The Broken Pack™: Stories of Adult Sibling Loss

An Oncology Nurse's Sibling Loss Story: Cally/Sarah

February 01, 2024 Dr. Angela Dean / Cally Marzolf-Adams, BSN, RN, OCN Season 3 Episode 9
The Broken Pack™: Stories of Adult Sibling Loss
An Oncology Nurse's Sibling Loss Story: Cally/Sarah
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

An Oncology Nurse's Journey of Grief and Loss: Navigating Sibling Loss , Knowledge, and Devastation

In this episode, of The Broken Pack: Stories of Adult Sibling Loss,  surviving sibling Cally Marzolf-Adams, an oncology nurse shares her difficult sibling loss story of losing her sister, Sarah, to metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Through her conversation with Dr. Dean, Cally shares her profound story of love, loss, and heartbreas, highlighting the challenges and coping mechanisms involved. Her knowledge as an oncology nurse both prepared her and haunted her as she watched her sister decline, eventually dying from the illness.

Together with our host and fellow sibling loss survivor, Dr. Angela Dean, they discuss out-of-order loss, Cally's relationship with Sarah who she described as a kind, calming, soul, memories, seeking help in grief, and so much more.

Also mentioned in this episode was Young Adult Survivors United, an organization whose mission is to help young adult cancer survivors and caregivers/co-survivors cope and thrive by providing emotional, social, and financial support. For more information on this organization please see https://yasurvivors.org/about/.

Support the show

If you would like more information or to share your own adult sibling loss story, please contact me, Dr. Angela Dean, at contact@thebrokenpack.com or go to our website, thebrokenpack.com.

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Thank you!

Angela M. Dean, PsyD, FT

Credits:

The Broken Pack™ Podcast is produced by 27 Elephants Media

"If Tomorrow Starts Without Me" © ℗ 2023, 2024
Written by Joe Mylward and Brian Dean
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Dr. Dean:

Hello and welcome to The Broken Pack™, a podcast focused on giving adult survivors of sibling loss, a platform to share their stories and to be heard. Something that many sibling loss survivors state that they never have had. Sibling Loss is Misunderstood™. The Broken Pack™exists to change that and to support survivors. I'm your host, Dr. Angela Dean. Cally, an Oncology nurse, spoke with me about losing her sister to metastatic pancreatic cancer. We talk about how difficult it was for her to be a nurse, to know what was coming down the road, watching her sister die, how she's grieving, where she is today, some of her favorite memories, of course, and advice that she has for other grieving siblings. Take a listen. Welcome to the show. Cally, I was wondering what you wanted to say about yourself today.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

My name is Cally. I am, mom of two small girls. My oldest daughter is Elle. She's eight and my youngest daughter Regan just turned five a couple days ago and I'm married, to my husband Will. We've been married for 10 years and, I've been an oncology nurse for, 12 years. I have been in the oncology world for 15. I started out as a patient care assistant and then I went to nursing school. I've been in healthcare for a long time. and I'm just thankful for this platform and to have found The Broken Pack™. Because it's helped me a lot. So I want to thank you for the opportunity to come on.

Dr. Dean:

you're welcome. Thank you for that. And, my background is a Psychologist in Oncology, so

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Oh, wow.

Dr. Dean:

maybe we can explore what that's been like given also the circumstances of losing your sister. Before we talk about losing Sarah, what do you want us to know about her?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I think I want people to know that, what I would want her to know is that she was the strongest person I've ever come in contact with or taken care of. She always had this very calming spirit about her and she, wanted to help other people and always was concerned about how other people would feel and, she was fun and light hearted most of the time and just overall a really good human being.

Dr. Dean:

for sharing that. Was she older, younger?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

She was actually 10 years older than me. Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. What was your relationship like with her?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

So it was definitely a different dynamic than a typical my friends, brothers, and sisters because they were closer together. So her parents were married and had her and then got divorced and my mom remarried had me. So we have different biological fathers. but she was like a little mom, she was always making sure I had what I needed. And we spent every summer together at the pool because she was a lifeguard. And, it was simpler times where you could be there without a parent per se, and she was there. And, And she drove me places and, took me out to eat and, just was more of a role model. and I really looked up to her, and we didn't share clothes or like, that. what you think in your mind sometimes, like, oh, what sisters do. she hated shopping. We didn't do those typical things all the time. She would go shopping, but she didn't really like it. So we had a different relationship than I think a lot of my friends, growing up had. but. Obviously, I think it was the best.

Dr. Dean:

Mm

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

would not have traded the age difference, for something closer together, but she was definitely more of a mother hen, in a good way.

