October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Please don’t forget to schedule your mammogram. The people that love you deserve for you to take care of yourself!
This article was written in honor and in memory of my sister, Mary Nell Robertson, and my mother, Mary Jaye Spearman. One fought the battle with cancer and won. One lost. Both are loved by me.
Sister had cancer. Had is the primary word here. Sister is a fighter, a survivor.
When cancer decided to move in with Sister, it had absolutely no idea what a terrible roommate she would be. I grew up with the woman. I knew what she was capable of. She would fight you like Muhammad Ali, she would kick you where it hurts and if you thought she was going to go home and lie down after a treatment, well, you had another thought coming.
My entire life, Sister has been the Bulldog of our family. I was the Chihuahua. She’d just bite a hole in your ankle and not ask questions. I’d bark and then lick you in the face. I could square my shoulders up and tell you off because I knew, somewhere in the background, Sister was standing in the shadows ready to attack if you hurt me. If Sister detected a weakness in me, she would get in my face and tell me to suck it up and move on. If I complained about something, her response was, “I hate it for ya!”
But this was different. This was cancer. This was my Sister. The only way I knew to stand up for the woman that had always stood up for me was to start praying.
I started looking for signs of sickness in Sister. Maybe some dark circles under her eyes or sleeping more than usual. I never saw those signs but I did notice Sister’s hair. Suddenly it was thick and full and beautifully frosted with platinum streaks. I commented on it. Had she got a new haircut? Did she have it colored? She took her fingers, gave the sides a tug and then shifted it back and forth. Her head seemed to move side to side, then front to back.
“What’s going on with your head?” I asked. I was puzzled at the odd movement.
“It’s a wig!” Sister smiled as I looked closer.
“No way,” I said with surprise and touched her head carefully with my fingers.
“It’s my new Shake and Go!” Her husband had given the wig a nickname and he proudly explained that Sister could now get ready thirty minutes faster with the help of her new friend. All she had to do was shake it out, put it on her head and go.
In the coming weeks, Shake and Go took on a life of her own. She rested, grandly, on a Styrofoam wig form on Sister’s dresser at night. Shake and Go brought her friends over for a visit and Sister suddenly had an array of various hair colors to choose from. Other wigs joined Shake and Go like a girl’s-night party at a Mexican restaurant. Over the course of a few weeks, Shake and Go took on the persona of a woman. We no longer referred to the wig as “it” but as “she.” And during a rough time of doctor visits and treatments, “she” was the fun part of the whole scary ordeal.
Shake and Go reveled in the attention she was getting when Sister’s friends commented on how great she looked. She gave Sister the confidence needed to get to work and meet the demands of her job where she was required to stay in the public eye constantly.
Shake and Go, along with her friends, brought Sister and I countless hours of laughter as we’d sit in front of the mirror together and try different hair colors and laugh at how our appearance changed.
And then Shake and Go started faltering, slipping more easily, in a state of unrest. Sister was fighting cancer like a banty rooster and Shake and Go was fighting just to hang on. She started doing things that we couldn’t control, much like that friend that’s had too much to drink. And as I was praying for Sister, I started praying for Shake and Go. Praying that she wouldn’t embarrass us in front of the entire world. Praying she would stay put and not land on top of the bacon at the breakfast buffet.
The first fiasco took place in the dentist’s chair. Sister kept her regular cleaning appointments and Shake and Go accompanied her just as she did for work every day. Grinding, scrubbing, cleaning, flossing, x-rays. Sister twisted and turned in the dentist’s chair through the hour while each task was performed. Shake and Go struggled to hang on. She twisted and turned with Sister until the dental hygienist was finally through.
Satisfied that the cleaning was over, Sister sat up and straightened her clothes. Exhausted, Shake and Go kept lying down, perched, sideways at the top of the chair. Stressed out and feeling shaggy, she vowed to never put herself through that again. Shake and Go claimed that the next time Sister had to go to the dentist, she would just stay home and watch Judge Judy. Not until Sister made it to the front desk to pay, did she realize Shake and Go had stayed behind, resting peacefully in the dentist’s chair.
And then there was the time a member of law enforcement showed up at Sister’s office. Hearing that she’d been given the ugly diagnosis, he stopped by to check on her, give her some encouraging words and remind her to be a fighter. They’d been friends for many years. Sister stood to greet the Man in Blue and, being a tall, broad-shouldered man, he tucked Sister under his arm and hugged her close. Shake and Go loved the smell of aftershave and relished the hug of big, strong arms. When Sister stepped away, Shake and Go held on and stayed in place, snuggly situated beneath the Man in Blue’s arm pit.
It was clear that Shake and Go was nearing the end of her life’s purpose and the finality of that end came as we were driving North on Highway 41 into our hometown of Hahira. It was a beautiful day. The sun was warm, the sky was blue and the top was down on Sister’s convertible. I was driving her into town for some shopping and a visit with a friend. We had the volume full blast on the radio and Dr. Hook was singing “Sexy Eyes” when Shake and Go performed her final acrobatic stunt. With the blink of an eye and a puff of the wind, she was air born, off Sister’s head. Sister screamed and grabbed at her head. Shake and Go was gone. I looked quickly in the rearview mirror in horror. Sister twisted in her seat to look behind us just as a huge concrete truck blew its horn. Unable to stop, the driver ran over Shake and Go, leaving her lying on the yellow center line.
I slammed on brakes at the sharp curve at Hagan Bridge Road, spun the car around and headed back to rescue Shake and Go. Slowing down at the mangled, platinum wad of hair, there she was, flattened like a dead fox squirrel on the asphalt. Looking both ways, I jumped out and grabbed her and threw her in Sister’s lap. We laughed until tears ran down our legs!
While I was finishing this article, Sister sent me a picture of herself on a trip to California. She’s standing in front of a huge redwood tree with her arms outspread. And like other obstacles in her life, something massive is behind her. A testament to the fact that she’s always stepped out in front and dared you to come any closer. Cancer had no idea who it had moved in with. And like a cowardly stray cat with his tail tucked between his legs, he broke the lease and moved out.
The picture is a reminder for me. No more cancer. No more Shake and Go. Just a Bulldog, still protecting the Chihuahua.