In Gather the Women, we often call each other “sister”. We use the word to show that we care about each other. We listen to each other. We value each other’s gifts. We are sisters no matter where we live or who we love. When women are in circle for the first time, it’s common for them to be moved to tears simply because they are in a safe and loving space. They are held by the other women. Their sisters.
Last month, my own sister Kathy came from her home outside Knoxville, Tennessee, to visit me. I’ve been sick a long time and she said she needed to see me in person. She wanted to hug me and to support me in any way she could. A few days before she arrived, I made sure I had the medication that rescues me from pain. We had ten wonderful days together.
We laughed. We had long talks. Kathy really got into all the tourist things to do here, taking selfies of herself or having me take her picture doing something goofy. However, there was one activity that she wanted to do that required homework. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the United States and Pink is the theme color. Breast cancer survivors are encouraged to have their picture taken wearing pink. People can wear pink ribbons to show their support.
Kathy had a double mastectomy several years ago. She wanted to participate and she needed my help to make a pink tutu. Naturally, there was a how-to video on YouTube. She retrieved a folded stack of pink net fabric and a yard of hot pink elastic band from her suitcase. Then she brought up the How-To-Make-A-Tutu YouTube video on her phone. We cut the strips of net and I threaded them into the band. Voila! We had a bright pink tutu in about fifteen minutes.
The next phase was for her to wear the tutu in public. She chose to wear it with a white “muscle” tshirt to the Mendenhall Glacier, one of our biggest (literally) tourist attractions. Laughing, we got in my Subaru and took off for the glacier, a short ten minutes from our house. I was amazed at how blasé the tourists were when Kathy walked by them in that pink tutu. She clambered up onto a large rock scarred by the retreating glacier thousands of years ago and posed flexing her muscles. It was hard to keep my iPhone still, I was laughing so hard.
Feeling like a member of the Paparazzi, I took picture after picture. Only one person, a woman, came over and said, “Congratulations.” Everyone else ignored her as if seeing a woman in a tshirt and pink tutu was an everyday occurrence.
The final phase was to photograph her in the tutu, but without the t-shirt. Our mother had breast cancer in the 1960s. The surgeons cut deep into her chest to remove the cancerous breast and save her life. A child of the Great Depression, our mom would not pay for a prosthetic bra. (I don’t even know if they had them in the 60’s.) She took a bra, added a pocket inside one cup, and stuffed it with a handkerchief. She was forever lopsided and that was not what Kathy wanted. She had a double mastectomy.
Once we had enough good pictures, we left the glacier parking lot and headed “out the road”. Juneau has no highway in or out. We have a road that goes about 30 miles north to south, the southern portion being shorter and where the city is located, and the north portion, which is forest. When we drive north, we are going “out the road”. Literally.
I knew exactly where we could find privacy for our last photo shoot. We drove about fifteen miles out the road and turned into the Shrine of St. Theresa’s parking lot. With a brilliant blue sky overhead and toting our picnic lunch, we hiked a ways to find a secluded area. We found a beautiful spot by a little brook. Kathy pulled off her t-shirt. A crisscross pattern of scars covered her chest. A gasp escaped me, then the tears came, but I took several pictures. Kathy changed into her shorts and shirt, and we sat down at a park bench to enjoy our picnic lunch in the sunshine. We took more pictures of each other and the scenery and then headed back home.
Once Kathy was on the Alaska Airlines jet headed to Seattle and then home, my iPhone started pinging. The photos and tags started showing up on her Facebook page. That signaled me that I could delete or keep all of them. All of them but one.