Dr. Dean:

Do you have other siblings?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I don't. So my, my sister has two stepsisters. When her dad remarried his wife, she had two other daughters that were closer to Sarah's age. So I do, I am in contact with one of them and we enjoy a lot of the same things and she lived in California, but now she lives here. So definitely we have the mutual bond of my sister, but. We are not, I don't have any biological siblings that are living.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. What would you like to share about losing her?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

What mostly comes to mind is just that I don't want to stay in a place of where I can't talk about her.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-Hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Because I want so badly to have her live on, but it's I haven't reached the point yet where I can look at pictures or videos. I just,

Dr. Dean:

Mm-Hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

can't really do that. I want people to know that there's no typical way of dealing with things. And, I've had loss before. but it was more in the life order, if you will, of people dying, like my grandparents and things like that, that, I was able to look at pictures and reminisce and have good memories and things like that. And I just I'm not able to do that yet. and. it bothers me sometimes that my mom will scroll and scroll through all of her photos and, just hearing different people say you could get a digital frame that brings up it's just so difficult to explain that that's not always therapeutic right away. And my therapist I had brought that up to her and she had said she lost her son 10 years ago and she has one of those frames coincidentally that kind of runs through and even sometimes when his picture comes up she just melts like just freezes from that pain. I don't know if that answered the question or not.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. there's no timeline on grief or one way to grieve or find comfort or have that connection. for me I had to go through those pictures right away. And then there was a period of time I didn't want to look at them. And so it varies for every single person. There's definitely no timeline or expectation and you just grieve in the way that feels best for you.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

And I would like to look at pictures, but it's also weird because she was sick for five years. So a lot of that time that's when we got really close again. But then it's because she was sick. And then she looks sick, not all the time, but then, you want to remember them at their best or whatever, but then it's just so convoluted. You don't want to focus on what took their life, but also that's what took their life.

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

And, how do you Go through that without addressing, this is why she died.

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I think I struggle with that because of my job.

Dr. Dean:

Do you wanna say more about her illness and not watching the for five years

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

She was diagnosed with, metastatic pancreatic cancer at the age of 40. Okay. She was in the midst of infertility treatments and had done IVF a few times. Her and her husband had decided to adopt and she was really excited. They painted the room and I remember laying on the floor at my house, and it was like 10 o'clock and my brother in law called me. And he was like, can you come to the ER? They found something on her ultrasound. And I'm like, wait, she's in the ER. I didn't even know what happened, but she was having abdominal pain. And even me as a nurse, I was like, Oh my God, she's pregnant. what if they found, what if this is a miracle? And so I went in having this whole other set of thoughts, and they found like all these liver mats. And the doctor kept, the ER kept, doctor kept saying that, and I'm like, mets from what? there's nothing, so metastatic disease means, I'm sure you know, but it's, the cancer has spread from one primary site to another.

Dr. Dean:

no. Thank you for sharing that. For

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

yeah, I gotta, remember that. But I'm like, she's 40 years old, she does not have liver mets, and Like I said, from what there's nothing on her CT scan. She had a gallstone. So when they were doing like the ultrasound and moving it around, it must've dislodged and then her pain went away.

Dr. Dean:

Mm mm-Hmm?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

But they still saw these spots on her liver. And I'm just like, it's, I was not even as an oncology nurse, like a cancer nurse. I did not believe that it was metastatic disease.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-Hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

So it was all a whirlwind from there. And, I got a different perspective about how people can be in denial.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-Hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

And I was not believing it well into her starting treatment, even that,

Dr. Dean:

Mm-Hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

this was actually cancer. So she had, gone on treatment. And was getting chemo. She quit her job, like pretty harsh chemo. and then a clinical trial became available, which she did. And she did great for 10 months. She was the first patient on a clinical trial. and then she had progression, which means The measurable disease in her pancreas was bigger. So she had to come off the trial and resume like standard of care, which is really limited for pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately there's not a whole lot to offer in that disease, site right now. And then it was found three years in, she developed these huge, ovarian tumors and, they were able to take them out. And then that pathology actually ended up being different than her original diagnosis.

Dr. Dean:

mm-Hmm

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

but then they looked at the original tissue and said actually she was misdiagnosed. So she has had treatment for three years for adenocarcinoma and now they're finding out that she actually has neuroendocrine carcinoma, which does make sense as to a little bit why she was doing so well, because the survival rate for pancreatic cancer is not good at all.

Dr. Dean:

Right.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

So she switched to a different, treatment and at that time though, it was in her bones and she, was already having really bad side effects from all the chemo and, you would never really know it, but she shared, stuff privately, with me and, stuff that she, was starting to feel, obviously, worn out.

