After my father passed away, it was just my mother, sister and I living under one roof. He left a big hole, a weird space that was foreign and sometimes scary. I was the man of the house, still had a year-and-a-half of college to go and didn’t have my driver’s license yet (I’m a late bloomer when it comes to many of life’s milestones).
At this time, I had a close relationship to my sister, Renell. Her name was Esther Renell Fenison, but most people knew and referred to her by her middle name (my mother’s middle name is Nell, she named her last daughter, Renell and she was my mother all over again).
We weren’t always close growing up and she was 12 years older than me and treated me like her annoying, little brother as a kid (I was a spoiled brat being the baby and only boy of four older sisters). She was a moody meanie in my eyes as a kid and definitely my least favorite sister.
My sister had type 1 diabetes and she didn’t manage it well, which later led to health complications. In the early 1990s, my sister developed diabetic retinopathy, which rendered her partially sighted and went into renal failure, which meant dialysis treatment three times a week.
It was at this time she decided she would improve our relationship in case she should pass away. We began going to the movies together, going out to eat often and watching many television shows together.
We became closer than I ever thought we would be and when Dad died, we became best friends. She was my confidant and told me the truth, whether I liked it or not. We thought alike, it was freaky at times — we would think about something and it would come to pass in a weird way. We talked about everything and anything and she candidly shared wisdom from her mistakes in life with me.
In the mid-90s, she received a dual transplant (which is medically noted), a kidney and pancreas, which eliminated her having diabetes (that was a personal proclamation she made at the age of 11-years-old that God would heal her — and He did). Two very special siblings, the Solish brothers, gifted doctors, saved her eyesight.
She overcame being partially sighted by attending the Braille Institute, got her license as a pharmacy technician and later became a switchboard operator (which she did very well because she had a nice voice over the telephone according to her supervisor and an incredible memory) for the V.A. Hospital in Long Beach, CA.
I took her to appointments when I was available (my sister stayed on top of her health and came to know how her body operated very well). In 2008, she went into chronic rejection, which can happen, as some medicines are hard on the organs, especially the kidneys. She went back on dialysis for the second time, disappointed but undeterred in letting it stop her from living and telling people that God is able. We still did the same things that we had been doing for over a decade: movies, eating out, television shows (we loved Korean dramas) and quality bro-and-sis time together.
My sister was told cancer was a possibility with taking her anti-rejection medications for her kidney and pancreas. She had benign lumps removed over the years, and even had a partial mastectomy years later, which was benign also.
In late 2015, I was working at the Sentinel one day. I had been waiting to hear from my mom about what we all thought was another benign tissue removal. It wasn’t — it was cancer this time. My mother called me in tears, told me the news and my world went into slow-motion (those scenes is movies, where everything slows down, is real).
Radiation treatment and hormone therapy were suggested, but being on dialysis, chemotherapy wasn’t an option as they felt it would wear her out physically. They also said it was a non-aggressive cancer and she was at stage 2.
She told me that she was fine and the news didn’t make her feel scared or anything. Once I saw she was ok and ready to do what was necessary, so was I and for the next year, we did what we were supposed to do.
In late 2016 and into early 2017, the news never improved. It seemed like every appointment with the oncologists was worse than the last. She started to have breathing issues and was hospitalized. I was with her the day that the doctors came and told her that the cancer had spread to her lungs. (To be powerless to help someone you love is truly not for the weak, but God keeps those who call on Him).
I couldn’t console my sister, she was completely overcome, kicked the doctors out of the room and wept in a fetal position in the bed. I told her, in strength that was not my own, God wasn’t finished. I was told by my other sister that it might get worse before it gets better… she said God is doing something in our family.
This was worse. This is the day I remember more than any other. I left my sister to go back to work to proof the upcoming edition of the Sentinel that same evening. I was determined to show the Lord that despite what it looked like, despite what it felt like, despite how powerless I felt — I would wait on Him and prove my faith by going on with my day as if everything was fine because God is in control.
I went to work, proofed the paper, and went home. Renell passed away in April 2017. But Jesus is wonderful. (To Be Continued)