My sister, Bernadette Balandran, 63, died Sept. 7. This is the eulogy I delivered at her funeral service in Topeka, Kan., on Sept. 14:
It's 1 a.m. Aug. 29, and I hear my sister coughing. The sound is tough to describe. It sounds as if she is gasping for air, struggling to fill her lungs with energy enough to push out the stuff that is eating her inside. Followed by another sound as if she is gasping again to exhale.
This is cancer eating her lungs.
And it's hard not to think of this ungodly sound as the cancer itself laughing at us - at humanity - to brag how it's about to take another life. First, squamous cell carcinoma took her ability to talk, eat and swallow. Then seven weeks of radiation and seven doses of chemo. Then as we were beginning to strategize a recovery - speech and swallow therapy, removal of the tracheotomy tube, her normal skin color returning, a set of new teeth - it came back.
Cancer is taking my sister's life, but it will never claim her spirit.
I remember a sister who was a physically strong woman, playing co-ed softball, never blinking in the face of an opponent as she stood at home plate.
I remember a sister who was dedicated to her work - 37 years at Blue Cross. She was hired two weeks after graduating from high school in 1968. She loved her family, and she collected friends.
She was a people person. And I remember a sister unafraid to speak her mind.
I remember a sister who loved to manage people, specifically her family. She could plan everything and did. Birthday parties, baby showers, a quinceanera, vacations, a 50th wedding anniversary, baptisms, holiday celebrations, a few fiestas and a funeral.
I remember a sister who comforted a younger, frightened brother who was afraid of living his entire life in the closet. And over time, she helped me become strong enough to come out and to live proudly.
I'm here to tell my sister what a beautiful person she is and how much I want to be courageous and strong like her. I'm here to tell her I have always loved her regardless of the words that sometimes came between us.
And how she always made the best popcorn in the world - in a skillet with bacon grease and real butter. She never believed in diet popcorn.
I'm sitting in her dark kitchen, crying. Then I realize. That sound was not cancer laughing at us in a cough at 1 a.m. That sound was my sister telling that evil disease to get the hell out of her.
Goodnight, my beautiful, brave sister.
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