Dr. Dean:

Was she getting treated where you work?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

So she had a consultation where I, so I was on the inpatient oncology unit at the time, and so I was able to help facilitate some things to get her, a biopsy quicker and stuff like that. Thankfully, because the way her primary care physician had it set up was that she would see interventional radiology in a week. And I'm like, no, this is not acceptable. She is 40 years old and we don't even have, at that time multiple doctors looked at her CT scan and didn't see a primary. So I of course asked her permission, but I'm like, something has to be done. So she. ended up having, after her biopsy results and all that, a consult where I work now, which is the outpatient oncology, facility. But those doctors here, rotate inpatient, so I knew, the whole group. And then she did start to see palliative care here, the summer that she died.

Dr. Dean:

How long ago was that?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

It was two years in August.

Dr. Dean:

So 2021. What was that process like, watching the slow progression for you?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

It was pretty terrible. I felt like I knew too much,

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I noticed she was getting cachectic and her teeth were like falling out and she like couldn't sit on hard surfaces because of the disease in her sacrum. And honestly, I just wanted it to happen. I'm gonna be very honest. I couldn't stand the thought of watching her suffer the way that I've seen people suffer. And, you don't of course know how it's gonna end up happening. So I just was like, I don't want her to get a bowel obstruction where, you're throwing up all the time. And I knew all these different scenarios. And I just was like, pray and pray. I honestly hoped that she would like, this sounds terrible, but I'm just here to be honest. I was hoping she would like, die in a car accident or something else.

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Because I just couldn't stand the thought of watching this happen, you know? Um,

Dr. Dean:

Did you ever share that with her?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Which part?

Dr. Dean:

That you hoped that she wouldn't suffer? Maybe not how, but yeah.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah, and she didn't want to either. And, she did what she needed to do, but when there was nothing else to do, she signed right on with hospice. She was very, matter of fact about more stuff than everyone else was But I truly believe like from what I've seen in oncology that. people know their time. Somehow they, even if you're like all the labs and everything looks fine and there would be no indication why this person would be saying like there, something's not right. I truly believe that people know, and I think she knew before her last set of scans

Dr. Dean:

hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

that. They weren't gonna be good, and I think everybody else did too, but I knew in a more detailed sense from her physical, signs. We had gone to the beach in April. We had planned a trip in September, which we had been doing for a while. And like last minute, I was recovering from hip surgery. So I hadn't started my new job yet. And she was like, before you go back to work, do you want to go to the beach? And I'm like, Not really. Like I just had hip surgery a couple months ago. I'm just like, all these things were coming up. I have two little kids. Will, my husband couldn't get off work. And of course, I went and I'm so glad I did because I know that she knew she wasn't going to make it

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm. I'm

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

till September. And that was her last, like it all makes sense now.

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm. What do

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

And I wasn't, I feel like I wasn't very nice to her.

Dr. Dean:

you mean?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

That trip, I was in pain, and I knew she was dying, I felt upset, and just, it's that anticipatory grief,

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I mean, I enjoyed myself, and we had, a good time. It's not that. It's just, there was that elephant in the room that.

Dr. Dean:

I wonder if what you're hinting at was that you were closing yourself off a little bit so it was easier to say goodbye.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. but I wonder if you could find compassion for yourself and just to give yourself some compassion for that time. Yeah, for sure. It sounds like it was difficult for you to manage your knowledge from your professional work and balance that with your personal and your love for her.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah, because she was doing the exact opposite in a way of what I did know.

Dr. Dean:

Mmhmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

She wasn't the typical patient either. So Yeah. While I had a lot of knowledge, I also was completely out of my, this is my sister, like not a neighbor or I was not thinking clearly,

Dr. Dean:

Right.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

as far as what this really meant and everyone was asking me questions, and it was just like a lot of pressure But then if you say pancreatic cancer to anybody they're like oh, no. It's not like something that People are like, Oh, you can beat this. There's none of that,

Dr. Dean:

Right. Which

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

is actually for Sarah better because she was always very blunt. And we had talked about the fact that it's metastatic, meaning she'll never be cured and she was almost okay with that because When you can be cured, then you wonder if it's coming back. And, she had thought a lot about what this meant and how to carry on, the remainder of her life, however long it was going to be. But yeah, as far as me knowing stuff, it, her husband would send me her labs. Like it was very, there was no boundaries.

Dr. Dean:

Mmhmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

And that was by choice. She wanted me, I wanted her.

Dr. Dean:

Okay. So

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

it was fine. But then my mom stepped in and was the caregiver for my daughter. Cause she was two and a half or one and a half. When Sarah was diagnosed. And then my second daughter was two and a half when she died. My mom wanted me to be with her and she was fine being with Elle, but I spent a lot of time like going to appointments and treatments and cause at that point also, her husband was very paralyzed, with the whole situation and, I just took over, at her request.

