The Kindness of A Stranger

I actually wrote this blog last Friday, but I sent it to Alaska Airlines to let them know I was writing about their company and employee, and wanted to make sure it was okay with them to share this story. I got the okay this morning, and here is the post:

August 17, 2018

There are so many negative stories in the news, on social media, basically everywhere we turn. I wanted to share an amazing experience that Ailish and I shared with Alaska Airlines and an extraordinary employee of theirs named Ronni. Back in April of this year Ailish had contacted Alaska Airlines to ask them about her account after she passed; where would her miles go, what happens to her Alaska credit card (we both had cards on that account), and also a simple and humble request to see if she could get MVP status for a day, and get a pass into one of their lounges. It was on Ailish’s bucket list to be MVP and travel “VIP” for a day.

Ronni, who was touched by Ailish’s story and diagnosis, worked independently to find out proper channels to grant an exception for my sister. Ronni, after speaking with her supervisors told Ailish that 1 day was not enough and was able to grant Ailish MVP Gold status for the year! I cannot even begin to tell you how happy this made my sister. She cried happy tears!! In her reply email to Ronni, these were her exact words,

April 28, 2018

Ronnie,

I am in tears with your phone call and reading this email. Your kindness has left me speechless. I feel like I’ve won the lottery. This is the nicest thing that has ever happened to me. You are an amazing employee and Alaska Airlines is so VERY lucky to have you. I want you to know that I am so touched by your response that I will be emailing Alaska Airlines corporate office. They should know they have an invaluable employee! Not everyone is dispensable. And with all the negative stories with Airlines lately, it will be nice to share such a positive one. You have literally made me feel special and be able to mark something off my bucket list! I will never forget this! Thank you for everything!

Ailish

 

My sister then proceeded to send this email to Alaska Airlines corporate office:

April 30, 2018

To Every Alaska Airline Employee,

I have a great feel good story to tell about one of your customer service rep employees. I normally don’t take time out to write reviews, fill out surveys or praise people unless I have had a beyond spectacular or absolutely horrendous experience. The customer service rep is Ronni. I don’t have a last name for her but I do have reference #3771551. What she did for me brought me to tears, filled my heart with so much joy. I want to share my experience with EVERYONE that will listen and I hope they share it. An amazing employee working for an amazing company! There are so many negative stories out there with airlines, it nice to know not all is lost in humanity. I believe that a great company will recognize that not all employees are dispensable. Ronni is invaluable!

I have stage IV stomach cancer that is incurable but it is treatable. I’ve been battling this for 2.5 years and unfortunately the statistics for this diagnosis is less than a 4% chance of living past 5 years. My diagnosis was 1-2 years. While I’m alive I am tying up financial decisions, celebration of life plans, end of life care, and even down to the mundane, what happens to my cell phone account with my family plan, and last but not least my Alaska credit card account that I have my twin sister on my account. I wanted to know what she will need to do after I’m gone to be able to possibly still use the credit card account and that I will be able to transfer my reward miles so that she can travel to grieve and heal after I’m gone. All I did was ask Ronni about my account, my miles and a little bit of my situation. She didn’t even know that this year I had pneumonia in January, blood clots in my lungs in February, I had an allergic reaction to my chemo in March and coded during infusion and was in the hospital for a week. Less than a week later I was back in the hospital from losing half the blood in my body and needing to put a stent in my stomach so that I can eat again. Things were looking dire. I was on oxygen 24/7, using a wheelchair because I was so weak. My oncologist started talking to me about hospice care and DNRs. Today I’m off oxygen, blood clots are healing, I only use wheel chair for long trips, I can eat a special diet and back on a new chemo to continue the fight! I feel like I have a second chance at life.

Sorry for so much detail. I just wanted you to know why what she did means so much to me. I went through hell and she made to feel like I won the lottery. I’ve never had anything so great happen to me before.

