A month or so after they discharged her, her health started returning to normal. Then [at] Easter last year, she started having a fever out of nowhere, and no Tylenol or ibuprofen was working. She was diagnosed with leukemia on April 16, 2020. She needed to start chemo right away.
The pandemic had started at that point, so only one person could be in the hospital with her at the same time. After a week or two, they told us to go home. I took a month off from work to figure out our new life. It happened suddenly. Who really expects things like this to happen, right? I think Kristi was one of the first people I told about this.
Kristi: When she got sick, you were already working crazy hours because of the pandemic. I knew you were going to do what you had to do, because it’s your family, but if you’re working your fingers to the bone all of this time, what’s going to happen to you?
Beck: That’s the moment you most need social support, and that’s also the moment we were all starting to distance from one another because we had to. How did you process that as friends?
Kristi: I felt helpless. I just couldn’t think of any way to help. I can’t have Deborah, the older one, over for a few days to give them a break. I can’t come and clean Judie’s house.
I felt bad for Deborah, too, because Mom and Dad are stressed so they don’t have as much bandwidth for her. Not that anybody did anything wrong.
Judie: You started to talk to Deborah a lot more during that time, when Tabitha was in the hospital.
Kristi: Deborah and I definitely had a couple of one-on-ones. She’s old enough and smart enough to understand all the limitations but still feel neglected, and, on top of it, just sad that her sister is sick. Sometimes we talked through ways for her to advocate for herself , or how to even participate some in Tabitha’s care.
In May, [Deborah, Tabitha, and I] started a weekly videochat. Most of the time, I hang out for two hours and they just make memes and send them and share their screen while they play Minecraft. Sometimes we just hang out and craft.
Beck: Judie, what is your perspective on the videochats?
Judie: Both girls look forward to that time every Saturday, particularly Tabitha. It gives her an outlet to talk to someone outside the family, because she’s with us all the time and is tired of us. We’re always just telling her, “Keep drinking water, take your medicine, do all these things,” and time with Kristi is not that. Knowing that the girls are really loved and that they’re getting emotional feeding from her has been such a burden off my shoulders.
Both girls are at the age now where they feel like they can tell Auntie Kristi things [they don’t tell me]. She’s the cool aunt that does fun things with them and I’m the mom-enforcer at home.
Kristi: Not that I’m telling on the girls, but I will [tell Judie], “Oh, I did notice they said this.” The girls do all these meme pictures. I’m going to show you this one Tabitha drew very early on. It’s her face and rain clouds. And then [it says], “Life is bad, live with it.” It was like, Oh, that’s not who she is. She’s not prone to depression. She told me early on, “This is the worst year of my life.” Super dramatic, but not untrue. I try to sit with it for her, and just be a good friend. But I also make sure Judie knows those things if there’s stuff she needs to know.