Doctor, What Should I Do?
September 27, 2006 – Marc Silver
Web Exclusive: Corporations Unite Against Cancer
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Web Exclusive: What Parents Can Do
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Web Exclusive: A Lion in the House
September 27, 2006 – Marc Silver
Multiple Myeloma & Leukemia
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Coping
September 27, 2006 – Christopher Schultz
Legal Rights as a Survivor
September 27, 2006
Bookshelf
September 27, 2006 – Kathy LaTour
House Call
September 27, 2006 – Aman Buzdar
Mitigating Litigation
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Cancer with a Known Cause
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Cure Becomes Less Risky
September 27, 2006 – Alice McCarthy
Classifying & Clarifying MDS
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
When the Choice Is Not Cure
September 27, 2006 – Marc Silver
The Scoring System
September 27, 2006
Do Women Under 50 Need Mammograms?
September 27, 2006 – Beverly A. Caley
Watch It or Treat It?
September 27, 2006 – Beverly A. Caley
Sisterhood
September 27, 2006 – Jo Cavallo
Creating a Dragon Boat Team
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Arms in Motion
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Job-Searching Hints for Survivors
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Working Through Caregiver Grief
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Fatal Fibers
September 27, 2006 – Katy Human
People & Places
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Back in Action After DCIS
September 27, 2006 – Nancy Reuben Greenfield
Getting the Care You Deserve
September 27, 2006 – Stacy Beller Stryer
Treatment Boost for MDS
September 27, 2006 – Alice McCarthy
Power to the Patient
September 27, 2006 – Marc Silver
In Situ Breast Cancer: Is It Really Cancer?
September 27, 2006 – Beverly A. Caley
The Shadow Survivors
September 27, 2006 – Jo Cavallo
Taming the Dragon
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
The Choice to Work
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
A Waste of Taste
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
A Cunning Predator
September 27, 2006 – Katy Human
Lessons Learned
September 27, 2006 – Cole A. Giller, MD PhD
Letters from Our Readers
September 27, 2006
A Worry-Free Way to Support Nonprofits?
September 27, 2006 – Emma Johnson
Message from the Editor
September 27, 2006
Doctor, What Should I Do?
September 27, 2006 – Marc Silver
Web Exclusive: Corporations Unite Against Cancer
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Web Exclusive: What Parents Can Do
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Web Exclusive: A Lion in the House
September 27, 2006 – Marc Silver
Multiple Myeloma & Leukemia
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Currently Viewing
Coping
September 27, 2006 – Christopher Schultz
Bookshelf
September 27, 2006 – Kathy LaTour
House Call
September 27, 2006 – Aman Buzdar
Mitigating Litigation
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Cancer with a Known Cause
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Cure Becomes Less Risky
September 27, 2006 – Alice McCarthy
Classifying & Clarifying MDS
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
When the Choice Is Not Cure
September 27, 2006 – Marc Silver
The Scoring System
September 27, 2006
Do Women Under 50 Need Mammograms?
September 27, 2006 – Beverly A. Caley
Watch It or Treat It?
September 27, 2006 – Beverly A. Caley
Sisterhood
September 27, 2006 – Jo Cavallo
Creating a Dragon Boat Team
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Arms in Motion
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Job-Searching Hints for Survivors
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Working Through Caregiver Grief
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Fatal Fibers
September 27, 2006 – Katy Human
People & Places
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Back in Action After DCIS
September 27, 2006 – Nancy Reuben Greenfield
Getting the Care You Deserve
September 27, 2006 – Stacy Beller Stryer
Treatment Boost for MDS
September 27, 2006 – Alice McCarthy
Power to the Patient
September 27, 2006 – Marc Silver
In Situ Breast Cancer: Is It Really Cancer?
September 27, 2006 – Beverly A. Caley
The Shadow Survivors
September 27, 2006 – Jo Cavallo
Taming the Dragon
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
The Choice to Work
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
A Waste of Taste
September 27, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
A Cunning Predator
September 27, 2006 – Katy Human
Lessons Learned
September 27, 2006 – Cole A. Giller, MD PhD
Letters from Our Readers
September 27, 2006
A Worry-Free Way to Support Nonprofits?
September 27, 2006 – Emma Johnson
Message from the Editor
September 27, 2006

Coping

Breaking the news of cancer diagnosis—how siblings react to the disease.

 

BY Christopher Schultz
PUBLISHED September 27, 2006

It was the first news I’d ever heard after being told to sit down. I wondered later if everybody remembers the first time that happens, like we remember the first meek kiss and the first spill off our bike.

It was winter and I was a junior in college. I’d just come into my room after a week of midterms, and the phone rang. My sister, Heidi. When she told me that I should sit, I didn’t know what to think. Did something really good happen? I didn’t think there was anything bad that she could possibly say.

She started retracing the previous few months: Remember when I came to visit and my ankle was hurting? We were dancing at that concert, and I had to kind of limp? She went on, and I knew then. I knew it was coming, and my mind raced forward. No way. Not her. I hadn’t sat down when she told me to, but I sat down then.

The word malignant came through, rammed its onomatopoetic leer right into my face, choked me a little. But there was something behind it—the tone that carried it, her voice, imparting the word its due weight but not giving it anything more, as a policeman might announce a miscreant child over the phone to his parents: Ma’am, we’ve got a little problem. It brought me back, that tone. It was my sister, after all. She’d beat this thing. How did I know? That voice, the first hint of strength that I (and, I came to realize, she) never knew she had.

We went wig shopping when I was home at Thanksgiving. We talked about how strange it was for insurance to pay for a wig, in full, when they were so ornery about every other possible payment. We had fun in the store, trying on different styles—the platinum Zsa Zsa, the impossibly spherical Supremes, the bright red Annie, the Princess Lea. As Heidi decided which wig to get, I told her that she would never put it on. She held it up the way people hold wigs, raising it to eye level, twisting her wrist, her fingers spreading the nylon mesh inside. It’ll be bandannas and maybe hats, but not this, I said.

When I came home for Christmas she was in the hospital, closing out the first round of chemotherapy. I slept on the couch next to Heidi’s bed that night. As I walked around the floor I saw many patients. I made eye contact with many of them, and they had a strong look. There were a few, dispirited, but the others I couldn’t believe. Every last look, a big heart behind it, so vibrant.

That’s when it hit me. Everybody’s always asking what he or she can do. Hair disappears, weight rises and falls, I.V. tubes plug in and pull out, nausea ebbs and boils. But there is still your sister or brother who expects you—wants you—not to switch the mood to dire just because that’s what people do. They throw that strong glance your way, and you know that all you must do is treat them as you have before. This underlying simplicity hit me and my chest swelled a little.

I swept a small swath of blonde hair off Heidi’s pillow and put it inside the book on the couch where I’d slept. I understood, just a little, what my place in this was: to be myself, just as I’d always been with my sister. She would hold us together over the next two years, her assuring aspect as much of a constant as the wig that stayed in her closet.

Christopher Schultz’s sister, Heidi Schultz Adams, is the founder and executive director of Planet Cancer (www.planetcancer.org).

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