My last question to Ronni was if Alaska would give someone MVP status for a day and be able to go into one of the Alaska lounges (I live in WA). On my bucket list was to be MVP and travel “VIP” for a day. I told her that I had to cancel a couple of trips due to my illness, but when I’m allowed to fly again I will be back to booking trips, like I hope to travel to Maui this December with my family for Christmas. Ronni emailed me and called me personally to say that one day wasn’t enough. She talked to her supervisors and they all decided to give me MVP gold status for a year!!! A YEAR?! I hope she doesn’t get in trouble for this. She explained the Alaska lounges operate differently (and I looked and saw a day pass isn’t expensive, had I known that all this time) and I totally understand that. She also told me Alaska was going to give my sister 2000 miles because she has given up the last 2.5 years of her life to be my caretaker (we’re both part of rewards program). I couldn’t believe it! I am still amazed and touched by her compassion and empathy. It’s people like her that give us support and motivation to keep fighting cancer! It was just so surprising and unexpected.

Please know you will have a loyal customer (and all my friends and family). I want to shout from the roof tops and tell everyone but I’m trying to figure out the right words and level of detail I want to share. Please recognize Ronni in some way. I thanked her over and over but she will never know how great she made me feel.

Sincerely,

Ailish McAlorum

Unfortunately, Ailish passed away before she was able to use her new MVP Gold status or get her first-class upgrades. I had written an email in June to Alaska Airlines to get the memorial miles and write about how great the customer service was to my sister. I had no idea of what would come next. On August 2nd, I received this email:

August 2, 2018

Dear Siobhan,

You don’t know me, but your sister Ailish spoke so highly of you that I feel like I know you. My name is Ronni and I am the agent who your sister wrote to back in April.

When I got your sister’s email, I was touched and in tears. We get such a wide variety of mail, but it is rare for someone to be so genuine and kind in an email and so I felt truly connected to your sister’s journey and battle. By the time we finished corresponding we both were messaging how we wished we could hug each other in gratitude to one another. She even wrote a very sweet message to our corporate office in thanks. It was probably the kindest thing a guest has ever said.

Ailish had modestly requested for one day to live like VIP. More specifically, she wanted a chance for you and her to travel in first class. Of course she had other concerns she addressed in the Email, but it was that simple request that really humbled me. She wanted to spend that time with you. To enjoy the beauty of traveling with her family and to thank you for taking care of her. She was concerned that when she passed that you would need to know how to merge her miles so that you could still travel and grieve properly and still explore and experience things without her.

My heart broke when I saw that she passed away before getting to travel with you in June.

I cannot express how sorry I am for your loss. I know you were close and I know that no words will come close to the bond you two had.

Siobhan, your sister wanted more than anything for you two to experience first class. She wanted you to be able to travel and even to grieve in peace. in her letter she said “She has given up the last 2.5 years of her life to take care of me and I’d like to take care of her as best as I can, especially after I’m gone. I would like her to be able to travel where she needs to grieve and heal.”

I wanted to honor your sister’s wish and so I have put two Gold Guest Upgrades into your account. You can read more about them here https://www.alaskaair.com/cont ent/mileage-plan/membership- benefits/guest-upgrades, but this will enable you to upgrade to first class like Ailish wanted all along for at least one trip.

I am so sorry to be writing you under such tragic circumstances, but I truly believe your sister would have wanted me to reach out. To make sure that you get that experience that she wanted for you.

Please, if you have any questions about these upgrades or if I can assist your further in any way, let me know. Know that she made an impact even with strangers like me and that I am grateful that I got to know her even if just through phone calls and emails.

Sincerely,

Ronni
Customer Care Representative

For the first time since my sister passed, I cried tears of happiness!!! I cannot believe that Ronni continued to honor my sister’s wishes and reach out to me. She has gone above and beyond for me and my sister. I am crying right now as I type this, because it the kindness of a stranger that has brought a renewed faith in people, a bright light in what has been 2.5 years of hell and looming darkness. Even though Ailish wasn’t able to use her MVP Gold status, I am forever grateful that Ronni made her feel like a Rock star!!! I wanted to share this story because I know Ailish wanted to share it with the world, and because I wasn’t expecting to “meet” such a wonderful, compassionate person, who essentially is a stranger, but still wanted to honor my sister’s wishes. I wish I could give Ronni a big hug and I hope she knows how much she has touched Ailish’s life, and mine! Thank you to Alaska Airlines as well, for allowing your employee to touch the lives of your loyal customers! This is the type of news I want to see, the kind of stories I want to spread! I miss my sister every day, and I know she would be proud of me for sharing this with all of you!!! Life is too short, be kind!!!

