Sixty-five Roses: A Sister’s Memoir, (Heather Summerhayes Cariou, published by McArthur & Company, 2006) was a heart-wrenching story that shared the joys and pains of a family’s journey of disease and death.
The name Sixty-Five Roses came about because that’s how Heather Summerhayes Cariou’s sister Pam pronounced Cystic Fibrosis when she was little.
Heather describes the strength of her family’s love and the struggle to remain “normal” even though Cystic Fibrosis cruelly struck two of their family members.
Family’s reaction to Cystic Fibrosis
- Her sister Pam was not diagnosed until she was four when she was finally referred to a specialist for an assessment at Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Heather was only six and promised to die with Pam.
- If you have ever lived with a family member or friend with an illness or lost someone to a disease, you could probably relate to Heather Summerhayes Cariou’s mixed feelings and childhood experiences. At times, she felt guilty for being healthy and at other times, she hated her sister for getting more attention, and yet she could not picture living without her.
- Sometimes other family members did not know how to react or what to do in the face of a terminal illness. Many disappeared leaving them feeling abandoned. This is a good reminder to us all to face our fears. It’s not nice when someone avoids a sick person out of fear because it makes them feel as though you don’t care.
- When Pam did die, Heather described the grief she felt so accurately it pierced me and yet I felt almost like a kindred spirit because I had never heard anyone express it so well. It made me feel somehow better that it was normal to be angry with everyone, indignant that people dare look happy and wanting to shout at them for merely existing.
Heather reminisced about the fond memories she had with her family as well and described how her parents reacted to the stress. Her mother Donna stayed busy cleaning, cooking and caring for her sick children while her father Doug worked more outside the home.
Parents founded Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
Doug and Donna Summerhayes founded the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation but it wasn’t easy and they had to go to countless meetings before they gained people’s support. Heather’s parents sometimes traveled away from their home in Brantford, Ontario and were a wonderful support to parents with children who had CF. Although Heather’s love and pride in her family is obvious you can tell she missed having more time with them but it is hard to be everywhere at once. They now volunteer their skills to help others in third world countries.
- In spite of the sorrow expressed, it was also a story that included humor, strength and inspiration. Pam was an amazing woman who was not an angel but had a strong spirit that continues to inspire the rest of the family. Her mother went back to college when she was almost fifty and became a nurse, which was a life long dream. Heather persevered and became a successful actor and brilliant author. She still stays in touch with her brothers, Gregg is a police officer, and Jeff, in his thirties with CF, defies the disease by staying active.
About Cystic Fibrosis
Cystic Fibrosis is a hereditary disease that is caused by a recessive gene that both parents carry. It affects the lungs; symptoms are a chronic cough that produces mucus and an inability to digest food properly. With CF, the pancreas doesn’t produce the enzymes necessary to absorb food. There is no cure but there remains hope for one.
- There is a foreword in the book by Celine Dion reminding us all to never give up. Her sixteen-year-old niece died of the disease but she remains hopeful for a cure. A portion of the proceeds of the book Sixty -Five Roses: A Sister’s Memoir goes towards The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Canada.