Thursday, October 1, 2015

One Hero on the Front Line

Funny thing about heroes. No one sets out to be one. Most don’t think they deserve the appellation. People walking down the street rarely notice if they are in the presence of a hero. But funny thing about that- more often than they could ever imagine, they are.  As for me, I am lucky to know  one personally. I just call her sis.

My sister, Pamela Joy Evans Smyth, Pamela Joy-face to my mother, the apple of my father’s eye, just plain old Pam to me, would never consider herself a hero. Oh she does have many hats…. daughter, mother, sister, Episcopalian, cousin, aunt, dog-whisperer, food service manager, gardener, friend, bowler, and thanks to Macie-Great Aunt…… well according to my sons she was already a great aunt. But there is one hat, a beanie actually, she never would have chosen to wear, and therein lies the irony. My sister, my hero, is a breast cancer survivor, but in my eyes, that beanie she wore after her hair fell out was not a beanie at all, it was the helmet of a warrior.

Sisters are funny, fun and sometimes just a pain in the ass. We always fought for “control” over the television. There was no remote. You just had to be fast in  racing to the actual TV to turn the dial. No wonder my last memory of that TV in the den was the dial not really working very well. Sometimes it was a race home from school  to get into the den first. Fortunately we both liked Dark Shadows. On the other hand, one night when I got home she already had control.  She had this new show on that she had been watching called Dynasty. Thanks to her it became a favorite of mine for many years- along with another she introduced me to- Dallas. My sister has always been a good sport. She put up with family vacations visiting historical sites that fascinated me and often bored her to tears. She tagged along on my college visits when I am sure there were a thousand things she would have rather been doing.

Pam has loved dogs as long as I can remember. First Clyde, then Bo it was clear early on that she had a special way with animals. Now she runs a home for dogs taking a vacation from their owners. Oh most see this as a dog care business for people who do not want to take their dog on holiday or put it in a kennel. But I see it for what it really is- a place where dogs are incredibly well loved and cared for- so much so that I am sure they can’t wait until the next time their owners take a trip. You have never seen such happy tail waggin’.

Pam is a great mom. It is not surprising at all given her role model, but she has done a great job raising a son and a daughter- hey those two taught me how to be an uncle! Now, as our mom ages, my sister has shouldered the primary responsibility for care- from decorating the home, to the grocery shopping, to  the finances, doctors’ visits etc. etc. etc. and there are so many etcetera’s.

So it was, about one year ago, in the midst of all this care giving- kids, dogs, mother, home and garden- that my sister, putting awareness to work as many women do, felt a lump, had it checked out, and, after all the pre-requisite testing, was given the diagnosis that she had breast cancer. She called me in Detroit. I listened, she bravely told me the plan. Her voice broke a little, how could it not, I tried to be the wise comforting big brother- I have never told her how scared I was- but by the end of the call she was comforting me. Being sick was not in her plan. She was not going to let this break her. I saw her as a Tennyson-like character from “Charge of the Light Brigade”- Into the Valley of the Unknown rode the Cancer Warrior.  I know she was scared and had inner fear. She never showed it. I know there were days she felt awful. She never let Cancer see her sweat. I am sure there were days she just wanted to pull the covers over her head and hide. Not in her character. The dog business went forward un-phased. she  showed up for work and gave her best every day never using her illness as an excuse. Care for our mom, decorating for Christmas, all the work and hustle of the holidays. She never once complained about the treatments, about losing her hair, about hating her wig, about not wanting to go out. I am sure many people never even realized she was sick. My sister, the same person who used to faint when I got an injection and scream at hers, the consummate warrior. Like the Navy Seal of Cancer Patients. She quietly, efficiently, effectively, never showing the enemy a hint of fear, stealthily dispatched the target. More than a survivor, a warrior.

A very positive attitude, deep love of family, strong support from friends, a network of people resources to talk to and provide support such as meals and rides, talented medical professionals, compassionate care givers, and unwavering faith in God. That was my sister’s armor and armory for the battle.  My kid sista, my hero. So for this October, in recognition of my sister’s faith and bravery and in honor of her kicking cancer’s ass, I am going pink to help increase awareness and hopefully motivate others to give of themselves to help defeat this still too deadly disease. 

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