Dr. Dean:

Right.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

And then once things, got into a routine, I didn't go to every single thing and, But, there was a time where I knew, something was gonna happen. you can only be on some treatments and stuff like that for so long without, having side effects. Her, gallbladder shut down basically. And where in a normal person, they would just, do a cholecystectomy, which is just taking the gallbladder out. They couldn't because of where her cancer was. So they had to put in a drain. For a while to get the inflammation down. And then she did end up having surgery, but I helped her take care of the drain and give her showers. And, she was kind of a more private person. That was not something she loved. But I was pretty honored for her to ask me.

Dr. Dean:

Mmhmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

She, took care of me so much. I felt like the roles were reversing a little bit and for once I could do something for her

Dr. Dean:

Mmhmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

as hard as it was. I thought someday I'll help her with her newborn because I'm a mom first. This was not my plan. And I think that is a whole separate part of grieving.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah,

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Like what things were supposed to be

Dr. Dean:

right. And I think you mentioned earlier, too, the whole out of order grief, but also out of order life, if you will, that you had expected to be there and be able to be an aunt and help her and vice versa. Do you want to say more about that? How that's changed for you?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

It's very isolating in the sense that things that come up, like my aging parents and stuff like that. It's like, you're doing this, you're going to have to do this on your own now.

Dr. Dean:

Mm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

And unfortunately, 11 days after Sarah died, my mother in law died.

Dr. Dean:

Oh, and so

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

not having this support of your spouse, because I mean, I wasn't supporting him the way that I wanted to either. but seeing what he had to do because it was his mother and all that goes into being the executor of the estate and things like that it was eye opening like oh my gosh that's gonna be all on me. And just things that you assume that they're going to be there for, that you talk about when you're younger or let's do this together. Let's do, it's just all gone.

Dr. Dean:

I can relate to that. Very much having lost my only sibling as well, out of order, right? Aging parents is a difficult thing. Were you able to have conversations with her about that before she died? About you having to take care of your parents and all of that?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

She was always very blunt. She was just like, sorry. I know I'm going to die. unless an event happens or something like I'm going to die before mom and dad and basically like I don't want to either, She's didn't want to leave me alone. but obviously she didn't have a choice. So there weren't as many really in depth conversations because it was just like, that's the way it is. And if for some reason one of them dies before me, which I doubt, of course, we'll figure it out. There wasn't a whole lot of, advice,

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

which I wouldn't expect, but she pretty much knew that she was gonna die before them, so there was not a whole lot she could help me with.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. I'm curious, were you working this whole time that she was ill?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah, I was working the whole time.

Dr. Dean:

How has losing her to cancer changed you and your work in that way?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Well, so when I was working through when she was getting treatment and stuff, she would go to UPenn in Philly.

Dr. Dean:

Mm

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

So she wasn't getting treated around here,

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm. Mm

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

or like where I work specifically. But honestly, it was such a good distraction and it was a way, So she didn't need as much help as a lot of people, probably mostly because of her age and things like that, but she had a really good support system. And so I would just think when I went into work, what can I do best for these people that I'm taking care of to honor her and, it took on a whole new meaning of treat others how you would want to be treated or you would want a family member treated because I always thought I knew how it felt or I thought I could empathize, as much as I could, but you really don't know until you're on that other side and So it gave me a different perspective about people being in denial or people not understanding. We would say like, how can you not see this person is like dying? It gave me a whole new perspective on you're not thinking the way that you thought before. It's like when someone says, oh, I don't know how someone could murder this person. Like you, you're not thinking the way this person's thinking. You can't compare because you don't think like this person thinks. So of course you wouldn't do that. And I'm not saying it's okay, obviously, but you can't think about it because you just truly don't know. There were some times where I would break down and just not be able to care for certain people, or I thought I couldn't, I should say. But as soon as I had gotten this patient shortly after she was diagnosed that He was in his mid forties and had pancreatic cancer and he was coming in with jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin because a bile duct is clogged, usually by a tumor or something. And I'm like, I can't have him, I can't take care of him. But as soon as he came up into the room that was my room. I was like, of course I can, of course I can. And it was the best. He was the best person, if I hadn't met him, sorry, I would've been so sad. it's just helps me think, and I never really, I didn't share my story about my sister a whole lot, to patients, because I'm not there to do that. Unless it felt right. But, everyone that I talked to and stuff was surprised that I could stay doing what I'm doing. but that was easy compared to after she died.

