From an article by Jonna McMahon originally posted November 29, 2012…
My sister and I share a very special bond; we share the bond of sisterhood. We are dear friends. We have helped each other celebrate all of life’s joys. We have held hands through thunderstorms. We have whispered secrets late at night. We have giggled until our tummies ached. We have leaned on each other for support when we could not stand on our own. We have loved, respected, cherished, enjoyed, argued, made up, advised, listened, and told one another the painful truth our whole lives. We complement each other. We have a relationship that is so special to me. It is hard to put into words. We are very close. We are sisters.
As long as we have been adults, Kara and I have not lived in the same town, but we talk on the phone several times a week. If we do not speak to each other after a few days, we know something is wrong. We have a way of avoiding each other when something is going on—a conflict, a situation we may not want to deal with. When we tell each other, whatever the issue is becomes real.
We usually begin the conversation with, “Ok, why are you avoiding me? What’s going on?” I hadn’t heard from Kara in a week. Something wasn’t right. I felt uneasy as I left her a voicemail. I said that I hadn’t heard from her. I wanted to schedule a “phone date” to catch up. Two days went by and I still had not heard from my sister. There was NO doubt in my mind that my sister was avoiding me.
The phone rang in the morning. “Hi, Jonna.”
“Kara, I haven’t heard from you in such a long time. What’s going on?”
“Jonna,” my sister said in a calm, loving voice, “I have breast cancer.”
WHAT??... My world began spinning out of control. I remember crying. I remember asking, “Are you sure?” I remember saying, “It should be me!”
Kara then said, “Jonna, I am so sorry.” This response blew my mind. Why was she so calm? Why wasn’t she crying? All of these thoughts were racing through my head. My baby sister, Kara Tippetts, has breast cancer and she doesn’t seem upset. My sister Kara, mother of four small children, has breast cancer. My sister has cancer. My sister has cancer. My sister has cancer, and she’s apologizing to me? Why? “Why are you apologizing to me, Kara?” She lovingly said, “Because you’re so sad.”
She told me that she was not afraid. She said that if it was her time then she was ready. To be honest, I was upset with her. I wanted her to cry. I wanted her to be angry like me. She said, “God has a plan for me. I am putting my faith and trust in the Lord. He is the only one who knows the outcome. I’m going to battle this cancer. It’s going to be a tough battle, but only God knows my future and I trust in him wholeheartedly.”
I remember saying, “Well, that’s fine. You can be at peace with God, but I’m a little angry with him right now.”
She replied, “Jonna, you can be angry, just don’t stop talking to him.”
The phone conversations left me sad, upset, and confused. How can my sister, Kara, have cancer? I can do this. I can have a prayerful conversation with God and tell him I’m not happy that my sister has cancer. My sister may meet him way too soon.
I had just recently learned to be thankful for my burdens, burdens that I don’t understand. So many burdens have been placed in my life. So many hard, gut-wrenching, can’t-make-sense-of-them burdens. To be honest, there are some burdens that I can’t be thankful for, but I try to find a different way of looking at the burden. So here I am, alone in my house, trying to find a way to thank God for giving my sister cancer? My mind goes blank. I just start talking. I am having a prayerful conversation with God. He may have been the only person, at that moment, who could understand what I was saying. It hurt, it felt comforting, and it helped! I prayed for strength. I prayed for wisdom. I prayed for understanding. I prayed for guidance.
I was still having a hard time dealing with the news. God held my hand through the whole process. He placed people in my life to help me understand breast cancer. He placed people in my life with siblings who suffered from cancer. He created a support system for me. These people included friends, family, and people I hardly knew—people who helped me understand and accept my sister’s cancer. I had a friend who tenderly held my hand and explained all of the terms that my sister was throwing at me. She sent my sister a care package full of scarves to cover my sister’s bald head when she lost her hair. She called my husband when she knew I needed extra TLC.
Another friend of mine gave me a book called Jesus Calling. I began to read, re-read, and read again every daily passage. I began to open my heart. Another friend told me the importance of being strong for my sister. To be present for her. I needed to be her cheerleader, her support, and her strength. She gave me a book called Calm my Anxious Heart, by Linda Dillow. I began to read it. I started to understand how to be thankful for what I have been given instead of focusing on the negative aspects of my life. It was a concept that I began to pray to live by. My perspective began to change. I could choose to focus on the horrible cancer and horrific treatment my sister is going through, OR I could be thankful that it is 2012 and that there have been so many advancements in the treatment of breast cancer. My sister has a fantastic chance at beating this disease.
I went to visit Kara. I was strong for her. I held her hand as she cut off her beautiful long hair. We celebrated how fabulously she rocked a short pixie. I enjoyed her family. We laughed, we cried, we loved.
I got to know my sister’s community. I loved the people who loved my sister and her family. My sister lives her life with an open, inviting heart. I saw how beautiful it was to live that way.
My sister’s treatments are hard. It is hard to see her suffer. It is hard to hear fear in her voice. It is hard to see her so sick she can’t lift her head off the pillow to say goodbye to me. It is hard to watch your sister have her head shaved as her husband looks on and continually tells her how beautiful she is. It is hard when your sister ends up in the hospital because her tough chemotherapy treatment is too much for her little body to handle. Cancer is hard. So hard.
As I prayed, I realized that Cancer has brought on some moments that would not have happened if my sister had been well. A different way of looking at the burden God has put in front of our family.
- I have a loving, supportive, encouraging husband. He has been there for me. He knows when I come back from visiting my sister that a breakdown is going to follow. He holds me until I stop crying. When my sister needs me, I leave, and he plays the mom and dad roles beautifully until I return.
- I have really enjoyed taking care of my sister’s angels—Ella, Harper, Lake, and Story. I even attended a “Mommy and Muffins” function with Lake at school. What a tender moment.
- I was able to comfort my sister during her treatment.
- I have met and fallen in love with my sister’s friends.
- I have had wonderful conversations with my sister’s husband. He has helped me understand what it is to be a patient, nonjudgmental person.
- There are so many amazing people in my life. God-chosen friends and a wonderful, supportive family have been with me every step of the way.
- I have learned people want to help. It is a joy to let people into your heart. It is a joy to let people help you.
- I have learned that prayer is the most powerful tool we possess.
- Some of the most precious moments I have had with my sister have been when my sister was sick.
A few years ago when I was going through a rough time, my sister suggested I hang a Bible verse on my mirror, to read it when I was feeling low. This passage helps my perspective. It’s still taped to my mirror. It has provided comfort and a wonderful outlook to live by.
“Finally, Jonna, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
I now have the peace my sister had during our initial phone conversation. Some days it’s harder than others to maintain that peace. I want to protect my sister. But I know that to pray for my sister is to protect her.
Little sister, you have taught your big sister so much.
Praying for you my love,