Sunday, July 22, 2012


I have a small confession to make: I have a sort of litmus test for people. Basically, if they say their hero or one of their heroes is Princess Diana, I tend to put them down as people who are, shall we say, a bit shallow. Nothing against Princess Di. But based on what I know about the late princess, I have a hard time thinking of her as a 'hero.' In the interests of complete disclosure, I admit I do have a bit of a fascination with the British Royal Family. As in, if I see a news headline about them, I am more likely to read the article than I am to pass it up. Yes, I am shallow that way. But are any of them my heroes? No. And are they or any celebrity ever likely to be?

No. I have higher standards for heroes than mere news coverage or wealth. And my standards, as vague as they are, are high enough that if someone had asked me last year who my hero is, I would have been hard pressed to come up with an answer. But the months since this past February have changed that. I can honestly say that I do have a hero now. It's my little sister, Mary Claire.

In February, Mary Claire was diagnosed with cancer. I was with her when she got the news and let me tell you, my heart still stops when I think of that day. Because the news was awful in the truest sense of the word. That day was the day when the bottom dropped out of my family's world. Many people, hearing that diagnosis would have simply given up. Quite honestly, that was one of Mary Claire's choices. But she didn't take that choice. Instead she chose to fight the cancer cells that invaded her body with everything that she had.

Over the past six months, I've watched my sister transform. She readily admitted that she well may have done this to herself with heavy drinking and smoking. She told me early on, after she had first found that telltale lump near her collar bone that, "I knew I shouldn't be drinking and smoking this way, but I couldn't be bothered to stop. I had my fun, now I have to pay the price." But instead of deciding that since the damage was done, she might as well continue to enjoy her vices, she gave up her vices. Cold turkey the night before we received the news. Some might say that she took the easy road and it was too little, too late. But I have been there with her and I can tell you that my sister looked at the fork in the road before her and she did not choose the easy path. Even though she has made it look easy.

As she has made much of this ordeal look easy. From the very beginning, Mary Claire has looked this disease in the eye and faced it with grace and courage. When something she's facing does get to her, she has her cry and moves on. As she did one day when she was told that the new chemo mix they were going to use would require her to stay in the hospital for five days instead of three. She cried, but then later that day when I called to check on her, she told me, " Oh, I had my pout and I'm over it now."

Even when we were children, I knew Mary Claire had that core of courage. She could outrun everyone in the neighborhood. She would dive off the high diving board at our local swimming pool without hesitation. She did not let her fears get in her way and she hasn't let them get in the way of her fight to get well. And she is getting well. She has amazed her doctor with the way she has responded to the chemotherapy and with how rapidly the tumors have shrunk.

This past week, Mary Claire was rewarded with a respite from all the chemo. She is not yet in full remission, but she's made such incredible progress, that her doctor has decided that she can have a break from treatment for three months to rest and get her strength back before hitting the remaining cancer with whatever it takes to take it out. We were stunned. We cried. We hugged. And we rejoiced.

At some point in time, Mary Claire will resume chemo treatments. When she does, I'm sure that she will continue her fight against cancer with the same determination she has shown so far. And I'm also sure that she will get well.
This is my sister. And she's my hero.