My River Sister, “T.,” is a native Oregonian, a health consultant, author, and (what I admire most) one of the great fly-fishers and guides in the West. By the age of three, she was her father’s favorite fishing buddy. T. once took a solo fishing trip that lasted four months and covered nine states and 9,000 miles of blue-ribbon trout water. The reverence with which she comes to wading streams is, for her, like going to church. She has always understood that it is never just about the fish; it is always the sacredness of the place, the awe of the wilderness.
We share a love of the fishing experience that runs deeper than any river, and call each other “River Brother and Sister.” We’ve known each other for many years, during most of which we don’t see each other face to face. I read the articles she writes in outdoor magazines, and we correspond regularly; she is a funny lady, and we respect each other enormously.
Last October, T. wrote to me “ . . .imagine my surprise when out of the blue this morning, the husband of an old Swiss friend e-mails me from Zurich asking me if I know you and wondering if he should fly halfway around the world to attend your workshop. I told him you were a first-class schmuck, and to send me the airline money for saving them the trouble . . . but I think I’m going to join them.”
Weeks before the event she wrote and said she wasn’t coming. She’d been diagnosed with a large anal cancer, which for years had been misdiagnosed as a persistent anal fissure. By the time it was discovered, it had spread into her pelvic lymph nodes. She wrote to me and many friends asking for “butt blessings” while she was going through major surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. I prayed about her in my daily meditation, took her into sweat lodges, temples and tipis.
During treatment she wrote, “It’s a hard road and radiation is taking a toll on my tender tushy. My butt looks as if it’s been dipped in a deep fat fryer. It’s not fun, I have my weak moments but it’s doable because of your powerful prayers and blessings. You have empowered the warrior in me. I am 104 #’s of hairless, fighting fury!”
A couple of weeks ago, T. wrote saying the three-month follow-up scan revealed some residual cancer at the original site. Surgical and oncology specialists have held the door open that by some miracle the tumor may shrink when they examine her again this week. If there is no shrinkage, she will have additional surgery and a permanent colostomy. T. says, “I don’t like it much, but I’d much rather be a bag lady than a croaker, who didn’t know her ass from a hole in the ground. Pray for me, it encourages me.”
T.’s sense of humor is intact, and she isn’t walking away from the table, choosing to play the hand she’s been dealt. I asked her if it was OK to invite my readership who might be so moved, to pray for her in whatever ways they do it, and T. said, “Sure and I’ll send some pictures.”
Remember my River Sister as she prepares to wade these new waters, and remember other friends and relatives who are looking at whatever tough hands they’ve been dealt. We all face uncertainty better when we are connected, even at long distances. I say thank you, for all my relations. Mi Takuye Oyacin.