"I don't know why it helps," she told me, "It just does."
It was terrifying, knowing that how I navigated each dip or rough spot on the road directly affected her pain level. My arms ached from gripping the steering wheel so tightly.
I sat in the waiting room with a book. We were there to see if they could get her some relief by draining some of the fluid from her abdomen. There was a lot of it, it caused her immense pain, and it was one of many parts of her body that was slowly, horrifyingly, getting worse.
The lady at the desk called me over.
"They are ready for you to go see her. Room 6-B."
She was joking with a nurse when I walked in. When she told me that they didn't do the procedure, they couldn't do the procedure, because what everyone thought was fluid was actually her own organs, painfully enlarged, I needed to remind myself to breathe.
We had reached a point where the doctors and nurses at the hospital couldn't help her. She was too sick.
I was shaking. I asked her, in as calm and normal of a voice as I could produce, "What do you want to do now?"
She took a deep breath, smiled, and said, "Let's grab some lunch!"
I navigated her and her wheelchair through a sea of hospital workers. We needed to see all possible lunch options at the hospital cafeteria before we could make our selections. I rolled her past Saran wrapped sandwiches on paper plates, "No," she said.
I pointed out the pizza station, where the sad, droopy slivers sat waiting under heat lamps to be chosen. "No way, not pizza." She replied.
I steered her around the soup and salad bar, naming off the items that she couldn't see from her chair.
"Let's see, there are black olives, chickpeas, some kind of cheese, maybe cheddar?" I reported.
"Chickpeas? Cheddar? Olives? Let's DO THIS!" She smiled.
We spent a considerable amount of time building her the perfect salad, with the perfect soup to go with it. We were a clumsy pair, her with trying to reach and assemble her salad from the chair, me with trying not to run over hospital workers with my less-than-stellar wheelchair steering skills. We bumped (and apologized), we dropped toppings, we laughed too loudly, we took too long making our choices. But when we were done, we had made it just how she wanted.
We got settled into a table and took a breath.
"You have no idea how good it feels to have all of these choices," she said, taking a fork-full of salad.
"I honestly can't remember the last time I got a chance to choose every part of what I ate and get it set up just how I want it. Thanks for doing that for me. I know it wasn't easy, but I'm so happy with this lunch! Perfection!"
I sat and stared at her for a moment, struck by how, over the past few years every single choice had been taken from her by her illness. She couldn't choose to be the wife and mom she wanted to be. She couldn't choose to make dinner for her family. She couldn't even choose to stand up and walk to the bathroom when she wanted. There was only one thing I could think of that she could still choose and she had chosen it that day.
She had chosen to smile and be thankful.
I'm smiling today, remembering this particular day, and feeling thankful that she was mine. She was my friend, my sister, my role model. And I am who I am because of what she taught me.