We do it every year. Well...truth? Bing runs it and Liv and I take her photo as she sprints over the finish line.
Bing has done this every single year since my sister, Jessie was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mother died of breast cancer. All of us sisters are vigilant, but we were still shocked when the baby of us found out that she had breast cancer when she was 39 years old.
She is now 44 and hit her five year remission marker in May.
Bing asks her to send a photo of herself each year and she applies it to a tee shirt. And then she runs. Liv and I stand at the finish line and cheer her on, although she is in incredibly good shape (she's a runner) and doesn't need our cheering to get her over that finish line.
It means a lot to my sister but I think it means more to me. The woman whom I love dedicates her run to my baby sister, the wonder baby. The golden child in our family. She is eight years younger than I am and I was the baby for a LONG time until she showed up (and to say I was disgruntled at giving up my baby status is to put it mildly...) and ruined my sweet ride.
I love Jessie with all of my heart. So do my sisters. So does her husband and her three teenaged daughters.
I will never forget the day that Patrice came to our door all those years ago, her face white with shock. She said, "Maria, sit down."
When she told me that Jessie had cancer, stupidly I argued.
That's ridiculous! She's had that lump for three years and her doctor always said that it was nothing to worry about. He only removed it at her insistence! There must be a mistake! I held my tears back until Patrice left and then, alone in the bathtub that night, I wept until my eyes nearly swelled shut. I kept crazily thinking to myself that this had to be a mistake. It HAD to be.
There was no mistake. For three years she let her small town family doctor pooh pooh her worries. Finally, she said it just bothered her to feel that lump every time she took a shower and asked him to remove it just for her peace of mind. He did and it was then that they discovered that it was cancerous.
I shudder to think what might have happened if she had listened to him and not acted on her feelings.
I had murderous words for that doctor and it was Jessie herself who told me to stop ranting and raving and threatening to knock his teeth out and START HELPING HER DEAL WITH THIS.
We all did. We went in together and had her house cleaned top to bottom by a cleaning team. We bought her 1000 count thread sheets so that she could be comfortable when she came home from chemo and could barely lift her head.
Her husband shaved her head and told me that he joked the entire time with her and told her that he found bald women incredibly sexy. Later, as she slept, he said he went outside and shook his fist at God and called him/her/it a colossal asshole. And then he went back inside and talked to his three daughters and told them they WOULD NOT CRY when they saw their mother. They didn't. At least not in front of her. Later, her oldest, Lyndsay, would cry in my arms, Patrice's arms, Celia's arms. Her sisters would cry in Lyndsay's arms while, as the oldest, she told them not to worry, that all would be fine. It would be fine. It would. Lyndsay saved her tears for when she was away from her younger sisters and could finally let it out.
I sent Jessie all of my Anne Lamott books because no one says it better than she does and I knew she would find something in there to help her. She did. She wrote out a quote from one of the books saying, "Courage is fear that has said it's prayers." That quote is still on her fridge and I finger it whenever I visit her.
Jessie is a teacher and she spent her summer getting chemo and feeling like shit. She elected to have both of her breasts removed. They thought they got it all. She came to my city for the operation and then had her chemo in the small Iowa town where she lives. But, often she would ask her husband to drive her to Patrice's house, away from the small town's pitying eyes. Patrice is a retired nurse and an excellent caregiver.
I talked Jessie into trying grass to help with her nausea from the chemo. She said no about twenty times and finally I suppose the nausea got to her, because she said yes, with the condition that I NEVER let her daughters know. I never have. And it was one of those times that you never forget. Getting high with my very Catholic, very conservative sister. We talked fearlessly about every aspect of our lives. We did all the things that you do when you are high. I hadn't smoked since Liv's conception, so I was out of practice too. But, it's like riding a bike, it all came back. I handled that bong like the pro I used to be. We commented on how incredibly intense and beautiful everything was. We looked at each other and remarked at how remarkably gorgeous we were. We laughed. Hard. We ate. A lot. And then some more. Afterwards, we fell asleep in each other's arms on the sofa. Bing brought Liv home from the movie she had taken her to so that I could take illegal drugs with my sibling and she said that we looked like two rag dolls flung together.
"But, you were holding hands," she commented. "I fell in love with you all over again that night and decided that Jessie would not die. She would fight this and win and that I would run the Susan Komen race for the cure every year until Jessie never had to be scared of her yearly cancer screen because there would be a cure."
Jessie did fight. She has won for the last five years.
She told me once that all she wanted was to see her three daughters graduate high school. Her first graduated last year. Her next one is a senior. Her youngest is a freshman this year. I tell Jessie all the time that she will see them through not only high school graduation, but college graduation and live to see her grandchildren.
"Well, just please God let them all be married before I get grandkids," she said. "First things first."
Did I mention that Jessie is one of the most devout Catholics on the planet? She struggles with having a sister who is in a relationship with another woman. She struggles with the fact that she ADORES Bing when I know she wants to dislike her. It would be easier for her, I think. But, this is how prejudice is beaten down. One person at a time. One person who meets a gay person and realizes that they are good and kind and a worthy person. It is hard to hold on to your strident religious beliefs when your sister's partner is running the Susan Komen race for the cure with your photo safety pinned to her shirt.
We will be there next Sunday with bells on.
For all the Jessies out there. But, especially for MY Jessie.