Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sister Kris

I'm a little early on this one, but the fact that my sister Kris's birthday is coming (January 16th) just hit me with a little wave of despair. This happened last year as well, but I didn't see it coming, and it threw me into a funk. It's hard to head grief off at the pass, but maybe writing about it will help a bit.

Kristine K. Sawyer would have been 47 on the 16th. She died about a month after her 45th birthday, and I'll probably haul all this emotional stuff out one more time here on February 20th (yippee). She was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer in November of 2006. What they found were the multiple tumors that had spread to her liver. As so very many people know how this sort of thing goes, she responded well initially to chemo, had enough time to get her things in order, and then died a difficult death.

Throughout, she insisted on being the mother and wife she was used to being. At the time she was diagnosed, she was working full time and going to school full time. She wanted to get her BSN (Bachelor's in Nursing), and had signed on to work these dreadfully long shifts to maximize her time at work, while being able to see her kids. I wonder from this, and also my mother's experience dying of pancreatic/lung cancer, the relationship of stress to disease.

When most of the types of chemo had been tried, and there weren't many treatment options left, I remember talking to her on the phone about getting into a drug trial. I remember I was at the dog park at the time. From my very limited perspective, I thought, 'hey, you've got nothing to lose, you might as well enroll'. From her perspective, an untested therapy might shorten what little time she had left, and she opted not to risk that. If she did nothing, she knew about how much time she had left, and was unwilling to gamble with that. This makes a lot more sense to me now than it used to.

I'm going to have to continue this post later, as I wanted to talk more about what she did and who she was, as opposed to how this thing came and got her.

Every time I think about how she had to say goodbye to her children, it makes me weep. If I ever had to cry on command, that thought would do it. They and Bart have coped and survived this horrible thing, and it was good to see them last November carrying on.

She wanted to die at home but didn't make it. They had the hospital bed delivered a day or so before she died, thinking she could come home, but she never stabilized enough to make it. By that time her liver was failing and she wasn't all that lucid. I remember her looking at me and I thought, 'she can't tell if she's really seeing me or if I'm a hallucination'. That's OK. She had one final moment of clarity, which we sort of laughed with, because she sort of sat up a bit, called her sons over and said sternly, 'No cigarettes! No cigarettes!' As in, if nothing else, don't start smoking after I'm gone.

OK, more on this next time. Thanks for reading.

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Hi, sorry to make the humans do an extra step.