Twelve and a half years ago, she had open heart surgery to replace a leaky valve in her heart. The diagnosis had come as a surprise a couple of years before.
It was a congenital defect that was only then, in her early fifties, starting to take its toll.
They performed the surgery. She recovered well.
Until the valve started to deteriorate — as they’d told her it would when it was inserted.
More tests. More waiting. More anxiety until her heart doctor told her that she was a good candidate for a TAVI replacement — a valve which could be inserted via arthroscopic surgery. Much less invasive. Much quicker recovery period.
On Friday morning last week, my eldest daughter and I accompanied my sister, Anne, to her appointment with her heart surgeon. It was an unexpected appointment — she was on the waiting list and because he’d hurt his finger, the doctor wasn’t doing surgery, so she got in sooner than expected. I happened to be in Vancouver for the weekend, perfect timing to be there.
I didn’t know much about her heart condition and the consequences of open heart surgery until we sat in that doctor’s office and the doctor shared the pros and cons of both options.
It wasn’t an easy decision.
But my sister sat there, took in all the information he provided and made what had to be one of the most challenging decisions of her life.
To not opt for the less invasive surgery at this time and go with the full open heart valve replacement.
I’m not sure I could have done what my sister did. But there she sat, her written out sheet of questions in front of her, her hands quivering slightly as she pressed the doctor for more clarification, more information.
And then, as I remembered her doing when we were children together and she would set her mind to something — she sat up straight, nodded her head slightly up and down, looked him straight in the eye and said, “That’s it then. My decision is made.”
Believe me, once my sister says those two phrases, there’s no changing her mind. She is all in.
I was/am in awe of her courage, her strength and her capacity to stand in her fear and still make a tough decision, regardless of an easier route, though not as straightforward in the long term, laying right next to the path.
I think I might have caved. I think I might have put off to tomorrow what I didn’t want to face today.
Not my sister.
Yes, she’s scared — she knows what open heart surgery entails.
Yes, she’s disappointed — it would have been nice to chose the easier option.
But it doesn’t matter.
She knows what is best for her body today, and is willing to do the ‘hard’ to have her heart beat strongly for longer than the TAVI would have allowed.
As my daughter and I sat on either side of her we both were gifted the opportunity to see one woman’s strength shining in the face of adversity.
She may not be able to see the future, but my sister sure can see clearly today.