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Oct 11, 2012

The Unfortunate Sisterhood

Last week I took Mom to a follow-up appointment at OSU's breast health center.  I'm happy to report that everything still looks clear and she is healthy and blessed!  She's such an inspiration to me every moment of every day...

I was in the waiting room passing time with a good book during Mom's appointment when an old black woman came in and sat near me.  She was making jokes to a nurse about getting fitted for her new "Dolly Partons", which I came to find out was her prosthetic bra.  The nurse didn't quite know what to make of her, but to me she seemed to be a joyful, wise, funny old lady, calling everyone child and humming to herself.  I immediately loved her.

A little later another woman joined us on our series of couches.  She was a rough looking, middle-aged white woman whose hair was either falling out or just growing back, assumedly due to chemo.  She was fighting with a nurse about not having an appointment but wanting to see the doctor anyway.  She demanded, "I'll wait till she's finished with all her appointments for the day.  I'll walk with her when she leaves if that's what I need to do.  But I ain't talking to you.  I want to talk to my doctor."

She wasn't yelling, but she was very curt to the young nurse, who I could tell was getting upset as she tried to tell the woman how busy the doctor was, not making any promises, asking if she could answer the woman's questions.  Finally she saw how determined the woman was and she left.

I felt bad for the nurse.  That was my initial reaction.  Sympathy for the young, healthy nurse for having to deal with difficult people.

Then came a paradigm shift.   

Here sat these two women who clearly came from completely different places and couldn't be more to white, joyful to sullen, funny to somber, kind to bitter.  Just as I glanced back down at my book, the black woman said to the white woman, "You a strong woman."

That surprised me.  I think it surprised the white lady too because it took her a minute to respond.  "Well, that young thing ain't going to know the answers to my questions, so why even waste my energy trying to explain?  I need my doctor."

She was getting upset again, sighing and seemingly near tears.  My sympathy started to shift a bit.  Then this happened to push it over the edge.

The black woman leaned across the space that separated them and put her hand on the white woman's arm.  She said, "Ain't nobody knows what it's like 'til they been through it themselves."  Then she squeezed the woman's arm and smiled at her like I've been through it, sister.  I get it.  And the white woman smiled back and touched the woman's hand with her own. 

They both sat like that for a minute, so far removed from the other in every visible, tangible way, but so completely connected because they were sisters now, sisters in this unfortunate sisterhood called breast cancer. 

It was one of the most precious things I've ever witnessed in my life.  And one of the strongest, fastest paradigm shifts I've ever experienced.  The understanding and empathy that passed between those women in that moment was beautiful. 

When I told Mom about it after her appointment she nodded with understanding, because she's in the sisterhood now, too.  She told me about a woman at the fair who saw Mom's survivor sweatshirt from the race we did this spring.  She put her hand on Mom's shoulder and smiled as she said, "I'm a survivor too." And then walked on.  Mom said it was kind of a special moment...

A sister connecting with another in this unfortunate sisterhood.