When cancer strikes within a family, lives change forever. Millions of people world-wide have been hoping and praying for a cure to the deadly disease, and the American Cancer Association is working toward that goal.
The 2012 Boca Grande Relay for Life will be held on Saturday and Sunday March 24 and 25 at the Wheeler Street field. There is no admission charge to walk around the field, eat, drink and shop at the booths that will be set up by each of the 11 teams. All money spent on activities, food and drinks at the park will be donated to the American Cancer Society in the ongoing battle against cancer.
The theme this year is “Teaming up Against Cancer.”
This is our second story from an islander, Sandy Jacobs, about how cancer has affected the family.
If you are interested in sharing your story with the Boca Beacon, please call us at 964-2995.
We would love to hear from you.
Memoirs of Shelly
by Sandy Jacobs
Twenty years ago, my only sibling, my sister, Shelly, died of cancer. Her birthday was in November; this year she would have been 75. With her death, I lost a great deal of my past, the memories of which could only be shared with her. Through the years, I have written several remembrances of her, and each time I read them, it’s as if I’m back in that place in time with her, sharing our childhood. The following stories are some of my memories of those times.
It starts with the warm, wonderful feeling of a relaxing bladder and is followed by the cold, ammonia-smelling reality of wet pajamas and drenched sheets. Then the parade begins. I call to my mother, who comes down the dark hall into my bedroom to change my wet sheets and pajamas. While she prepares my bed, I wander, sleepy-eyed and dazed, into my parents' room and to the ultimate comfort of their bed. My mother finishes making my bed and accepts the invitation of clean, crisp, white sheets. She crawls into my now-empty bed.
The march continues.... While I sleep, my sister awakens with a fright and finds her way to our parents' nest. In she comes. Our father, disturbed by the poking of two sets of little arms and legs and the noisy breathing of youthful sleep, completes the parade by finding the empty bed in my sister's room. In the morning, I see my sister beside me, warm and secure. I sniff the aroma of my parents' pillows: My mother's, of her sweet breath – my father's, of liniment and hair pomade. I bury my face in their aura. I know all is well.
"Today's the day," my sister would whisper to me every so often, waking me from a sound Sunday morning sleep. For several years, beginning when I was about five, my sister, Shelly, three years my senior and therefore “Master of My Youth,” would pronounce that this was the day for our adventure. Our routine was always the same. We'd pack a brown paper lunch bag with the necessary items, sneak out of the house so as not to wake our parents, and hike to our secret campgrounds, watching all the way for wild animals, falling rocks and poisonous vipers.
Never mind that we were city girls and the hike was just two row house-filled blocks away; to me this was uncharted territory. Never mind that the campground site was a square of cement pavement pushed up above the others by the root of a tree; to me this was a mountain precipice. Never mind that our rucksack was a paper bag containing six Ritz crackers and one long slender white paper drinking straw cut in two; we feasted on those dry crackers, then sat back and relaxed, puffing away on the paper straws, pretending they were cigarettes. What a pathetic sight we must have made, but what a wonderful memory I have of days when pleasures were simple … and life was an adventure … and my sister was alive.
No one had to tell me – it was implicit. I was 16 and my older sister's trousseau was off-limits. For nine months, she had been collecting the perfect wardrobe for her upcoming wedding: Anne Fogarty dresses, Jr. Sophisticate suits, Hadley cashmere sweaters and lighter-than-air lingerie. Now she was away at college and it was mine, all mine! For weeks, my three best friends and I would come home from school, race upstairs to my sister’s now-vacant room, open the cardboard wardrobe and, one by one, drape ourselves in her silk peignoirs, practice walking in her satin high heeled bedroom slippers, and fantasize for hours about honeymooning in San Juan, while we modeled her meticulously tissue-wrapped bathing suits and organdy beach tops. Always careful, we refolded, re-hung and replaced everything into its proper zipper bag and closed the door just so.