 

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On our cousin’s boat in Australia last December. We knocked Australia off her bucket list!!!

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We got to pet a Koala in Australia, didn’t even know it was on our bucket lists until we did it!! Look how excited we are!!!

 

 

 

Stomach Cancer Awareness

August 10, 2018

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This was designed by my amazing friend Jonathan Sanchez, it was a tattoo design he created for Ailish, until she was advised against getting any tattoos while undergoing treatment.

November is Stomach Cancer Awareness Month – Color is Periwinkle

As stated in a previous post, Ailish was diagnosed in February 2016 with stage 4 stomach cancer.  We cannot definitively pin point when the stomach cancer started with my sister, but now that I know what to look for, I have an idea of when it could have begun. It was spring of 2012, it came without warning and suddenly, every time Ailish ate, she would get this pressure and pain in her upper abdomen just under her diaphragm area. After she would eat, she would double over in pain, and while it didn’t last long, it was severe. This went on for a few months and then seemed to just disappear. I had told her to go to the doctor, but she just brushed it off and thought nothing of it, especially since it went away.

About a year later, November 2013, the pain came back after she would eat, and this time I forced her to go to the doctor. I actually called in sick that day to work, (she was working from home that day), and I drove her to the doctor. The doctor said they thought it was either kidney stones or her gall bladder. We went to get an ultra sound done and they didn’t find anything. Again, this pain went away on its own after only a few months. Everything seemed ok, no symptoms or issues until about a year before her diagnosis. In 2015, she started getting really bad heartburn at night, almost every night. She started taking Tums and other over the counter antacids to try help with this. She would also wake up most nights with this weird salivating thing. She described it like, when you know you are going to puke, and your mouth salivates a lot, but she would never actually vomit.

Around September 2015, I noticed that after eating a small amount of food (like 5 or 6 small bites at most), she would feel extremely full, like she ate a 5-course dinner. Then towards the end of that year, a few times, she got sick and vomited after eating just those small amounts of food. I kept telling her to go to the doctor, and it wasn’t until February 2016, when she found out she was getting laid off from her job, that she made the appointment. Ailish didn’t like to complain, and always tried to “tough it out”.

During her appointment, Ailish described her symptoms to her doctor; the persistent heart burn, the excessive salivating, the getting full after eating small amounts of food, the throwing up of food, and told her of all the antacids she had been trying but weren’t working. Her doctor knowing that she was about to lose her insurance at the end of the month, didn’t want to mess around and made her an appointment with a gastrointestinal doctor. Her doctor also told Ailish that she had already taken all the over the counter meds she would suggest, and since none of them were working, a visit to a GI doc would be a good idea. Both doctors initially thought it could be her gall bladder, just like the previous doctors a few years ago. I remember that day vividly sitting in the GI doctor’s office with her. He wasn’t sure what was wrong, although he didn’t think it was anything serious, but wanted to schedule an endoscopy just to be sure. He couldn’t have been more wrong. I remember after that appointment Ailish asked me, “What if it’s stomach cancer?” (Anytime anything was wrong with us, we used to always say, what if it’s cancer? What if it’s blood clots? What if it’s, whatever crazy disease we were thinking of, almost half joking, never thinking that it would ever be anything that serious.) I was like, “No way, worst case scenario, it’s probably an ulcer, you have been stressed out a lot lately, no way is it cancer.  Don’t even think that!!” Boy, did I have to eat those fucking words. Little did I know that 2.5 years later, blood clots from her cancer would be what ultimately took her from me. I never in a million years would have thought stomach cancer, but at that time, I didn’t know what symptoms to look for, or what tests we should have been asking for. Had I known back in 2012 or 2013, could she have been diagnosed at a much earlier stage? Could she have beaten this? I am not playing the coulda, woulda, shoulda game with myself, because I didn’t know then, what I know now. I couldn’t save my sister, but maybe sharing this information can help save someone else.

