When I was little, I wanted to be my big sister. She was the strong one. She was the pretty one. She was the brave one.
She was also a big bully, and since I worshipped her so much, I was probably an easy target. She was older than me and bigger than me, and she used that to her advantage. Hair was pulled, toys were taken. Various acts of childhood terrorism occurred.
But she had her tender moments, too. I remember crying for some reason or another one day, and how she came into the bedroom and didn't say anything--she just brushed my hair and patted my head for an hour.
She is a good sister.
Happily, when she grew up she found the best possible profession: a personal trainer and fitness instructor. Suddenly, it's as if a childhood of bullying was merely her apprenticeship: now, she could boss people around, tell them what to do, and it made them healthier. She excelled at it: they lost weight/got strong/met their fitness goals. Honestly, she quickly became kind of a local celebrity.
A little over a month ago, VERY unexpectedly, my big, strong, beautiful sister was diagnosed with advanced-stage ovarian cancer. Now, to the uninitiated, ovarian cancer is something that can get really scary really fast if you start reading about it. Side effects. Decline of health. Survival rates.
She had a surgery, but there was still cancer. Overnight, her world was transformed. Her primary setting will no longer be the gym: it's going to be chemo rooms, doctor's offices, and she will be doing lots and lots of paperwork. She's going to be tired, she's going to lose her hair, who knows what else.
Through all of the words, all of the information, all of the procedures, one word keeps coming back front and center to my mind:
Why my sister? Why should someone so young (the average patient for ovarian cancer is 55+) get cancer? Why someone so obnoxiously healthy? Why not me or my other sister or my mom? Why didn't the surgery remove all the cancer? Why didn't they try harder? Why?
I'll tell you the truth. Even though I know that cancer doesn't discriminate, that Patrick Swayze got it and so on, I still don't understand. It feels mean and not-fair.
It makes me alternately sad, mad, confused, and frustrated, and even though it's not even me suffering, all of the emotion, confusion, and general not-knowing has all of that has been a trigger to my eating disorder.
When things feel out of control, my eating disorder is the place to return to, the place where I can have control.
So far, my ED-tendencies have primarily manifested as control issues. I have been keenly aware of when it's time to eat, what I am going to eat, and I have to use certain plates. That type of thing.
For example: I go to the hospital with my sister for a quick and easy shot that she needs. Seeing the cancer center at the hospital makes me want to cry, because I know this is her "home" for the duration of her chemotherapy regime. Right after we leave the hospital, all I can think about is what I am going to eat for lunch and what plate I am going to eat it on. I am so caught up in calculating how many calories this lunch will add to my total for the day that I am a crappy conversationalist to my sister, and isn't that the whole point of me being here, to be with her? so it makes me feel bad, and then that makes me focus on food again for control, and the cycle keeps going.
I know that it is a good step that I am able to recognize that this is happening. But then again. Even though I am painfully aware of what is going on and can see it happening...the maddening part is that it is STILL happening. Even being present and noticing these things doesn't stop the disordered thoughts from creeping in.
Honestly, the cancer is not about me. It's my sister's struggle. That is part of what makes it difficult: it hurts to feel so helpless. It's like I want to suffer if only to take some of it from her.
But here's the thing: returning to my eating disorder isn't going to kill the cancer inside of my sister. It's not going to help her in a single way, and it's definitely not going to help me. In fact, it could actively keep me from helping her.
My sister having cancer is enough of a blow: I don't have to let my eating disorder win, too.
I can ask "why" over and over and over and over, but I would miss out on so much, and I don't know if there is really an answer for it. It's really nothing more than fuel for my eating disorder to try to take over my life again.
So instead of dwelling on the what-ifs and whys right now, I am choosing to recognize that they will not help me in any way. I'm not avoiding information about cancer, but I am not compulsively googling survival rates based on patients who have nothing to do with my sister.
I am trying to take care of myself, which can be very hard especially in the face of "but I should be helping HER" thoughts.
Maybe right now, there is nothing I can do other than be there for her. But by keeping myself strong and continuing on the path of recovery, I will be better able to be there both physically and mentally for my sister in whatever ways she may need in the months coming up. If I let myself succumb to the comfort of my eating disorder, not only will I not be able to help her, but I will be making myself sick, too.
Going back to my eating disorder is not worth it for all the whys in the world.