Weeks went by and I grew bolder. I started wearing my sister's trousseau to school. One day her red cashmere; on another, the cream-colored silk blouse with the jeweled cufflinks; then the soft wool herringbone blazer with the black dirndl skirt. I strutted into my homeroom, the best-dressed junior in the school. On a Friday night, I put on her powder blue Hadley skirt and dyed-to-match sweater set, hid the whole works under my coat so my mother wouldn't see, and went to my friend's Sweet 16 party. Feeling sophisticated and confident in my sister's outfit, I took a puff of a cigarette offered by a friend. A hot ember fell onto my powder blue cashmere-covered breast. No amount of tears could make the hole go away.
On the way home I thought of the two choices I had: Either throw myself in front of a moving trolley car or confess to my mother. Telling my sister was completely out of the question. I labored over which was the best decision, but reason won out and I told my mother. Well, she came through for me. No lectures, no reprimands, no punishments (she had an older sister, too, so she knew how it was). What she did was send the sweater to an invisible mender and a few days later, the sweater was back in its tissue paper in my sister's special closet. We never told her and she never knew. I learned something from that experience. I learned how much my mother meant to me and how well she understood.
Believe me, I felt guilty lying to her when I swore that I had not taken a puff of that cigarette. But the main lesson I learned was one I drew on frequently while raising my own children: Never trust a teenager; they'll swear to anything.
Before I can remember, she probably took care of me, but to my mind, I was her slave. As a child, I must have brought out the sadist in her, because she manipulated me into doing all of her dirty work, then sat back and smiled when I had to pay the consequences. Once she convinced me to steal my friend Harriet Luskin's doll dishes, so I did, and then hid them under my bedroom dresser. When Harriet told my mother and they came looking, my mother spotted the tea set under my bureau. That afternoon my mother treated me to a Fels Naptha Soap mouthwash. Did I report the instigator? Of course not. She was my sister.
When she decided to carve initials into our grand piano, she wanted me to be blamed. She figured that neither of us would be so stupid to carve her own initials into the piano, so she carved hers, RLR, into the dark wood. And it worked: I was blamed – my parents were sure that I had done the deed … and I paid dearly. Did I tell on her? No way. She was my sister. On opening day of first grade, Miss Bradley greeted me with, "Well, another Ross girl. I hope you're as cooperative and smart as your sister." What can I say? My subconscious rebelled and I started wetting my pants every day. I got used to seeing my mother at school at l0 a.m. delivering dry underpants hidden inside a lunch bag.
Eventually, my good sense prevailed and I went the opposite way. Miss Bradley and a long list of subsequent teachers couldn't shut me up, and I made a point of under achieving. However, it worked – they stopped comparing me to my sister. On Saturdays when I was nine and she was l2, we'd go to ChezVous Roller Skating Rink in West Philadelphia. She and her girlfriends would flirt with the boys and then pair off to skate around in circles with their boyfriends-for-the-day, keeping perfect time to the accompanying organ music. I was strictly forbidden to talk to her during this socializing, so I would skate round and round aimlessly by myself until she deigned to call me over when it was time to go home on the El.
I loved it. I was with my big sister. When I started fourth grade, she entered junior high in another school, and until years later when I started college, our relationship was nonexistent. By then she was married and I was away at school, living a life she had never experienced. Suddenly she was interested in me. Not only was she my sister, but I was her sister, too.
Then I married and started a family and gradually she became my supporter and mentor, best friend and confidant. She was the one responsible for hosting the family dinners, attending to our parents needs, doing all the things big sisters do. When I had the flu or a bad cold, she'd appear with red jello and chicken soup and take my kids for the day. Thinking back, I don't know exactly when she changed from being my torturer to being my protector, but I definitely liked it more the new way. I think motherhood brought out the best in her, and the older I got, the more she mothered me, though we had a perfectly good mother.
When my sister lay dying and the weeks dragged on, she didn't want our mother or grandmother to see her; she wanted to spare them the sadness she knew they would feel by seeing her weakened condition. But she wanted me, the one she had molded to be adaptable, and strong and capable, and gradually over the days ahead, I assumed the role of nurse, mother and older sister. In the end, her last act was to protect me. She waited until I left her room before she died.
And now I am no longer a sister.
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