I am not a doctor, a nurse, nor a healthcare professional. I am simply a former caretaker who had to learn all this shit, battling this hell called cancer, a long side my sister. Most stomach cancer is discovered and diagnosed at stage 4 because so many of the symptoms can be mistaken for other non-cancerous or less life-threatening gastrointestinal issues. Here are some of the most common symptoms to look for:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss (without trying to actively lose weight)
  • Abdominal pain or vague discomfort above the navel
  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or bloating after meals
  • Feeling full after eating small amounts of food
  • Heartburn or indigestion
  • Blood in vomit or stool
  • Swelling or fluid buildup in abdomen
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Low red blood cell count

As you can see, a lot of these symptoms can be misconstrued as so many other things, but if symptoms persist and don’t go away, make sure and go see your doctor. You need to be your own advocate, keep pushing if you feel like you aren’t getting better. Ask for tests like endoscopies if other methods of treatment are not working to relieve your symptoms. These are all things I wish I had known to look for or ask about back in 2012. Since diagnosis, I learned to advocate for my sister, ask a million questions to her doctors, to educate myself on this disease, treatment options, side effects, and how to provide the best care for her.

While cancer does not discriminate, and one can lead the healthiest of lives and still get cancer, here is also a list of risk factors that can cause stomach cancer:

  • A diet high in salty, pickled, and smoked foods
  • A diet low in fruits and vegetables
  • Family history of stomach cancer
  • Genetics, hereditary factors
  • Helicobacter pylori infection
  • Long-term stomach inflammation
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Smoking and heavy alcohol use
  • Stomach polyps
  • Environmental factors

Here are some great websites where I found this information and to learn more on stomach cancer:

 

It is a really good idea to get genetic testing done if someone in your family is diagnosed with stomach cancer. Since Ailish was diagnosed so young with stomach cancer (average age is 68) and because we were adopted and do not know our family medical history, she and I both got genetic testing done. While we do not have a known genetic mutation that causes stomach cancer, we do have a variant in our genetic makeup that researchers and doctors do not know yet, if it is a precursor to stomach cancer. There is a lot of new genetic research being done every year and who knows, maybe 5 years down the line, they find that specific variant does not have a propensity to cause stomach cancer. I guess we will wait and see. In the meantime, due to lack of family history, and uncertainty about this variant, they are treating me as if I do have a genetic inclination towards stomach cancer, and I get tests done every year. I get a yearly endoscopy, blood work, and 24-hour urine collection test. I also have an MRI every 2 years. Last year, I had some bad heart burn for about 4 weeks, which I usually never get, so I told my GI doctor, and she scheduled me for another endoscopy just to make sure they didn’t miss anything.  She was well aware of my sister’s diagnosis and didn’t want to take any chances.  I am so lucky my doctors are very proactive about this. I just had my yearly tests done in July, and so far, so good.

I know that raising awareness about stomach cancer was very important to my sister and something she really wanted to do. I will try and do my best to share as much as I can about our experiences, spread awareness, and help others along the way. In the words of my sister, FUCK CANCER!!!!

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This picture was taken early 2017, right in the middle of her fight!!!

 

The Bucket List

August 3, 2018

The Bucket List

I believe that everyone has a “bucket list”, things they would like to do, things they would like to buy, places they would like to visit, before they die. It’s mostly an afterthought, a wish list of things that will eventually be done some time later in life. When one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, such as cancer, the bucket list becomes priority, it’s now a race against time to accomplish the items on that list. I remember that movie a while back, “The Bucket List” with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman and always thought, when Aily and I get older, we will be just like them. I never thought at age 37, we would be putting together and living out our bucket lists. But knowing the harsh reality of her diagnosis, we knew that time was no longer on our side. Cancer forced both of us to face our own mortalities, knowing that we would no longer be growing old together. We had to start checking things off our bucket lists right away.

