Cancer II

I’ve put off writing this blog for over a year. That’s how long it’s been since I wrote the blog “Cancer” about my sister-friend, Yvonne. It was Labor Day 2010 when I spent the night in her hospital room at the Northside Cancer Center. We laughed, talked, gossiped, discussed business and watched television like any other day we’d spend together in Atlanta. Neither one of us believed we’d be where we are today.

Yvonne & Althea dancing @ AYM

Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) is what she has. The only cure is a successful bone marrow transplant from a donor that matches your marrow. Yvonne’s mother, Liz, was a partial match and the bone marrow transplant in March 2011 was successful. Yvonne was in full remission and we were excited, happy and counting our blessings… for four months. As she and I joyfully made plans to attend my family’s annual Thanksgiving celebration in Myrtle Beach, she received the news that the leukemia cells had returned. We were both in shock, confused, and full of disbelief. Hundreds of questions and several bone marrow and blood tests later, it was confirmed. Yvonne spent Thanksgiving 2011 in the hospital and I was miserable without my sister-friend.

Yvonne & Althea @ Annual Cuttino Thanksgiving Dinner 2009

Yesterday was February 24, 2012. We sat together with her sister, Ferus, in an isolation room of the Cancer Center. Yvonne was crying and looking soulfully into my eyes. My eyes filled with tears as I stared honestly back into hers. Even though I stopped cursing a few years ago, the only thing I could think to say to her in that moment was, “This is some bullshit.” And she nodded in agreement with only a hint of a smile.

The oncologist had just confirmed that the latest round of chemo that had left my friend’s body frail and weak hadn’t worked. Yvonne and I had discussed this moment many times over the last year and a half, and we’d decided that if it came to this, she’d stopped fighting and let God do what was going to be done. February 24, 2012 was the day of that final decision. I pulled out my computer, which is never far away, and started recording, through my tears, what her wishes were for her house, car, jewelry, and clothing. My attorney, had already started putting together her will and these were the last remaining items to fill in the blanks. We made tearful phone calls to both of our mothers, my husband and our Pastor. And I did what I always do – handled business.

As I wiped her tears and typed her wishes and talked to people she couldn’t talk to, flashes of our friendship slipped in and out of my thoughts. And as the memories flickered through my mind, I knew why we’d never referred to each other as friends. We’re truly sisters – more than many siblings linked by blood.

In 1999, I “accidentally” tried out for a semi-professional basketball league’s cheerleading team. I was the second-oldest woman there at 28, had no professional dance experience, and was the mother of a 10-month old. I never expected to make the team and simply was there to have fun. The sound tech that day of the try-outs was a heavy-set, happy woman… Yvonne D. Carroll. She was supportive to all of the us trying out, but was truly happy to see me make the squad.

A month later, I was surprised to see that sound tech teaching a high-energy step aerobics class at the Bally’s where I was the new Group Exercise Director. We talked, we clicked and she became my assistant. When I left Bally’s to run another company’s aerobic program, Yvonne came with me as my assistant. When I decided to make an aerobics video, Yvonne was right there in my cast. A year later, when I filmed my first cable fitness show, Yvonne was on my left smiling into the camera and grapevining right. When I hit the fitness presenter circuit, there was no one I would trust more to handle selling my videos and managing the money than Yvonne. When I needed someone to watch my babies while I presented or taught, Yvonne was my girl and had my back.

Yvonne selling Altheatized videos

I remember talking to my husband one weekend and discussing how I could give back to someone who had done so much for our family so selflessly. I’d been teaching fitness at resorts in Jamaica for several years and thought it would be great to give Yvonne a week’s vacation in Jamaica. So I did! I didn’t realize at the time how much of a gift the trip would be.

Yvonne had never flown on a plane before. Her first flight ever was on Jamaica Air out of Baltimore into Montego Bay, and it was the funniest flight I’ve EVER taken in my life. I laughed so hard, the flight attendant and the passengers around us were alarmed and thought I’d gone crazy. Yvonne is a funny, funny chick. I remember trying to get her to look out the window at the water and palm trees lining the runway of the Montego Bay airport as we landed. She gripped the armrests until her hands were hurting and refused to turn toward the windows. I’m laughing through my tears as I type this with the memory.

We actually invited six of our girlfriends to accompany us on the trip, but Yvonne and I arrived two days earlier so she could have a full week of fun and sun. She and I explored the city and hung out with a couple of my friends from the island. When our girlfriends arrived, it was a non-stop party that to this day has not been rivaled in any of my journeys to the Caribbean. What happens in Jamaica stays in Jamaica. (I’m smiling through my tears)

Yvonne, Althea & the Girls in Jamaica

In 2005, my husband and I decided to relocate our family and my business from Baltimore to Atlanta. It took a couple of years for us to get settled and for me to decide what I wanted to do with my fitness career. In 2007, I found the perfect spot to open a dance, Yoga and fitness studio. I have a degree in business and worked in corporate America for a few years prior to starting my own company in 1996. All of my education and experience taught me several things, but number one was… you can’t do everything yourself. If I was going to open a studio, I needed someone I trusted to be with me. Yvonne was my only choice.

But Yvonne had lived in Maryland her entire life. Her family and childhood friends were all there. She had a job with Maryland Corrections where she’d worked her way up to the second highest rank of Major. Why would she leave all that to come help me run a fitness studio in Atlanta? Only she knows the answer, but she did. So, in June 2008, she retired after 22 years, sold her condo in Maryland, packed up her life and moved into a cute little house 7 minutes from our house in Georgia. Even though AYM stands for Aerobics, Yoga & More, most of our close friends and family say it stands for Althea, Yvonne & Maurice (my husband). In my heart, it does. (I’m crying again)

Yvonne & Maurice in the construction of AYM

The first two years of our running AYM was bumpy and more than a learning experience. We fought, we cried, we laughed and we learned. We grew closer than friends or sisters. We started speaking the same way – no one could tell us apart on the phone. We shopped together, ate together, partied together, traveled together. We became extensions of one another. We were together so much, my brother literally started calling her Entourage instead of Yvonne. (I’m smiling again) My kids consider her their aunt just like my brother is their uncle. My mother considers her another daughter and all of my uncles and aunts look for her when I come to family gatherings. We are sisters.

For so many years, Yvonne was my rock and my back. For the last two years, I’ve had to be hers. Hospital transfers, oncology visits, bills, lawyers, difficult family phone calls. I’ve handled it all just like she would have done for me – without a second thought and selflessly. People keep saying how much they appreciate what I’m doing for Yvonne, but they don’t understand what she’s done for me. Sometimes I write better than I speak. This blog is the explanation. It’s my way of saying thank you to my sister for helping me live out my dreams. For always believing in me and trusting that I could do whatever I imagined. In front of people, I’m always calm and rational and smile – always. I don’t like drama – never have. But in the privacy of my car and home, I let the pain and tears flow freely. I’m not crying for me, I’m crying because I know Yvonne isn’t done yet. She’s not done having firsts. And I’m not done experiencing them with her. So we’ll see how many more we can fit into this life together. As Yvonne and I always say… Cancer sucks.

Talia, Yvonne & Althea celebrating Yvonne's birthday

Althea & Yvonne in Myrtle Beach

Yvonne, Althea & Mom in Chicago

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2 Responses to “Cancer II”

  1. Helen Says:

    Althea..as I sat and read this I learned so much. You both are remarkable women. I cried several times while reading, but also rejoicing in knowing Yvonne. Cancer sucks I agree, God used this blog to show me Him in yet another way, loyalty,.life and love. Thank You both for letting him use you both

  2. Robyn Says:

    All I can do is cry….

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