By Adamarie Keeton
Much like the four sisters in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Margaret, Libby, Adamarie, and Ginny grew up in a home full of love where they learned to value family and virtue over material wealth. Although each sister had talents differing from the others and each had experiences that gave her her own identity, those same experiences overlapped into the lives of one another and oft times the four girls were identified as one. Ten years separated the oldest (Margaret) from the youngest (Ginny), and their sisterhood became a circle of joy, laughter, and constant companionship. Older sisters caring for younger sisters and younger sisters standing up for older sisters inspired a strength they would only realize a true need for as adults. The four were inseparable. Although they shared toys, friends, bedrooms, music, and homework, life wasn’t always idyllic; they had the usual sibling fusses and arguments. But when their heads hit their pillows at night, forgotten were the battles of the day. With the many things in life these Bronson sisters shared, the one they wished they never shared was cancer.
Margaret was the first diagnosed and the devastation was immediate. Libby, Adamarie and Ginny rallied around their beloved sister and shared a strength that gave them a tender, full-of-wonder, seventeen months of living a lifetime. They battled her brain and lung cancer together, going through surgery, radiation, and chemo. Once, because only two were allowed to visit at a time, one hid behind a laundry bin so the four could be together. They prayed, laughed, wiggled toes in beach sand, watched the seasons change, and cared for their children. When they lost Margaret, the others felt as though they had lost an appendage. The pain was nearly unbearable and the void definitely not fillable.
What followed was unprecedented. Next was Ginny’s diagnosis. Like Shoeless Joe Jackson, “Say it ain’t so!” Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was the shock no one expected. After all, cancer had taken one sister already; surely that was enough to statistically avoid another diagnosis. Intensive treatment followed and just when they believed they were seeing relief, Adamarie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Three out of four sisters with cancer? Genetic counselors were baffled. Their dad had colon and prostate cancers. Five types of cancer in an immediate family? No, actually it would become six! Adamarie had questionable symptoms with her thyroid. The three sisters and the oncologists thought, surely not another positive biopsy. It just couldn’t be! Indeed it was, and yet another cancer invaded their world. Then, with little warning, Ginny’s ugly cancer transformed and the toughest of chemo series was called for. When all finally calmed down after surgeries and treatments for Adamarie and Ginny, imagine the shock when Libby shared a suspicious “bump.” Within a week, the sisters heard yet another cancer diagnosis as Libby was positive for non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma, requiring surgery and rounds of radiation. Amazingly the sisters cared for one another with a common bond that spoke volumes with no words spoken at all.
This story is not one told to bring sadness and sorrow, but rather one that tells of extraordinary courage and growth resulting in so many positives: the raising of over $50,000 for cancer research, lessons learned on living with a deepening faith, the encouragement to others with cancer, and most of all the celebration of a story of sisterhood for the ages, where thoughts of Margaret are ever near.