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This picture was taken January 2017, in San Diego, celebrating our friend Rosie’s 40th Birthday. One of our last adventures together, and one of our last pictures taken together as well.

I knew at some point I would need to turn my sister’s cell phone off, and it took me a little while before I could even bring myself to do it. As I was looking through her phone for anything to download or keep (like pictures, notes, things she wrote, etc.), I found her bucket list. I am old school, and instead of trying to figure out how to forward her bucket list from the Notes on her phone, I took pictures of her list with my phone. Like I have said before, the older I get, the more tech challenged I become! Anyway, I got this to work and I would like to share her bucket list with all of you:

Aily bucketlist 1

Aily bucketlist 2

As you all can see, in the past 2 ½ years, Aily was able to accomplish quite a bit in that short time. When we found out she was stage 4 cancer, she always wondered if there was a Make A Wish for adults with terminal illness. I don’t think she ever did any further research into that, but I did ask her what her wish would be. She told me, she would want her wish to be something for me, something she knew I would always wanted, which is the first item on her bucket list; to go on the Ellen DeGeneres show, to meet her, and spread stomach cancer awareness. (I think she threw in the 12 days of Christmas give away shows she does every holiday season, because I always commented on how cool that would be to be an audience member for one of those episodes.) It warms my heart remembering this conversation we had, knowing that her one wish would be for me. She said, “Siobhan, you gave up your life selflessly for me, to take care of me every day, you cook for me, clean, do my laundry, go to every doctor appointment, chemo appointment, hospital stay, etc. I would want my wish to be something to give back to you.”  Honestly, I never felt like I gave up anything, it was never a hesitation or question, where my priorities would be. It reminds me of the bond we shared and the love that we unconditionally had for one another, I was so blessed to have that in my life, to have a twin sister like Ailish. Even if this wish never comes true, just knowing that she wanted her wish to be something special for me, is more than I could ever want.

Unfortunately, she was not able to complete everything on her bucket list, but I intend to do my best and finish as much as I can for her, in her honor. As I make my way through her bucket list, I will share all my stories and adventures with you. Thank you all for continuing with me on this journey and reading my blog. I know how much Ailish meant to everyone, and I love to share stories, pictures, memories, as well as what the future holds.

 

Twin Promise – What It Means to Me

July 27, 2018

Twin Promise – What It Means to Me

I wanted to share with you all why I chose the name Twin Promise for my blog. I am not even sure how old we were when we started saying “twin promise” or “tp” (for short) to each other. I remember when we were young there was some TV show with twins who had super powers and when they would activate their powers, they would say “twin powers unite” or some weird shit like that. We knew wanted to have our own saying, so we came up with “twin promise”.  It eventually evolved into the standard measure for us knowing that if we said twin promise or tp, we couldn’t lie to each other. For example, if I were to try on a pair of pants and ask her, “do these pants make my ass look fat? She would say, “no”. If I suspected she was lying I would say, “Aily, tp, do these pants make my ass look fat?” She would have to fess up and say, “okay, they look a little snug, tp tp.”  Her “tp, tp” at the end would mean, okay I am telling you the truth. There wasn’t much we could keep from each other with this tp rule always being in effect!!! There were only a few times when I think we both tried to lie on a “tp”, but we both knew when we were trying to pull the wool over each other’s eyes, and we quickly fessed up. I am telling you, our twin promises would make us fold faster than a polygraph test!!

me and aily on couch

The second reason I chose Twin Promise for the blog, is because before she passed, Aily made me promise her that I would continue to live the life we had always wanted, and that I would live my best life in her honor. She told me to take all the time I need to grieve, but then to pick myself up off the floor and live, really live. She told me to do all the things we wanted to do together, never take a day for granted. If I learned anything in these past 2 ½ years, it’s to live every day like it’s the last. I promised her I would live life to the fullest, travel, make memories, do what makes me happy, and give back to others. As we all know, I cannot ever go back on a twin promise, and I don’t intend to start now!

me and aily black and white

 

1st Birthday Without You

July 20, 2018

Today I turn 40, today is my first birthday without my twin, Aily. I have a sick almost queasy feeling in my stomach, knowing that it just doesn’t feel right celebrating our birthday without her. I am heart broken all over again, feeling her loss deep in the depths of my soul. I have cried a lot this past week, knowing this day would be hard. I can’t even express how empty and lonely today feels.

