This is the story of three sisters and the year that truly made them inseparable. Born into a large family of six in rural Alberta, each sister possessed her own grit and untamed spirit. All three were very different.
Nadine, the oldest, was steadfast and whimsical. Having spent the better part of her career as a correctional guard in a maximum security penitentiary, she had skin of steel. Contrarily, Nadine also had an affliction towards the supernatural and devoted much of her free time to studying Reiki and other forms of spiritual healing.
Valerie, the middle sister, was anything but the awkward and uncertain middle child stereotype. Also strong-willed, Valerie loved education, animals, and anything Western. Her original plan was to become a Physical Education teacher, but raising two strong sons and being a teacher’s aid to children with learning disabilities became her first priority.
Avril, the youngest of the three sister, was ambitious and adventurous. She chose nursing as a career and devoted her time to the care of others and traveling the world, visiting over 41 countries.
Despite their differences, all three sistered shared the same shoe size and one life-changing diagnosis: cancer.
In 2002, Avril was the first to receive the call. She was 36 years old with two small children when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. On top of that, Avril was also in the middle of a divorce. Mammaries were taken but her spirit was never shaken. Instead, she was left with a renewed sense of purpose: to live without regrets, to live to watch her children grow up, and to visit all the countries she had always wanted to see. Surviving cancer only contributed to her unconquerable will. Although Avril got through her illness and carried on stronger than before, her diagnosis shook the family to its core and the other two sisters were at a loss for how to help.
10 years prior, the three sisters had lost their mother to ovarian cancer and now even the word terrified many members of the family. Avril survived and in the years after her cancer, the three sisters would meet and visit, always laughing over one story or another.
Time passed and cancer seemed like a distant memory. That was until 2016 when Valerie started feeling ill and was unable to do her usual chores around the farm. She must’ve known something was wrong, but as always, carried on and didn’t make a big deal about it. Valerie had just purchased a bed and breakfast with her spouse and lots of work needed to be done to get it operational as soon as possible. Never afraid to shy away from hard work, Valerie immersed herself in the new venture and kept her ailments mostly to herself. In early spring of 2016, Nadine and Avril decided that they would make the drive to Valerie’s newly purchased B&B in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. The three sisters would reunite at the inn, visiting below the Three Sisters Mountains. They arrived to discover that Valerie was not at the inn, but at the hospital for chemotherapy. She’d been diagnosed with ovarian cancer but swore her spouse to secrecy; not even her children knew about her diagnosis. Horrified and heartbroken, Nadine and Avril quickly went to their sister’s side.
Valerie treated the whole thing as if it was nothing more than a common cold; an annoying sickness she’d get over quickly if she just did as the doctors advised. She was too headstrong to admit that it might be life-threatening. Not long after, Nadine found a lump on her breast. Sure enough, it was breast cancer and now both sisters were battling cancer at the same time. Whereas Valerie refused to admit her diagnosis might be serious, Nadine took the news as if it were a death sentence. Having undergone cancer treatment herself, Avril tried to counsel her sisters and be present for them at every appointment and surgery that she could be. Her experience nursing over 25 years meant that she knew the hard questions to ask and how to fight for the best treatment for her sisters. While it gave Avril purpose to be at each appointment, it also brought back painful memories from her own experience. In the midst of it all, the three sisters banded together as only they could, relying on the other’s strengths and their shared sense of humour.
They laughed through the pain and kept each other balanced. For the rest of that year, and the majority of 2017, they were there for each other. Both sisters were declared “in remission” at the start of the next summer and a weight lifted from everyone’s heart.
There was a renewed sense of joy and appreciation in the family. Nadine and Valerie were doing well and Avril had just accepted an exciting new position overseas. As the saying on the shirts Avril had made for them said, “What do we say to the God of Death? Not today!” they’d celebrate instead! They enjoyed their health, happiness, and each other’s company, not yet knowing that it would be the last time.
In September, Valerie’s organs began failing. She was admitted to the hospital and finally had to admit to herself that it may be the end. She spent time with her husband and her boys, having long conversations and trying to be strong. Nadine came to her sister’s side and saw her through her pain. In November, Avril flew home to be with her sisters. Anxiety and stress had taken a toll on her body too, now much thinner than she ever was before.
The three sisters looked through old photo albums and came up with a plan on what to do next. They decided that Christmas would be just as beautiful as if Valerie were there and that the gifts for her sons and husband would be special. Avril and Nadine vowed to help make her wish come true.
In late November 2017, Valerie passed away. Her sisters made sure that her last wish came true and her boys got their presents. Although she is gone now, the three sisters remain connected -through spirituality, their sense of humour, and their shoes, they will continue to be inseparable.
Mackenzie Kathol is a young woman finding her footing in the Rocky Mountains. She is currently pursuing a range of interests all over the map. Avid travelling, swimming, poetry, and dancing of any kind keep her heart full.