October 10 was the day that had my three other siblings and me scrambling for airline tickets. It was the date of my baby sister’s double mastectomy, and we were not going to let her go at it without her loud siblings. It would be the first time we would all be in the same room in over a year and longer since we all slept at my parent’s house.
There we were from Houston, Arkansas, Phoenix and Nashville converging onto this small town outside of Orlando with one common theme, our love for our baby sister. We are an Italian Cuban family, so there was bound to be loudness, plenty of laughter, good food and an overabundance of love. Before I even left Nashville, there was the request from my baby sister to have chocolate croissants ready for her when she came out of surgery and the request from another sister to teach her how to make my grandmother’s meatballs.
As I sat on the couch in my sister’s den, with my siblings talking over each other needing to be heard, I sat silently for a moment and just observed. I saw my brother, holding his first born. I can remember being 16 years old holding him the same way. He lives in Arizona, and out of the five of us, we are probably the most alike. We each share the same dry, sarcastic humor and a love for baking. My sister who is 19 months younger than me lives in Arkansas is sitting next to me, her eyes twinkle as she lets out a big belly laugh at something, no doubt ridiculous, my brother said. My second to youngest sister, who lives in Houston, is trying to steal my brother’s baby away from him. And there is my baby sister in the middle of it all. She is the reason we are all here.
None of us thought twice when the text went out that her double mastectomy would be October 10th. We all booked flights to Orlando, had my dad going to the airport every day from Tuesday to Sunday and gathered around her. It is what you do when you are family. You book a flight. You cook meals to be frozen for when you are gone. You spoil your nieces and nephews because you can. You bring trashy magazines and books for her to read. You bring her comfy pj’s with buttons because she doesn’t have any. You do it because they would do it for you. You do it because you are family.
As I sat on that couch, the amount of love in the room brought me to tears. We all have our differences politically, spiritually. We all carry the same self-doubt at varying stages. But the amount of love we share for each other can not be measured. We are a family, and despite our differences, our love for each other cancels it all out. We all know that if something goes wrong all we have to do is pick up our phone and help is on the other end. Whether it is a new parent question or the need for the recipe for grandma’s meatballs. Whether it is a “has this ever happened to you” or “you have GOT to hear what my kid just did.” Whether it is “when did you start going gray” or “hey, they found something in my breast.” We all know the sibling at the other end of the phone is there for whatever advice we need and we all know we are a phone call, and a plane ride away to help.
The surgery was a success and pathology on the questionable lymph nodes came back clean. There is enough food in my sister’s freezer to last a few weeks, well you know, because we are Italian and that is what we do, and I left Orlando with a large dose of family love, a tear in my eye and a smile on my face. There is nothing like a large family, but whether you are an only child or your family consists of friends that are more family than friend, surround yourself with people who love you and who will be there for you at the drop of a hat or a plane ride. Nothing beats family, not even cancer.