This is a milestone birthday, the big 4-0, and boy were we going to celebrate!!! On the 19th, we were going to have a spa day, then have a 7 or 9 course dinner at The Herbfarm, and then stay at Willows Lodge in Woodinville. Our birthday, the 20th, would have been a chemo day, but we would have followed that with seafood lunch and shop till we drop!! After her diagnosis we said, “Fuck it, you only live once!! We don’t know how many birthdays we have left together, so let’s spoil the shit out of ourselves!!” Our last few birthdays, in between chemo and CT scans, we did everything we wanted and spent quality time with our family and friends.

We have this childhood photo from our 4th birthday party, that she had wanted to re-create:

me and aily 4th birthday

 

We even went out and bought similar dresses, sandals, the streamer rolls, and barbie dolls!!! One of our dear friends even went online and found us the ice-cream lip gloss necklaces like the ones in the photo. All we had to do was change the 4 to 40. I really wish we had had the time to re-create this photo, she was so excited for it. It never took much to keep us amused, especially when we were together.

I remember when we were younger, we wished we had separate birthdays, so we could have our own special day. As we got older, we loved celebrating our birthdays together, and wouldn’t have it any other way. As adults, every year (except the last few years, chemo and alcohol don’t mix well), we would always have a drink at midnight on the 20th whether we were together, or over the phone. I would give anything to spend one more birthday with her.

I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the family and friends who have taken the time to wish me a happy birthday, send me cards, gifts, or spend time with me. I am truly blessed and thankful for every single person in my life. I could not get through any of this without them. My family and friends are my life, they mean everything to me.

Aily, where ever you are, I hope you know how much I love you and miss you. Happy birthday sister bean!!! My only birthday wish is to one day be reunited and we will be together for all eternity!!! This birthday is not the same without you, none of them ever will be. Me loves you so much!!!

And The Journey Begins

 

My name is Siobhan McAlorum and on June 1st, 2018 my life was forever changed by the death of my twin sister Ailish. My most used nickname for her is Aily (we had so many, it’s a twin thing).  She bravely fought stage IV stomach cancer for the past two and a half years. She was diagnosed February 29, 2016 and on March 29, 2016 we found out it was stage IV and incurable. I became her full-time care taker. We are blessed to have family who helped us out, so we were able to spend every single day together. These past few years were some of the best and worst times of our lives. We traveled more in the past two and a half years than our whole lives combined previously. After her diagnosis, Aily said she wanted to travel and my older sister and father helped us travel the world. We visited friends and family in NY twice, visited friends in NM, traveled to Paris, Berlin, Prague with our older sister. We went to a friend’s wedding in Hawaii with our older brother. We took a family cruise to Mexico for Christmas 2016. Our last Christmas we were so lucky to go to Australia and meet some of our extended family. We had so many other adventures planned, and it breaks my heart to not finish them with her. She had 2 really good years, where she was able to travel, eat well, and be Aily, but the last 6 months of her life were spent in and out of the hospital with pneumonia, blood clots, complications with medications, strokes, and more blood clots, which ended up taking her life on June 1st.

Aily was my twin, my best friend, my person, my partner in crime, my rock, the most important person in my life. I am struggling adjusting to my new “normal” without her. Unless you are a twin you don’t understand the bond between twins. We had our own silly language, could have a conversation with just our eyes (which would drive family and friends crazy at times), and could feel each other’s joy, sadness, stress, or fear, as if it was our own. We could make each other laugh like no one else ever could. She was my right half and I was her left.