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm. What was that like for you going back to work after?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

It was terrible because for one, my mom takes care of my girls. I felt bad that she had to come back to work.

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

And then, my husband had been off so much with caring for his mom. So he had to go back to work, and I got three days of bereavement time,

Dr. Dean:

Right.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

which I think is just tragic.

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm. Yeah.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I didn't really have a supportive, my team itself was supportive, but I felt like there weren't a lot of options other than coming back because I was a newer employee, not of the health system, but of this department. And, every day was extremely hard. I don't remember a lot of, the very early days of, actually getting here and, functioning and, getting through that time. But there would be, like, certain sounds or certain things that I would see that would just really trigger me and pretty much devastate me the rest of the day. Or I would go to the bathroom or go to my car, or, just, have moments alone. So she died in August and then that April I was having really bad intrusive thoughts and just didn't want to be here anymore.

Dr. Dean:

hmm. Mm

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

And so I took a two week FMLA

Dr. Dean:

hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

and spent time with my husband and my girls and we took them to the beach for a couple days and I set up some more counseling and nobody tells you to do that. Like you have to figure it out.

Dr. Dean:

I'm glad that you got that help. Was it helpful to work through those intrusive thoughts and ideation that you had?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah, I didn't realize that I was having them. It was very weird until I was like, oh yeah, it's not normal. Like you shouldn't feel like a

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm. Mm

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

What if this happened and it was happening like every day like when I would go to work across the bridge like what? if I just went off the bridge and just thinking that I truly cannot live without her and then just going in these cycles of like Why am I? Here with these two beautiful children and she's not and what's the point? things are never the same and it didn't help my husband obviously was he lost his only parent

Dr. Dean:

hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

like I just felt like not good anywhere, and I didn't realize at the time that it was that serious,

Dr. Dean:

hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

until I talked it out with some of my coworkers and realized, it's not really okay I shouldn't have to live like this

Dr. Dean:

Right.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

essentially. And what does it mean not to live like this, but To live at all. And, where to, where do you go from there? after you talk about it, then what, it's just like this awkward. And then you're like, I felt like that one time, but did I really, then you start to think did I really feel like that? Everybody probably thinks that it's just like this constant,

Dr. Dean:

Trying to reassure yourself.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah, and that's why, I didn't go to the E. R.

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm. Mm hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

it didn't seem that serious at the time. that makes

Dr. Dean:

What has helped you even then or since then cope?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I'm still finding things because I feel like I'm so focused on taking care of my kids. And. I just assumed that nothing was going to help.

Dr. Dean:

Mm

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Time, outside, quiet time by myself. Sometimes I really don't want to be alone. A lot of times, in the beginning, I was petrified to be alone because I just didn't want any silence. Silence. My therapist really helped me. and I'm still honestly working on what does it look like to work on enjoying things again, or, At first I thought, oh, I'm going to raise money for pancreatic cancer awareness. I wanted to do these things, but then I was just like, I can't.

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

And so those would be my go to things. if this was a friend or, someone else's parent that it's just so different and paralyzing. that I think. Probably like the first year and a half at least, I was just trying to take it day by day and just live and keep everyone on track and healthy and I had shoulder surgery basically a year after she passed away. And the recovery from that has been the worst orthopedic recovery I've ever had. I've had many surgeries and I think it's because I'm the grief.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah, of course. I think that's something we don't talk about enough is how there's physical reactions to grief.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

and I want to highlight, you said, I'm still in this, like there was some judgment on yourself for still working through this.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Like still figuring out

Dr. Dean:

Yeah, but let's normalize that because you expected her to be here another, I don't know, 40, 50 years, right?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah

Dr. Dean:

You're two years in and there's no timeline on grief, So this is really early in the grief process.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah,

Dr. Dean:

It's going to take time to figure out how to live with joy and grief at the same time yes, that's

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

exactly right I think too because there was always this"but she" or"at least" That people, I truly understand that people mean well. And I hope that if I've ever done that to anybody, that they know it was just my ignorance and not truly what I meant or how it to come out because those words are just so hurtful.

Dr. Dean:

hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

And because she lived so long, there was and is so much,"Oh, my gosh, I can't believe that. At least she got to see XYZ. At least you got that time with her." I truly don't believe people mean anything by it. I just think that they have not experienced a situation where that is just not acceptable, it's not good enough. So some of these things have affected, the grieving process, because it makes you feel like, oh, yeah, you're right, at least she, lived five years. Like, how dare I

Dr. Dean:

Mm

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

be upset that she's not here when she got five years? I know that's not rational to think like that, but I know it's a way of people, making mostly themselves feel better, or feel like they're contributing to, her legacy as in a good thing, but it's just, I think all those little things chip away at any value that a sibling puts on their right to grieve.

