There’s a plaque leaning up against a tree in my front garden. It’s old and weathered; but the message remains solid — “Enjoy the Journey.” It will always live with me. It reminds me of my sister Rosie and her successful efforts to enjoy every day, no matter what. It prompts me to be grateful for my lot and to see the bright side of every possible thing. Some days that is not so easy, but it’s a task I remind myself of daily, when I feed the birds and water the trees.
I’m currently working on Rosie’s story, delving into her blogs that she started, when she had a burst of good fortune and health (“I feel like I’m faking the stage 4 cancer thing,” she joked at one point); and decided to share her knowledge and humor in her blog “Stage 4 and 40.” (Don’t go there — it’s now a Chinese sale site.) The summer of Ibrance is what we called it, when she was able to enjoy the benefits of the most recent wonder drug for stage 4 patients and boy did she enjoy it. She no longer had to go into Antalya (two hours-plus each way) for treatments, chemo and radiation.
Nope, she just popped an Ibrance and went along her way, planning lunches, teas, swims and boat trips. She dyed her hair blonde, gained some weight and had everyone whispering that she had kicked cancer. “Oh, don’t be silly!” she’d giggle. “You can’t kick stage 4 cancer — you will always have it until you pop your clogs” — a typical Rosie expression.
And she was right, of course; but that didn’t stop her enjoying every second of her last full summer. She was always the first to comment that this was her last visit, her last birthday, her last summer. She was prepping us for her, perhaps in the near future, being correct about that. She walked so quickly that summer; rushing from one sensation to the next, as if she were running out of time; which, of course, she was. She drove quickly, rushing from the baker to the store, to the house, to another house. She was absolutely exhausting.
I remember lying on the beach next to her in her favorite place, Chirale. Finally, she went to sleep and I watched her, wondering if she was going to peacefully go off to St Elsewhere at this very time. She was seldom that still. I got up quietly to go into the sea and an eye opened. There she was. She wasn’t still for very long. “Want a game of Scrabble, sis?” she asked, and we were off again.
She and a friend from “her hospital,” as she called it (MedStar — a whole load of stars could be found in that building), founded a breast cancer support group — the first ever in Antalya. She discovered that there were a lot of women suffering the treatments and near stigma of cancer in silence. Quite different to her and her situation, these ladies were pretty much alone with their disease and their thoughts. Well, Rosie wasn’t having that; so they put together a group, as you do.
They had events, a rally with lots of ribbons, flowers, balloons, open-air car parades — a show of unity and force in the cancer world. Even the oncology department at the hospital attended. It was a pretty stunning thing to witness and it still goes on today. I met several of her cancer sister friends in Turkey after she passed on and she was so beloved to them.
Sadly, her blog was lost to the graveyard of unpaid blog domains, but I have managed to capture some of the entries and, in due course, plan to work them into my Rosie-sister-cancer book (as yet unnamed).
And she had a blog-filled summer, boy did she. She had quite the global audience and a faithful following. Until …
She was back to treatment. The summer of Ibrance was over; the super wonder-drug was no longer working for her. With the return to treatments, the blog stopped but the sense of humor continued to flourish and entertain. I recall being on a boat trip on the Mediterranean with her and her friends. She was surrounded by a huge group of them — laughing and joking — and you would never be able to spot the one most likely to die first. They enjoyed a tea party on the high seas, fundraisers for the local animal rescue, lunches, dinners and — her favorite — breakfasts, as if the time was really running out.
I spent the New Year of her last year with her and her family in their mountain home. It was a special time. Not quite as rambunctious as the previous year, truly more poignant; as if we knew, she knew, that the cancer was taking over and likely to win the race fairly soon. She had more achy bits, though she never complained. She was a bit more tired, a little less energetic; but if you didn’t know her well you wouldn’t know that.
I enjoyed the slower pace with her. It was so relaxing to sit by the fire, her hearth beautifully decorated and her tree sparkly with white lights. We’d drink some nice wine and watch a film or a football match. She was content. “Oh, sis, it’s all about the quality,” she’d say when talking about her life. “Cos we know I ain’t gonna get the quantity!” And she’d laugh, as she always did and made it easier on everyone around her.
Working on some of her story — our story — has been very therapeutic for me. It is delightful to dig back into the blog, some of her writings, letters and photos. I am pulling out the memories from the coffers and feasting on them. I’m hearing her voice that I miss again. Enjoy the journey, just as Rosie did, until she closed her eyes for the last time. Make the best of your lot with whatever hand you have been dealt. Instead of saying, “Why me?” it’s as Rosie used to say — “Why not me?”