I love my family so much, I couldn’t have gotten through these past few years without any of them. My brother was truly amazing during these past two years, he drove us to all her chemo appointments, all the trips to the hospital, and never once complained about a thing. I remember the times Aily would text my brother her breakfast order, and no matter what it was, Kieran (my brother) always came through. After her strokes, Aily wouldn’t really eat on her own, so my brother would feed her and witnessing that both broke my heart and warmed it at the same time. My brother and father were in the room with me when she took her last breaths, and while I was holding her hand, and telling her how much I loved her, I couldn’t watch her die. My brother looked straight into her eyes and told her it was ok, and then she drew her last breath. I could not have gotten through that moment without my family.

My older sister spoiled the shit out of us these past few years. She financed most of our over seas trips, paid for everything while we were vacationing. We ate the best meal of our lives in France, one I will remember for the rest of my life. As Aily said, “Nanners (our nickname of our sister) treated me like a princess.” We knew that no matter what we needed, Nanners would be there, do anything for us, and for that we were both so grateful.

I am so appreciative that my parents supported us financially these past few years. After her diagnosis, we didn’t know how much time we had left together, but the time we did have, we wanted to spend every day by each other’s side. I can honestly say that due to my parent’s generosity, I have zero regrets, because I got to spend every possible second, I could, with my sister. After her diagnosis, we started to sleep in the same bed, so I could keep my eye on her and make sure she was okay especially after chemo treatments. I remember early on, she said, “Let’s hold hands like we used to when we were kids.” And we slept together holding hands every night until she passed.

me and aily holding hands

We are so blessed to have so many friends who have been there for both of us during her fight with cancer, and supporting me, while grieving the loss of my best friend. I could not have gotten through the past few years, and the years ahead without my friends.

We had the most beautiful Celebration of Life party for her on June 23rd, 2018. So many friends and family came out to celebrate her life, and I realized then just how many people’s lives she truly touched. Aily had put together a list of her favorite foods she wanted served, music, and pictures for a slideshow. She had been planning this since her diagnosis. She also wrote the most heartfelt letter which brought tears to everyone’s eyes (including the bartender)! I would like to share this letter here:

I thought February 29th 2016 was the worst day of my life. That was the day I was diagnosed with stomach cancer. But as my brother pointed out at least that day only comes around every four years. Exactly one month later I found out that my cancer was stage 4 and that it was no longer curable, only treatable to prolong life. WTF, right?! That day became the worst day of my life, but it also became the day I officially began to live my life. To me it was a blessing, a sign that I needed to start doing all the things I’ve wanted to do but always thought, later, tomorrow, next year, when I’m 40, when I retire, before I die…
We all say or think the same thing when honestly we don’t know when our time will come. We could die tomorrow, or 20-30 years from now, but what can we say about how we lived our life up until then? We worry so much about working, saving enough for retirement and raising our kids without doing the things that bring us joy now. There is a balance you just gotta work a little to find it and be bold enough to do it.

I learned at an early age that life never goes they way you planned. At 18 I became a single mom. I was scared and just a selfish teenager that needed to grow up! I graduated college with a double major, raised a kid, stumbled into a career and I don’t regret a day of it. It taught me to get my head out of my ass, be less selfish, become focused and disciplined, organized and excellent with managing money, adaptable and flexible, hard working and independent. It also taught me gratitude for my family and friends that helped me raise my child and never wasting the chance they gave me to finish school. Most of all it taught me to become a stronger person and over the years a better mother. My daughter is now grown and while I’m still here to feed her an occasional meal that she may or may not eat, and share what little experience and knowledge I have to help guide her through adulthood. I always thought that now this would be my time to figure out what makes me happy, what I want to do with the rest of my life (getting married and having the white picket fence was never on my list…not that there’s anything wrong with it). Instead I found myself fighting for my life, to live a little longer. As they say in the movies, if you’re reading this (or if someone else is reading this to you), I’m no longer here.