Dr. Dean:

Yes. It's another way that grief is invalidated, whether, we're here talking about sibling grief, but I think that is true for so many losses. When people start with"at least,"or"but," whatever, it follows the but, it just invalidates your pain. And you're already feeling like you don't have the right to grieve as a sibling. So then you add on to this invalidation, and I think you're right. I don't think people usually mean harm by saying those things, but I think what happens is they say it like almost as if you didn't think of that. So that's going to make you feel better.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah, I'm uh, And of course I know that,

Dr. Dean:

hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

but sometimes I'm like, that's not good enough. And it's okay to say I wanted more. I wanted her to be a mom. I wanted her to continue her law career. I wanted so many things

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

and it's almost like, well, don't be greedy. She got five years. So I think that's definitely been something that you have to build resilience for.

Dr. Dean:

hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Through her five years of being sick and stuff. I heard that all the time. At least she's not having side effects. At least you found it early, all these things. And you're like, Oh,

Dr. Dean:

Right. okay.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

At that time, it's like easier to handle those comments. But then when they die, it's Oh, just stop.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah, there's a cancer organization here, it's Young Adult Survivors United, and the founder of that often reminds people, there is no good cancer, there is no good situation here,

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

a great way to put it.

Dr. Dean:

How do you respond to those kind of statements now?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I have started to say, and I'm still sad.

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yes, She is amazing. And yes, she was the 3 percent of people who survived after five years. She made it one month past five years. And I know it's because she's so stubborn that she was really just holding out. But I want people to know that when they go through this and someone says that to them, that they can speak up and say,"And it still sucks.

Dr. Dean:

Mm

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

And it still is painful." Because I would hate that when someone says that to them, that they feel so alone and isolated and that they should be grateful and all these different things. So I just. I've started to say,"And while I agree with you, it still sucks. And it's still not fair.".

Dr. Dean:

I love that you're doing that, because what you're doing is validating yourself in front of them to also make a point that your grief is valid. So thank you for sharing that

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

approach. And it's it's if I don't believe that it's valid, who is going to? So most of this has been proving to myself that. I deserve to not be compared to a spouse, a parent,

Dr. Dean:

Mm-Hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

even another sibling. Everybody's different. And, oh, at least she didn't have kids. That's the worst one. I just want to just punch people in the face, to be honest. When they say that at least she didn't have kids. I'm like, oh my God. That's so rude. Do you know how hard she worked and wanted to have kids? Oh, that one is still very triggering to me.

Dr. Dean:

I would imagine, especially given the circumstances of how the cancer was found, that that is very painful.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah. yeah, I think. you want to shut everything out, you want to shut people out, but you also need them. Then people come and then they leave. Everyone's there at first and then it's like nobody's there. So I think I was not prepared. I don't think anyone can prepare you for that. But that can also be very hurtful

Dr. Dean:

In an earlier episode this season, when I talked to Jillian, she had this great metaphor about the well and how in those early days of grief, you're in a well and people know that you're in there and they can toss in food and water and drink

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yes, I heard

Dr. Dean:

whatever. Yeah. And then

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

to hers.

Dr. Dean:

they're like, abandon you.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

We forgot we need to get you out of the well. And I think that's what you're talking about. I'm curious too, because you said you know that you deserve to not be compared to a spouse, or a child, or a other sibling. Obviously not the children, but how has that panned out for you? The comparisons?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Not the best because I still get really sucked into. especially cause I have two daughters. Like when she got sick, where do I fit

Dr. Dean:

Mm

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

in this? I'm not her spouse, so I don't have immediate decision making unless she wouldn't say that. I'm not her parent. I'm not even her older sibling. But I'm an oncology nurse, so I fit right in, I always wonder what if I wasn't. What if I wasn't in medicine at all? Would I be valued at all? And I try not to go down that road because I don't want to be compared, but I do compare. So I

Dr. Dean:

oh, you're doing the comparison yourself.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

don't want to, but I do. So I think too, because I have two daughters that I think how could my mom still be functioning? How could she still be living at all, when your daughter dies, but then I'm also like, my only sister died

Dr. Dean:

Right.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I'm like you at least have me but like

Dr. Dean:

There's that, at least.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yep like at least you have me but also her daughter died,

Dr. Dean:

hmm. Mm

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

So it's not set in stone for me as much as I want to say I don't compare.

Dr. Dean:

hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I do in my mind. And that's the honest truth.

