We have come to appreciate the rarity of being born into a family with so many sisters. We were given instant friends in life and wouldn't change the chaos of our household growing up, where we became accustomed to asking each other to read homework essays, approve outfits, ask boys to dances for us, and practice sports with us. When we left home for college and eventually settled in different places across the country, we used our phones and email to continue to solicit sisters' advice. Sisters are irreplaceable parts of our lives and we would be lost without each other.
Our closeness means that we would do anything for one another, which is why it was the most painful time in our lives to learn that our oldest sister, Colleen's, cancer was no longer treatable. Although Colleen had first been diagnosed with cancer almost fourteen years before, she had pursued aggressive treatment that had always worked to manage the disease, until the cancer progressed significantly and her prior modes of treatment could no longer control it. It was winning. Colleen enrolled in a clinical trial, but it failed to change her outcome. She turned to palliative chemotherapy and targeted radiology intervention to slow the cancer’s progression, to massage, meditation, and relaxation therapies, and finally to hospice.
As she faced the end of her life, Colleen kept saying that she didn't want us to put our lives on hold for her. But that was unavoidable. There was no way that we were not going to be by Colleen's side during her incredibly difficult final journey. We knew that we wanted to be there for her as she had been so many times for us, spend as much time as possible together, and do our best to care for her. Together with our parents, who served as her primary caregivers, we became dedicated members of her care team. We knew that we couldn't take away Colleen's emotional and physical pain but we had total confidence that we could love her persistently and make her smile on the worst of days. This is what we do best as sisters.
Siblings can make amazing caregivers because of the unique bond, knowledge, and understanding that siblings share. Many relatives, spouses, and friends play roles in supporting cancer patients like Colleen. All types of caregivers deserve attention and share common feelings and stresses. We simply want to highlight the fact that siblings play an important, and sometimes overlooked, caregiving role. We survived one of the most stressful and challenging times in our lives, but during this time we did not find relatable information or caregiving accounts and advice that focused, in particular, on young adults or siblings. So, we decided to help fill in this void by creating our own site to share stories and resources. Through Losing a Puzzle Piece, we hope that you won't feel alone during your own difficult journey.