A brother says goodbye to a sister gone too soon

February 07, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

We buried Sis on Friday morning, just after the funeral procession wound its way along treacherous snow-covered hills in Woodlawn Cemetery to the final resting place of Barbara Ann Theresa Kane Noland -- dead way too soon at the age of 47.

She died Jan. 28 at Sinai Hospital, after a heroic three-year struggle against cancer. But it wasn't the cancer that killed her. Seventeen days before she died, my brother-in-law rushed her to the hospital for shortness of breath. Doctors said she had an enlarged heart and that her blood pressure had slipped dangerously low and that the chemotherapy that had fought off the cancer had weakened her and made a heart transplant useless.

Still, she fought on. A week after her admission to Sinai, doctors said she might not live through the night. The next Saturday, Sis was still hanging in there. Her vital signs actually surged a little before she died the next morning. She had told me the night doctors had expected her to give up the ghost -- as I stood weeping by her bedside -- to shed no tears: She had made her peace with God. Later she told my brother Mike the same thing.

"That was Barbara," Mike said at the funeral. "Lying there dying, but still thinking about her brothers and sisters."

Barbara was the eldest of Ruth Katherine Cecelia Floyd Kane's six children, and probably could have written a "Big Sister's Manual," if such a thing were ever needed. She was kind of an "apprentice mom" -- keeping us in line whenever our mother was at work.

But she was more than that. She was an educator -- I remember my earliest experience with books was her reading to me -- and our protector. When we lived in the 400 block of Brice St. in West Baltimore, the bane of our existence was an annoying, obnoxious wise-ass nicknamed "Puddin'" -- short for "Puddinhead," no doubt. One day he called Barbara out. She slapped his face. Puddin' hit back, and the fracas was on.

Sis bobbed, weaved, jabbed, hooked and backed Puddin' down the street. The fight was a draw, but we never had any trouble with Puddin' after that. Fact is, the guy got downright friendly.

When she wasn't punching out the lights of those who had offended the family honor or acting as surrogate mom, Barbara was busy making growing up fun. My fondest memories are of us watching John Wayne -- one of our favorites -- dispatching bad guys in the movies, and Bruno Sammartino and Bobo Brazil do the same in their World Wrestling Federation television matches.

As adults, Barbara was the one woman I would talk to whenever I was having trouble with women. One time the woman in question was my wife: she refused to take going to the doctor and gynecologist for regular checkups and Pap tests with the seriousness I would have liked. But Sis had a confession of her own: some 10 years earlier, she had had cervical cancer. She hadn't seen her doctor since.

"Ten years!" I bellowed as she drove down Liberty Road.

"Take it easy," she urged, but I was beyond control by this time.

"Ten years!" I repeated, slumping my head against the window. "I think I'm going to be sick." But my hysterics elicited a promise from her that she would see her doctor -- and soon.

She kept her promise, but my worst fears were confirmed. Her doctor diagnosed breast cancer. Later, after the breast cancer was licked, doctors found another cancerous tumor pressing against her spine, making it difficult for her to walk. The constant illness drained Barbara and her husband financially, but her friends and co-workers at Social Security staged a benefit dance to raise money. One memory I'll always cherish is Barbara trudging forth on a cane to take the dance floor and do the electric slide. She loved singing, and she loved that dance.

Outside her room at Sinai's intensive care unit, my brother Mike and I talked about her illness. I had seen several obituaries in this paper, I told him, of black women around Barbara's age who had died of cancer. Why, I wondered, didn't they see their doctors more?

"It's probably because they're busy taking care of everybody else," he said. He may be right, because that was the essence of Barbara Kane Noland. Even at her sickest, she would call with concern if any of her brothers or sisters got so much as the sniffles.

So I will use this column for a final brotherly tribute and urge everyone reading it to see their doctors -- regularly and soon.

Gregory P. Kane's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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