By Angela Scott
"I double dare you," my sister Natalie said to me with a mischievous smile on her face.
I knew that whatever she said next, I would take her dare, and she would join me in the caper. This was our relationship from the beginning. This double dare involved skinny-dipping in the river in front of our house. The river was part of us, and most of our adventures took place in the water.
Double dares started our love for adventure, which we would share throughout our lives. Our adventures would take us everywhere, from kayaking with whales in the St. Lawrence to kayaking with alligators on Ebenezer Creek and hundreds of places in between. We enjoyed life in every way, and lack of money never stopped us from doing the things that we wanted. We would find a way to make it happen. Living life to the fullest was our mantra.
And then, at the age of 36, my sister was diagnosed with stage 4-breast cancer. She agreed to the treatments but knew that it was just a matter of time. When she gave us the news, she would not allow me to cry.
"Your job in this will be twofold," she said. "You will keep my children smiling and you will help me with my bucket list. You are not allowed to cry or ask about treatment and my pain level. Your job is to help me live out the time that I have left."
We spent the next eighteen months working on her bucket list. We swam with dolphins, skinny dipped with manatees, searched for shark's teeth on Venice beach, went to Disney World and kayaked as much as possible on the lake and river. When I visited her her house I would crawl in bed with her and her four children and we would talk about our next adventure. She always lit up when we talked about what we were going to do next.
A week before she passed away, she called me at work. The cancer had gone to her brain and at times, and she had moments where she was not coherent.
"I want to go to the beach." she said.
I hesitated because I was not sure if that was feasible. She was having seizures and was at the end. How could I take a person that is dying to the beach? It was madness.
"This is not the brain cancer talking. This is me. I can die at the beach as well as I can at home," she said.
She was right. How could I deny her this last request and does it really matter where she dies?
"Okay," I said. "When do you want to leave?"
"Now." She laughed and I couldn't help but laugh with her.
I left work in the middle of the day and we were off to Tybee Island. All the way down she was sick and I started to doubt my sanity for allowing this trip. However, when we arrived she was better and over the next few days, she put her toes in the ocean, had her favorite seafood meal and went deep-sea fishing. She passed away four days after we returned home.
After my sister's death, I needed to do something to honor her. I wrote a book about our journey, and I continued to work on my bucket list. I went to Peru on a mission trip, swam with whale sharks, kayaked with dolphins, published two novels and went on numerous trips to places that I wanted to go. I even had the opportunity to swim with manatees with my sister's daughters. However, something was missing. I needed to do more. That is how Waters of Hope was born.
The thing that kept Natalie going was having something to look forward to. When you have a terminal illness, I am convinced that your mental health can improve your physical health. I wanted to give others something to think about that was not about treatment, pain and dying. I started speaking at cancer groups and very soon, I began taking cancer patients and survivors kayaking. Our local news station did a story about my program and the requests flooded in. I added individuals with developmental, physical and mental disabilities. Last year I took over 200 people kayaking at no cost to them. This year that number will be around 250. I want that to continue to grow.
It all came together for me one day on the lake with a breast cancer patient. She told me that she had been looking forward to this trip for weeks and it had given her something to focus on instead of her cancer. She shared with me that she only had a few weeks left but this trip had given her something to smile about in the face of sadness and saying goodbye. I felt Natalie at that moment, and I knew that this was what I needed to do with my life. It is my way to give back and with each trip, I feel closer to my sister. It is as if she is cheering me on and through this program, her life will mean something. This program is her legacy and my gift to her.
My sister's children help me with the trips, and I know that they feel the same way. My niece Shoshanna is fifteen and went on almost every trip with me this summer. We are keeping Natalie's memory alive, and giving hope to others as well.
Live your life every day because we are never promised a tomorrow. Kayak, skinny dip, do something that scares you every day. Live fearlessly and, at the end of the day, give more than you take. This is the philosophy of "Waters of Hope" and the one that I live by. Do not wait on the sunshine; enjoy the storm because it is after the storm that we get the rainbow.
–If you would like to know more about "Waters of Hope," contact Angela at firstname.lastname@example.org, find her on face book at "Waters of Hope" or call 828-505-6333.