Kelly Espy first came to work at CaringBridge after losing her sister, Amy, to osteosarcoma.
Fourteen years ago, at the tender age of 27, my sister, Amy, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a serious bone cancer. At first, she was reluctant to create a CaringBridge website to keep family and friends informed, because she didn’t think anyone would want to hear about her day-to-day struggles. But within minutes of creating it, she was calling me to report that 12 people had already left her guest-book messages!
Messages From All Over the World
Watching the traffic to her website continue to grow became an addiction. What was even more amazing was the support our family gleaned from all the Journal comments. Friends and family members from all over the world stopped in, thought about us, and then left a heartfelt message.
Amy was all about facts in her Journal entries, listing details of her chemo regimen, blood counts and transfusions. She wanted everyone to understand her disease and its treatment. Her dry and twisted sense of humor, even about lab work, a tumor removal, and knee replacement surgery, kept everyone laughing and engaged.
On the Good Days, We Cheered Her On
Those of us who checked in on Amy each day became a tight-knit group. We were all pulling for my sister. On the good days, we cheered her on, celebrating small victories. On the bad days, we lifted her up, encouraging her to believe that she would get past this horrible time in her life.
Amy and I had pretty much been inseparable since the day she was born. I was 9 years older, and to me, she was “mine.” I changed her diapers, fed her, and played with her, nonstop. My parents thought she had been sleeping through the night since she was 2 weeks old, when in fact I was getting up with her to give her a bottle every night.
We Grew Up as Best Friends
Eventually, they had to sit me down and break it to me that she wasn’t my daughter, and that it wasn’t my job to be her sole caregiver. I let them believe I agreed, but I knew in my heart I would never, ever stop taking care of her.
We grew up as best friends. We never fought once in our lives. We adored each other. From day one, she made me feel like the most important person in the world. So, when she got sick, nothing changed. Even though she was 27, I wasn’t about to stop taking care of her.
I Checked in Constantly
Amy lived four hours away and I couldn’t always be with her, so I clung to her through her CaringBridge site. I checked in constantly, from anywhere that had a computer. At night, when my family had gone to sleep and the house was quiet, I logged in to recap her day. It became my ritual. Each night, I celebrated or cried, based on the latest update. I thanked God for that vital connection.
There were times when Amy was just too tired or sick to enter the latest news, so she would ask me to do it for her. I was honored to be her spokesperson. CaringBridge became the glue that held our family together. It was a place to not only report information, but to share our hopes and the fears. It also became the place where family members we hadn’t heard from in years were able to say, “We’re here.” The love and support were amazing.
She Believed She Would Beat Cancer
Amy never talked about her prognosis. She believed wholeheartedly that she would beat cancer and move on with her life. But each chemo treatment made her sicker than the last, and her body was taking longer and longer to recover.
More often than not, my mind would wander to that scary “what if” place, and I would panic. There was just no way I could imagine my life without her.
Many around us refused to believe me when I’d tell them she was really not doing well. Many didn’t consider her illness life-threatening, and didn’t want to hear any bad news. Human nature, I guess.
The Unthinkable Happened
But the unthinkable, unexpected thing that no one wanted to talk about did happen. Nine months after her diagnosis, Amy died.
I knew my life would never be the same.
When I numbly updated her CaringBridge site, I knew that those who loved Amy and dropped by regularly to leave a message would be stunned. She had never let on in her journaling that her prognosis wasn’t very good, or that her body just wasn’t handling the chemo.
A Place to Memorialize Our Precious Girl
Yet even in death, CaringBridge was there for us, relaying visitation and funeral arrangements and serving as a place to memorialize our precious girl.
Those who have lost a loved one understand fully what happens when the funeral is over and family and friends go home. Life resumes and everyone goes about their business. There’s suddenly nothing to do.
Recommended article: 9 Ways to Remember a Loved One Who Has Passed
Huge, Cavernous Hole in Your Heart
You no longer have to care for a sick loved one; there aren’t calls to make or meals to cook, and you’re left with ugly, raw emotions and a huge, cavernous hole in your heart.
Many mornings I would wake with a jolt, worried that I hadn’t called Amy or checked her website to see what her blood counts were. It took weeks for me to realize there was no reason to do that and that she was gone. I could no longer take care of her.
I Needed to Give Something Back
There were nights I would spend hours reading her previous Journals. I clung to a place on the Internet that Amy loved, a place where she shared her humor, her life, and her love. She loved CaringBridge and the support it had offered her and our family.
I decided that I needed to give something back, for both of us.
Amy Would Appreciate What I Was Doing
I wondered if there was any way I could volunteer. When I realized that CaringBridge was located in Eagan, Minn., the same city where I lived, I immediately sent an email offering my time. Within minutes, I received a response from the founder, Sona Mehring.
Before I knew it, I was scheduled to help process donations at her house. I felt comforted, knowing that Amy would appreciate what I was doing.
It Feels Good to Do Good
I went back the next week and the one after that and the one after that. I initially volunteered, in 2003, because it was a way to feel close to Amy. That position turned into part-time contractor work, and in 2006, I proudly accepted a full-time job.
I have been on the receiving end of CaringBridge, and I understand the overwhelming support it brings. Now, I am on the giving end, and it is wonderful to be a part of the team that makes it possible.
I tell people that I work at CaringBridge because it feels good to do good.
Do I also work there to honor Amy? Absolutely!
CaringBridge: Here When You Need It
Kelly Espy says the support and love that came through CaringBridge during her sister’s cancer treatment kept her family going. CaringBridge is here for you, too.
This article first appeared in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book,” published in 2009. It is republished with permission of the author. Kelly Espy is a senior development specialist at CaringBridge. She first joined the team as a volunteer, in 2003, to honor her sister, Amy, who was a CaringBridge user.