With that said, I want to say thank you to all of you for standing by me and my family through all of this. I’m amazed and blown away by the amount of love and support I’ve received. I am the luckiest girl in the world to have such a great family and fortunate enough to have so many wonderful friends. Even if it’s been years since we connected, there is still a bond. And to my close friends, thank you for stepping in to help as you know it’s not easy for me to ask for it. I only hope that I have been a good daughter, sister, mother, aunt, cousin, friend, co-worker. And I hope you continue to be there for my family, ESPECIALLY my twin sister and daughter.

Let today be a day to celebrate my life and yours! Stuff your face with some of my favorite foods (now is not the time to be healthy). It’s okay to cry too, somebody has to. god knows, and anyone that knows me, can attest to my inability to cry at situations where most normal people would…what is this salty substance?! After you’re done wiping your tears away, and blowing your nose, tell your family and friends you love them and do all the things that you want to do! Really live! I love you all so much. As most of you know I’m not religious or very spiritual. I figure if it’s not just black or nothing at all, and there is something after this life, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Either way I’ll be okay!

Siobhan and Remi please know that I will be with you both for the rest of your lives. I love you both so much. Because of the two of you, I feel like I have lived a full life, even if it was cut short. And for the record I’m not gonna try to haunt you to be funny.

Siobhan I could never have done any of this without you! I know more often than not it was a lot more than you signed on for. I know you said you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but thank you for putting your life on hold to take care of me. Nobody knows how hard it is to be a care taker! It’s an under appreciated job that people take for granted. You tirelessly took care of me, making me food, doing my laundry, helping me shower, doing wound changes and port flushes, and everything else under the sun to make my life easier and I am forever grateful. Know that you are stronger and braver than you think you are! I love you beyond words! I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be the twin that is left behind and for that I am so sorry! My heart is broken knowing you will be in pain for a long time. Your life will go on even if it seems like it doesn’t seem worth living. You will be able to be happy and laugh again one day. You are my left half and I am your right always and forever! TP

Remi I have not always been the perfect mom and I didn’t always make the right decisions, but nonetheless they were tough ones. I hope you find your way in life. That you find true happiness with yourself and find something that you enjoy doing. Sometimes you gotta do stuff that you don’t want to do and sometimes you gotta start at the bottom and work your way up. The right people will always recognize hard work and dedication. Always go above and beyond what is asked of you. Being independent in life is so rewarding! Learn to forgive yourself and those that are in your life! Nobody is perfect! Love selflessly and always strive to do and be the best you can.

Alanna thank you for being the best big sister. You were always there for me when I really needed you and even more so when I got sick. Thank you for helping me travel the world a little before the end. I got to experience some of the most amazing meals of my life and know what it’s like to be pampered like a princess.

Kieran thank you for always be the protective older brother every sister needs and for driving me to every appointment and taking care of all those “situations”. You taught me how to ride a bike and drive a manual car, but most importantly you taught me to be brave and take risks. I’m sorry I dated all your friends when I was younger, it only made you tougher!

Mom and Dad thank you for giving me a wonderful life and always being there for me through the good times and bad. Thank you for always supporting me even when I messed up and especially when I got sick. Thank you for letting me be weak and giving me strength when all I could do is weep in your arms. I know the true meaning of unconditional love because you both!

Thank you to my friends and family that have sent gifts, cards, food, text messages, emails, and those that came to see me when I was in the hospital, during infusions, drove and traveled many miles, mall dates and Saturday lunches to spend time with me. I wish I had more time to write a heartfelt note to all of you individually, but please know I have spent a lot of time looking back fondly on all the memories we shared!

And to whoever is reading this I’m sorry not sorry for my poor grammar and run on sentences. Fuck grammar and fuck cancer! Now go have a fucking drink already! (Sorry dad)

 

I am writing this blog to share my story, my new journey alone (without my twin), hopefully it will help someone else who is going through a similar experience, and I believe this could be therapy for myself as well. July 20th 2018 would have been our 40th birthday, and it will be my first birthday alone without her, I don’t even know how I will get through that day yet. I guess we will go through this journey together, the good, the bad, and the ugly. The tears are flowing as I type this, this is gonna be real and full of raw emotion. Thanks for taking the time to read this so far, until next time,

 

Siobhan