Dr. Dean:

I mean it's hard not to do that. We look at our parents losing children and those of us that are parents look at our children and put ourselves in that place and validating for ourselves that we did lose our siblings is also an approach to kind of counterbalance that.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. It's all hard. It's not harder. It's just different, right?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Right, I've had some hard conversations with my mom because. It's hard when I share something that I'm feeling, I don't feel like it's right for me to share sometimes how I feel

Dr. Dean:

Mm. Mm. Mm

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

because she's her mom and while it might be met with, I understand, I'm here for you, it might also be met with, Oh, I know. You're talking to her mom, I lost my daughter. And so sometimes I think who am I to be sad about this in front of her?

Dr. Dean:

hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Or, say I really miss this and her say, yeah, of course, so do I. And I know It's not putting me down or anything like that. It's just her experience. Just like I'm trying to share mine.

Dr. Dean:

Right. Where are you in grief today?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I really have some weeks I am not good at all. Sometimes I'm think I'm okay. But then I know I'm not gonna be okay soon. So that's a false sense of oh, things are gonna be fine. mm hmm. And I remember feeling that really early on, the cycle starting. There was a thing at my daughter's school the October that my sister died in August. And I remember having it was a couple hours where I was like, oh my gosh, things are gonna be okay. I really feel like things are going to be okay, and then just a ton of bricks, it wasn't again.

Dr. Dean:

hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I think I'm having fewer periods of time where I think it's not going to, or I know it's not going to be how I want it to be, and, I still can't fathom, that I will never see her. It's, unreal to me that is the reality.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I look forward to the day where, I can look at pictures again. Or, watch videos or something. I would imagine that I would be able to do that at some point. I don't know when, but every day is an effort to make the decision to bring her with me in what I'm doing. And it's hard, but what's harder is thinking that she's not with me.

Dr. Dean:

Right.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

So Either way, it's hard and I went to see a medium. I've gone to her before, but I went last March around my birthday and she said, what's most painful is thinking that they are somewhere way far away.

Dr. Dean:

mm hmm

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

And me in my mind, I'm like, she is. But she's like, if. You ask her to come with you places, ask her to go to work, ask her to go to the park when you take your kids, pretend like she is with you. And since I started doing that, I have felt a little bit more as she's not so far away, then sometimes that reality just hits me, But I think, whatever you can find to make you feel closer to them. Some of the things that, you think that you would have great memories and you do, I can't do them.

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm. it's painful because it comes with the fact that the loss is there, too, or that you

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

but I think like this whole time when I thought, when I knew she was gonna die or whatever, I thought, Oh, I'll live. on in her memory. And, I had these plans

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

and not being able to follow through with them I feel like I'm doing a disservice to her and her memory. For some reason,

Dr. Dean:

I assume that you're working with your therapist on these type of topics.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah, I haven't talked to her recently. but I do talk to the chaplain at work. and I know that therapy is so important and I know that, it is not ending for me. I just,

Dr. Dean:

I just had to prioritize what you needed. Yeah. I'm glad. are there other ways that you've found support?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

through social media, Just even being invited to talk about it is so validating and so important and so supportive. If somebody would just ask me, tell me about your sister, that is goes so far. And of people, like Sarah was very active on Facebook. She would post every time she had chemo and her why I chemo, So I think a lot of people feel like they know her story, so not a whole lot of people ask me about her story, which is fine, but I think just saying, tell me more, tell me more about her and, I think, when you put questions, Yes or no, or tell me this or just that is so supportive because it's it's going to a safe place that somebody knows what it's like. And, so I think the social media as not helpful as it is sometimes has been super helpful, in this case and, I think support. sometimes looks like just having someone say her name. Just tell me, that you thought of a story that reminded me of her. The support is so non traditional. I wouldn't think that would feel like support, but it really does.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. thank you for that feedback, and those ideas. Those are great. Is there anything else that you wanted to share, either about her or sibling loss before we talk about the favorite memories that you have?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Mostly what I would want to share is that you're not alone. and your situation might be unique. And of course, like every relationship is unique, but there's probably someone that feels like you do.

Dr. Dean:

mm-Hmm

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I always thought that was cheesy when people would say to me, I just felt like there's nobody that feels like this. There's nobody that. Is an oncology nurse that their sister got cancer. Like it just doesn't happen, but I'm sure it does. And it's just all the things like what you're feeling is okay. it really is. And I just think when you're in that moment, if somebody's not sitting with you and telling you that you start thinking all kinds of crazy things, not crazy, but just you're not the same person that you were.

Dr. Dean:

right

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I remember the specific day and hour that I was not the same.

