my phone waiting for cell service to return.  I called him and he reluctantly told me the dreaded news.  I was a mess.  How could this happen?  She was only 31!  She just had a baby six months ago!

Over the next few weeks Holly underwent several more tests.  I went with her for her first oncology appointment.  Being the emotional being that I am, I broke down.  Holly jokingly threatened me that if I couldn’t keep it together she wouldn’t allow me to come back.  We were told that Hodgkins Lymphoma is “cureable.” That “if your gonna have cancer, you want Hodgkins Lymphoma.”  The oncologist even stated he had never had a relapse of Hodgkins Lymphoma.  We all still hated that my sister had this nasty disease, but we were put at ease with the high success rates.

Holly’s initial treatment consisted of chemo and then radiation.  We were rookies and had no idea what to expect.  Our only knowledge of the side effects of chemo came from movies or tv.  I took Holly and our mom nervously waited for her at home.  We had trash bags in the car fearing she wouldn’t be able to stomach the hour long drive home.  Mom created a space for her at home to rest and was fully stocked on ginger ale and mints.  Things we were told would help.  To our surprise, Holly didn’t need any of this.  We laughed so hard on the way home.  We discussed her hair falling out and wondered if her eyebrows would fall out as well.  I told her if they did, I would help draw them back on but she would need to let me know her mood so I could draw them appropriately.  Happy, mad, shocked, confused, etc.  We had tears from laughing so hard. 

Throughout her first round of chemo, she handled it like a champ.  Never really getting sick, always positive, just a little tired.  And, she never lost her hair (or eyebrows!).

Radiation was a little more intense, but she was still such a trooper.  After several consecutive days of radiation, we thought that was it.  She had another scan done and it showed one small spot on her lung.  The doctors felt this was scar tissue and were not worried. 

Over the next year we went on with life.

In April of 2012, Holly became ill again.  She had back pain and her cough had returned.  Easter weekend was rough.  She felt really bad.  She didn’t want to socialize.  And she had the shakes. 

The following Monday, April 9th, she was hospitalized and we were informed the cancer had returned.  The shakes were “B symptoms.” I can remember thinking how unfair this was…  She was supposed to be “cured.” She was admitted for a week and for the duration of her stay, she made it clear to the doctors that her upcoming treatment needed to allow for her to be gone April 21st-29th.  We were going on a Disney Cruise and then to Disney World and she wasn’t going to miss it.  She traveled with her syringes so she (or with the help of someone) could give herself medicine throughout the trip.  You can see our trip to Disney here and here.

Many more months of chemo followed and in June 2012 Holly & Darren moved to Houston to prepare for her stem cell transplant.  After a few bumps in the road, Holly received her transplant on November 8th,2012

The days following her transplant were scary.  She contracted an infection in her intestines and had absolutely no immune system to fight it.  As Darren put it, all the things that they warn you about prior to the transplant were happening.  At one point, my Mom, Dad, and myself left work to pack up and head to Houston.  We thought we might need to say our good-byes. 

After a few weeks of recovering, Holly was discharged to come home.  And in typical Holly fashion, she didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. 

We were able to celebrate Christmas 2012 together.

A few weeks later a scan revealed that the stem cell transplant was not a success.  We began preparing for a second.  This time with a donor’s cells.  In theory, I would be her best bet for a match.  I wasn’t.  We had a stem cell donor drive and our small town showed up in a big way.  The Be the Match organization only sent one representative to run the drive.  Poor thing…  we really should have warned them.  They ran out of swab kits.

On May 7th we received the news that they found a match for her.

Many more months of chemo and clinical trials followed.  Darren and I took turns taking her to Houston 1-2 times a week.  Her body and immune system became weaker.  Getting blood transfusions and platelets became routine.  Her doctors would prescribe one treatment plan until tests proved it wasn’t working or until her body couldn’t handle it anymore and then they would move on onto the next. 

Holly was hospitalized twice over the summer.  Both as a result from infections due to her weakened immune system.  After each stay she came home a little weaker than the last. 

By September, Holly had become a small shadow of the woman she use to be.  The chemo had taken a toll on her body and she needed a wheelchair in order to be mobile. 

On September 6th, I took Holly to her appointment in Houston.  Her doctor informed us that he did not feel Holly was strong enough to continue with her current chemo regimen.  He suggested we try a new med.  This med was not typically prescribed for lymphoma.  It hadn’t even made the “clinical trial” status.  It basically was their last attempt to get her where she needed to be for another stem cell transplant.  Her doctor said if it didn’t work, they would “focus on keeping her comfortable.”  Those words took my breath away.  I was a mess.  Holly, still being my big sister, tried to reassure me everything was going to be ok.

It seemed as though the new med was working.  We thought her cough was improving and her weekly checkups were yielding good reports.  The new med was prescribed for three weeks on and then one week off.  She flew through the first three weeks no problem.  We thought we were finally getting somewhere…

Then, in the early hours of October 6th, she started complaining about shortness of breath.  Darren took her to Houston where they admitted her.  The new medicine was not working.  The cancer was continuing to spread.  It was now time to “keep her comfortable.” 

The following two weeks are mostly a blur.  The majority of our days were spent at Holly’s bedside.  Darren never left her side. 

Many of the talks that you never want to have were had.  Holly was able to type out her final wishes.  She discussed her funeral arrangements.  It all seemed so surreal.

We told stories and laughed.  We cried thinking about our future with out her.  And we prayed hard that she would pass peacefully.

Holly passed away peacefully on October 19th.

It was estimated that over 550 were in attendance at her funeral.  A few hundred more paid their respects at the funeral home in the days prior. 

In an effort to fulfill Holly’s wish of keeping her funeral simple, we asked that a donation be made to a fund for her daughters in lieu of flowers.  In 24 hrs the fund reached almost $20,000.  Again, our small town showed up in a big way.  Currently it is at $38,000.  The front of our church was also filled with beautiful flowers.

My sister touched people.  She changed them.  I’ve heard that from so many.  She definitely changed me for the better.  I want to be more like her.  Holly never judged people.  She saw the good in people when all I could see were the flaws.  She was selfless.  Even in her final days she worried about us.  She was so so strong.  Much stronger than I could ever be.  She went through so much and her faith never waivered.  She never once questioned “why me?”  She knew God had a plan for her.  

In her final days I told my sister “thank you.”  I thanked her for the beautiful gift she has given me.  She has taught me so much and my faith has never been stronger. 

For months I asked for prayers for Holly.  Today I’m asking for prayers for the people that Holly has touched.  I want the seed that Holly has planted in them to grow.  I pray that they never lose sight of the lessons learned from her.  That they, just like Holly, use their trials to grow closer to Him. 

You can read Holly’s obituary here and her caring bridge journal here.


I want to quickly state that if this post comes off as a story about me, I’m sorry.  That is not what I intended.  It is just my recollection of the events of Holly’s journey that I was blessed enough to be a part of.    

2 comments:

  1. oh sweet girl...i know that was raw and well....just raw for you. i didn't journal when gregg was sick. i just coulnd't . maybe i was weak. maybe the writing of it was just way more than i could handle above the living out of the horror that can be cancer.
    her girls will forever treasure your words.
    thank you sounds weird, but thank you for sharing.....thank you for introducing me to your sweet holly through words & images

    xo

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    Replies
    1. raw is a good term to use. it definitely was. thanks for your kind words. :)

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