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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 officer in a medium-security penitentiary, she had nerves of steel. Contrarily, Nadine also had an affinity towards the supernatural and devoted much of her free time to studying Reiki and other forms of spiritual healing.
Valerie, the middle sister, was strong-willed and straightforward in her approach to people. 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 sisters, was ambitious and adventurous. She chose nursing as her 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 mention of cancer 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 her 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 husband 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 in the emergency room. She could no longer deny that she was sick and shortly after, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Swearing her spouse and sisters to secrecy, not even her children knew about her cancer. Horrified and heartbroken by the discovery, Nadine and Avril wanted to be by their sister’s side. But Valerie refused to accept her diagnosis and acted as though 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 in the fight of their lives 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 nursing experience over the past 25 years enabled her to ask the hard questions and 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 humor. 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.
Valerie and Nadine were declared “in remission” at the start of the 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 job overseas. Before leaving, Avril had t-shirts made for them saying, “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 for the last time.
In September 2017, 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 two boys, having long conversations and trying to be strong for them. Nadine came to Valerie’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, she was now much thinner than 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 extra 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 received their presents. Although she is gone now, the three sisters remain connected; through spirituality, their sense of humor, and their shoes, they will continue to be inseparable.