Today, my sister would have been 73 years old.
Carole Jeanne was born in 1945. My sister was 19 years older than me – old enough to have actually been my mother – and I believe sometimes she thought she was. My mother gave birth to her while my father was stationed on Saipan and/or Tinian, or one of those Northern Mariana Islands during World War II. I remember seeing the actual telegram sent to my father overseas announcing the birth of a bouncing baby girl. STOP.
I didn’t see my sister often.
She was married to a civil service guy, Tim, who was stationed either at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi; or Eglin Air Force Base near Crestview, Florida; for most of my childhood. But, my mom and dad and I always drove down from Ohio for Christmas. It was always awesome. I loved spending time with my nieces, who were so much closer in age to me than my sister – Tammy (4 years younger than I); and Tracey (6 years younger than I). These two were like my sisters growing up – and still are to this day.
As an adult, I saw her more often.
After Sissy’s divorce and our father’s death, I would drive my mother down to my sister’s house in Panama City, Florida, every winter, where my Mom would stay until I would fly down to get her in the spring and drive her back. No way she could fly down and back because my mother would pack her car with everything under the sun to take with her, including her sewing machine – a cabinet one, not a portable; nearly all of her clothes; and food for days. Oh, and apparently they don’t sell dog food in Florida.
I called her Sissy, even as an adult.
If I ever addressed my sister as Carole, I have absolutely no recollection of it. Eventually, Sissy was shortened to “C,” which is actually the last syllable of sis-sy, although my mother thought I called her C because it was her first initial.
We became good traveling buddies.
We would traipse around the United States (mostly Florida and Tennessee) and have a good ol’ time. My favorite thing was to plan a surprise get-away and mail her a tour “brochure” I would put together. I would make her call me so I could hear her read the tour brochure out loud so I could hear the excitement in her voice (no Skype back then).
Two of the most memorable vacays we took together were Orlando and Tampa. The Orlando trip included a luau, Epcot, Pirate’s Dinner Theater, and most-memorably, Discovery Cove, where we got to swim with the dolphins. Being able to touch and interact with a live dolphin is still one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had – even to this very day. My sister was terrified of fish her entire life, so imagine my surprise when she walked right into the ray pool, where you could swim alongside the rays at your leisure.
The Tampa trip included a Bay dinner cruise and Busch Gardens and Animal Kingdom. SO.MUCH.FUN
My sister was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992.
She was 47 years old. I don’t recall ever knowing the details of her breast cancer – the type of tumor, the stage of the tumor, whether it was triple negative or not – but I remember she had to undergo chemotherapy, radiation, and mastectomy. I believe she had hormone therapy, but I’m not certain. She still lived in Florida, so I didn’t have a lot of detail.
Her second diagnosis was in 1999 when she was 54 years old. I believe she went through all the same treatments she did with the first go around ending in another mastectomy. Again, she was still living in Florida, and I didn’t have much knowledge of her treatment.
In February 2006, at the age of 61, my sister passed away from pancreatic cancer, which the doctors believe had metastasized from her previous bouts. She had moved to Ohio by then and lived with me on my little 5 acre farm.
When they told her about her prognosis, she didn’t want to “go through all that again” and to just let it “play out.” So, she lived her final months of her life being her happy-go-lucky self, spending time with my horses, and laughing heartily at everything funny.
I really miss her.