My Sister, My Hero

Let me tell you about one of my heroes.

My sister Cheryl is three years older than me. When we were growing up, we rarely got along. In fact, I’m having a hard time remembering any warm, fuzzy sister moments between us. I do remember several screaming matches and some punches, but fortunately things have changed. Now that we’re all grown up, she’s among my best friends (and I think she likes me too). I thank God regularly that he healed our relationship and gave us the kind of friendship you can’t have with anyone who didn’t grow up in the same house.

Cheryl is conscientious, fun, and loyal. She’s servant-hearted and incredibly hard-working. A tireless runner who, with her husband, has four marathons under her belt, she’s an organizational genius—chaos doesn’t stand a chance. She’s the kind of person who always wants to do the right thing and usually does. (She’s also the kind of person who tattles to Mom and Dad when the fun is just getting started, but I’m trying to let that go.)

One more thing: she’s a wounded and imperfect person, fully aware of her wounds and her imperfections. I love people like that. They tend to be compassionate, genuine, and humble. And she is all of those things.

Cheryl works part-time, mothers four children, helps with Awana and VBS and other church events. She and her family have made a difference in their community for 15 years, serving and being friends to people who have needed them. And now they need help.

About a year and a half ago, Cheryl’s extremely active 11-year-old daughter was bitten by a tick and developed Rocky Mountain spotted fever. From there, she developed an autoimmune disorder, chronic hives with a possible underlying thyroid disease, that she will likely live with for the rest of her life. Cheryl and her family suffered with this daughter and spent a year working through the diagnosis and experimenting with treatments. Her daughter, now 12, is doing better and learning to manage this disorder and the exhaustion that accompanies it.

Then late last year, Cheryl’s husband was diagnosed with the rare autoimmune liver disorder primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). The only true treatment for this chronic illness is liver transplantation. Unfortunately, many sufferers develop cancer in the liver—and active cancer means no transplant.

Last August, shortly after he was diagnosed with PSC, Cheryl’s husband was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer. Their whole family then began a grueling fight for life. They have endured chemotherapy and radiation to treat the cancer, including a rare and risky internal radiation procedure, and multiple surgeries to keep his liver operational. Thanks be to God, his treatment has met with enough success that he is now on the list for a liver transplant, taking maintenance chemo drugs while he waits.

This may be the hardest task of all: waiting for a new liver. Inaction is so difficult, especially for active and proactive people like Cheryl and her husband. Uncertainty can feel impossible to bear. And it’s hard to know how to pray when receiving a new liver means someone with a healthy liver will die.

For a highly organized, plan-ahead-and-get-it-done person like Cheryl, this kind of uncertainty is torture. She says, “I see myself as a planner—I like to know what’s going to happen, what is expected of me, and what the expected results will be.” On top of the day-to-day uncertainty is the stress of knowing that even if a liver becomes available tomorrow, there’s no guaranteed outcome.

And the greatest difficulty for her, she says, is the fact that she can’t take away the pain of her husband, their 12-year-old daughter, or any of their other three children. She can cling to God’s precious words and accept support from her friends and family, but she can’t remove any of their uncertainty or pain.

While I don’t enjoy seeing my sister and her family suffer, I have been amazed to see God at work in and through them. As he often does, he is using this trial to shape and strengthen them in ways they may not see until much later. “God has been using all this to show me that he is in control, not me, and that’s a good thing!” Cheryl says. “He is not only able to handle whatever happens; he does it lovingly and blesses us in the process.”

So how does Cheryl deal with all this trouble? She turns to God: “I know that God has a wonderful plan for each of our lives, and I know that this is all part of it, regardless of the results.  So I daily read his promises in Scripture and pour it all out before him, often by journaling my thoughts and prayers.  I have to constantly keep my focus on his truth, and not just on the pain and uncertainty around me.  There will always be pain and uncertainty in this world, but he has made it clear that he will never leave us or forsake us, that he is our loving shepherd, and that he will meet our needs according to his abundant riches.”

As they’ve suffered through this hardship, their family and friends have been extremely helpful to them. Friends have taken care of the kids, brought meals, fed and walked the dog, held a community-wide fundraiser, taken family pictures for Christmas, made sure the kids had Halloween costumes and Christmas gifts, and even done their laundry.

If you wonder how to help someone you know who’s dealing with a similar crisis, here’s some advice from Cheryl, right in the middle of her crisis: “Don’t lose patience when people are suffering. It is so natural for us to dive in to help someone in crisis, then expect them to be fine when things seem to be improving.  Like anyone else enduring a continuing difficult experience, we need people to be understanding when things continue to be hard.  I am blessed to have dear friends who let me dump on them and don’t judge me for not having perfect answers all the time. But the biggest thing we need from people is prayer. People feel helpless when ALL they can do is pray, when prayer is actually the biggest thing they can do.”

If you think of it, please say a prayer for Cheryl and her family. I hope to someday write another post reporting either a miraculous healing or the just-in-time arrival of a healthy and compatible liver and a successful transplant. I must admit it seems just as likely that the outcome will be more tragic. But either way, and no matter how hard it might be, I know Cheryl will put her trust where it belongs. That’s why she’s one of my heroes.

But the real hero of this story is the Lord Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and everything in them. The one who heals the sick and dying, sustains the bereaved, operates the universe, and always has a marvelous plan that goes far beyond what you and I can see. “Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:16-19).

  1. Kevin says:

    Amy, your blog speaks so true to me…I have an older sibling who I can draw a parallel to. The inclusion of Prayer is the greatest thing of all. it’s truly amazing how heroes can be in the mix and we may never know it until God uses them for His good and ours.

  2. Cheryl is a hero! I will be praying for that entire family! Thank you, Amy, for sharing Cheryl’s wisdom and encouragement here.

  3. Scott Edgren says:

    Cheryl is truly a remarkable person, a real testimony to us all of a life committed to our Lord!

  4. Karen (Williams) Henry says:

    Very well said. Praying.

  5. Jeanette Marcy says:

    Amy, thanks for sharing the truth of struggling and victory in this walk with God. I will pray for all of you as you wait on God.

© 2012 Amy Simpson.