The Strongest Link

red ink…

Pink ink and I made our respective journeys home last week after several days attending the 38th Assembly of the Links, Incorporated, an organization of African American women dedicated to friendship and community service, of which we are both members. (She’s on me because I haven’t posted yet! Lol!). The two of us share membership in this international organization, comprised of chapters across the country and a few in other countries, with her mom, my big sister, and some of our other dear, dear friends.

Given all of the challenges of this past year, the two of us debated our attendance up until the very last day, but Pink Ink needed to be there to participate in her “graduation” along with a distinguished cohort from a leadership class, and I wanted to be there to spend some time with her without the wonderful, but distracting, noise of our hubbies and chicklets, and frankly was looking forward to a moment to just breathe.

Hurricane Debby and pink ink’s hurricane headaches threatened to spoil the trip, we both strengthened our resolve just to get there if we possibly could.

(A word about how proud I am of Pink Ink for finishing this leadership program. Over the past year, she persevered despite her health and participated in seemingly endless projects, assignments and activities meant to cement her qualities as a leader. As she discussed in her closing speech, she was already a leader, serving on various boards and taking on responsible positions in every organization that she is involved in, but the experience of participating in the leadership institute while battling breast cancer showed her a different way to lead, not by doing everything herself, but by depending and drawing on the significant strengths of others to get the job, whatever it may be, done. )

Now it wasn’t an easy trip. Pink ink was honestly not feeling well most of the time we were there and I could see it in her eyes. She was in the bed resting after a long morning of meetings when I arrived, but it was good to hug her and see her face again. Honestly, since this began, I don’t take any time that I have with her for granted. I’ve heard too many “my friend had breast cancer…” stories where the end isn’t what I want to hear, (no doubt Pink ink has heard these too, but we don’t share these) so as much as we try to act normal, it’s in the back of our minds’ all the time. I immediately went into big sister mode, ensuring that she had taken her medicine and hitching a ride to the local grocery store so we’d have some food in the room to keep her energy up. Incidentally, I bought enough groceries for a week! Her loving hubby had asked me to “take care of his lady” and I was determined to do so on my watch! In the meantime, it was good to have my big sister there to watch out for me.

Pink ink soldiered on attending educational sessions determined to do all the things that she came to do. I could literally see her checking off figurative boxes. Finish Scott Hawkins, Dinner off site with Joy & I, etc. By the second day, her headache and body aches had really caught up with her and she was worried about whether it was going to progress to debilitating. She didn’t look ok to me. She told me that for the first time, she felt sick. She was so small, like I saw her in Phoenix after chemo, in that hotel bed and she was worried which of course worried me. Did I mention that, for all it’s futility, we are both worriers? I insisted that we get in touch with her doctor from Phoenix, who is also a Link sister and was attending the conference. She agreed to come right up to see her in the hotel, and proceeded to give the most loving, and honest assessment of her situation that I can imagine. She said she didn’t like the persistence of the headache and other symptoms, and added that she was “worried.”. I heard in her voice the same concern that my husband, also a doctor, expressed when I shared the news with him initially. She shared hard truths, with me sitting there, like there were more tests to endure when she returned home, and that they had to in her words “had to rule out disease,” meaning spread of the cancer. We didn’t gasp out loud at least, but I think pink ink and I both felt punched in the gut. I wanted to cry, but have somehow resolved not to break in front of her because I know she needs my strength right now. At one point her Sisterlink doctor and I (who share the same name) double teamed her to say that she might need to change her plans for her return trip if her symptoms worsened, and she protested. We looked at her, shaking our heads, and said “really?? You’re not going to try to take on both of us..”. She laughed and pushed back with a strengthened resolve not to let this setback change her plans for her trip – and I’m glad to say that she got to do it her way. But you know you need girls with real strong backbones just in case you lose your mind at any point!

She got some rest that night thanks to some great meds, as did I, surprisingly. There have been so many nights in Chicago when I tossed and turned thinking about her and the unthinkable, but tonight, perhaps because she was just a few steps away, that I could rest, albeit listening for her breath. My first question in the morning was “Barb, are you ok?”.

Lest you think I was the only one taking care of somebody during our trip, pink ink literally talked me off the ledge (as she has done many times this year) when I found out that my oldest son had a seizure the evening before, my husband was at work, and I couldn’t reach him on the phone after several tries that morning to make sure he had taken his medicine. She encouraged me to breathe and prayed out loud with me, and … he answered the phone on the next call.

In the end, I’m so grateful for our time together, even as it wasn’t perfect – it was what we had. Most importantly, we got to share so many moments and to appreciate all of the ways that we’re linked together – from the respective phone calls from our daughters telling us how much they missed us, to the shrieking revelation in the hallway after introductions that one of her girls (and now mine too! – love you Joy!) from Phoenix was the cousin of one of my very favorite Link sisters in Chicago, to the coincidence that I would be randomly placed at a lunch table with one of her adopted “aunties” from her NY chapter. Sharing special moments with my big sister and her wonderful chapter members (who all adopted me as their little sister), and a too brief but heartfelt breakfast with my dear friend and younger son’s godmother helped to show me that there are even more links in the chain of friendship surrounding us and keeping us strong. We both landed and went right back to our lives, full of the looming tests for Barb sandwiched between caring for her husband and daughter, and my life tending to this complex, wonderful brood of mine. Despite the challenges, we were undeniably made stronger by linking ourselves together with those who we love and share this life with. To the enduring links in our lives…

1 Comment (+add yours?)

    Jul 25, 2012 @ 05:30:11

    HEY MY “T” I was so happy to see you and to share our special time at the Link’s Conference. Such a proud moment when you received your SH certificate.
    You ALMOST made me spoil my makeup ! .
    Big hugs and much love Gaga


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