Dr. Dean:

Right.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

And then when she died, there was a line in the sand and you're not expected to be the same. even if you feel like people are expecting that., I just would want someone I love to know that, of course you're not the same. How could you be,

Dr. Dean:

I was thinking of those exact words as you said that.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

Thank you for that. Would you like to share some of your favorite memories Sarah and you?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah, I said earlier, she was the swim coach of the swim, summer swim team. I was on and, we would spend all day. She would get me up, we would wake up together, eat breakfast, go to the pool, have swim practice. She would be the coach and then she would lifeguard all day. And I would stay and hang out and, My mom was a teacher, so she was off in the summers, but, Sarah basically just took me under her wing and we'd hang out. It wasn't all great all the time. I definitely annoyed her. And sometimes I just remember thinking she's just so weird. she's so smart that she's just so weird. And. I remember this funny story because I can't think of peppermint patties the same way as she took me to her dad's house or they were on vacation. So we let the dog out before she went back to work. And she was like, we were going through the cabinets trying to find snacks and she's Do you want a peppermint patty and I was like, Oh yeah, sure. And she's you actually need to, cause your breath smells. And I was probably I don't know, 11 at the time and I'm like, Oh my gosh, like very sensitive about it. But she was so matter of fact, take two cause you need it. Like just certain things like that. She was just so blunt and to the point. And, She, when my parents would go out to dinner for their anniversary, like that was a big deal. We would always have go out to dinner and watch a movie together. And that was something I always really looked forward to. and then, she was there when my first daughter was born. I was induced and it was a three day ordeal. And she was there the whole time. And of course, like at the time I was annoyed because I'm like, ah, everybody's standing around here waiting for this baby to

Dr. Dean:

mm, mm,

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I have no clue what's happening. And, but then I'm like, oh my gosh, she was just so excited. And I remember her just being truly happy for me and excited. To meet both of the girls, especially Elle cause that's when she was waiting in the hospital. There's so many things that I hope I never forget.

Dr. Dean:

Have you considered writing any of it down?

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

I have, I've written like a good bit down, It's in a million different places, but I've had some of my computer and some, I rely on other people to tell me. especially like of the younger, uh, when I was younger, but I remember when she went to college, I was devastated. I thought my life was over. I remember just crying and crying. My aunt. kept me overnight and my parents took her to, she went to Vassar, she went to Pitt too, but Vassar was her first undergrad and I just was like my life is over, she's leaving, I have nobody. She taught me so much about different things. Like we would go explore, wherever she went to school. Cause she went to Vassar, Amherst, Villanova, Pittsburgh. So I got a lot of interaction with different groups of people at an early age. thanks to her and, she always liked to spoil me and made it okay to be annoyed with my mom and, stuff like that, that you're like, if my mom says something funny, there's no one to look to and, have that mutual agreement that this is silly and, I still. think, that she's there and can hear the things. I just, obviously wish that she was actually here.

Dr. Dean:

right. Mm

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

but yeah, I just have so many really good memories that, I think the bad outweigh the good sometimes, because that's what I let happen. I think anybody probably does. but, when I think she would like something, I make sure to tell my girls Oh, Aunt Sarah would really like that.

Dr. Dean:

hmm. Thank you for all of that. I do think sometimes the way that someone dies, or the, in your case, the last few years of her life, can color how we remember things. Well, I really enjoyed talking to you and, thank you for all the feedback.

Cally Marzolf-Adams:

Yeah, thank you.

Dr. Dean:

You're welcome. Thank you so much for listening. Our theme song was written by Joe Mylwood and Brian Dean, and was performed by Joe Mylwood. If you would like more information on The Broken Pack™, go to our website, thebrokenpack.com. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter, Wild Grief™, to learn about opportunities and receive exclusive information and grieving tips for subscribers. Information on that, our social media and on our guests can be found in the show notes wherever you get your podcasts. Please like, follow, subscribe, and share. Thanks again.

Introduction
The Strongest Person Cally Knew, Sarah
Challenges with Photographs
An Unexpected Cancer Diagnosis
Being an Oncology Nurse & Kowing Too Much About Sarah's Disease Progression
The Torment of Watching Sarah Suffer
A Sisters' Last Trip Together
Dual Roles: Sister & Nurse
It's All Out-of-Order
Working and Grief: Anticipatory and After Losing Sarah
Seeking Help for Overwhelming Grief & Intrusive Thoughts
Coping Now
Platitudes of "At Least..." and "But She..."
Responding Now & Self-Validation
The Abandoning
Finding Space to Grieve with Their Mother
Cally Learning to Move With Her Sibling Loss & Grief
Continuing Bonds with Sarah
Finding Support in Social Media for Sibling Loss
Cally's Message: You Are Not Alone
Cally's Favorite Memories of Her Sister, Sarah
Outro & Credits