Cancer victim's sister: 'It's so hard to be left behind'

Friday, 02 June 2017, 01:57:44 PM. Surviving sisters find new 'calling' in life after big sister's death from cancer.

Evyonne Stowers Porch died serenely at 1:41 p.m. Jan. 29, 2015, surrounded by family inside her mother's home. She was 56.

I've never started a column with such an obituary-like statement, but this seems the proper beginning for her family's story.

"Since Vonnie's death, it has left a big hole in our family," said Porch's baby sister Kelli Stowers of Valparaiso.

"It's like a part of us is missing all the time," added Porch's other younger sister Debbi Hines of Valparaiso.

Porch, whose nickname since childhood was "Vonnie," was diagnosed with cancer in early 2014. It spread swiftly from her lungs to her liver to her brain and beyond. Doctors gave her one year to live. She didn't make it that long.

During her last year of life, Porch's sisters rotated around the clock to care for her. Hines handled the finances and medical jargon. Stowers was her "chemo buddy." Their mother Charlene Blunk cared for Porch while the two sisters worked.

When doctors told them there was nothing else modern medicine could do for Porch, her family insisted on bringing her home to die, at their mother's home. They slept next to her. They pampered her. They took turns holding her hands.

Porch died with her sisters around her bed. Hines held a stethoscope to her sister's heart for its last beat.

"We did everything we could," Hines told me on Memorial Day, coincidentally.

Not quite, they later learned.

"My sister and I needed to put our grief and energy into something," Stowers said.

"So last year we decided to join a Relay for Life event through the American Cancer Society," Hines said.

Along with their family's help, they raised $3,040 through "Team Vonnie" while walking more than 100 laps inside Thomas Jefferson Middle School over 12 hours.

"We raised money for the local fight against cancer, and to help others with wigs or rides to chemo," Stowers said.

Before Porch got diagnosed, the sisters had heard about the Relay for Life fundraising events around Northwest Indiana and the country. However, they didn't fully understand the true motivation behind it for survivors and loved ones.

"We have to do this," Stowers said. "It's now a calling."

This year's Relay for Life event takes place Saturday at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, one of only four such events in Lake and Porter counties each year. Porch's sisters have already raised nearly $7,000.

"They're incredible," said Janet Wartman, community manager for ACS's Lakeshore division. "I've never seen a family come together like they do. And they've done it the hard way."

Garage sales, candy bar sales, a fish fry, knocking on doors, and finding 16 local businesses to offer sponsorship. The sisters have been as relentless as the cancer that took their big sister's life.

"We did everything together," said Hines, sporting her Relay for Life shirt.

Weekend getaways. Longer vacations. TV show "fun nights." Local hotel stays. Pizza parties.

"I'd tell Vonnie, 'Let's go to Detroit,'" her mother recalled. "'OK, just let me pack,' Vonnie would say. And off we'd go."

"The four of us were one unit," Stowers said, lowering her head.

She showed me one of three tattoos that she and Hines got in their sister's honor.

"We want to keep Vonnie close," Stowers said.

"That's why we the Relay for Life is so important to us," Hines said. "To keep her close."

When I asked Porch's mother what kind of woman her daughter was before being diagnosed with cancer, Blunk didn't hesitate.

"She was the biggest pain in the ass," said Blunk, who spends words like $100 bills. "But she was my pain in the ass."

Porch also left behind her husband Dale Porch, two sons, four grandkids, and her little brother, "J" Blunk.

Two weeks before her death, Porch's sisters propped her up so she could dance at her son's wedding. Days before her death, they wanted one last photo with all the siblings together. They took one of only their hands intertwined, over the backdrop of a baby blue blanket, hand-knit by Hines for her dying sister.

Porch's wristband stated, "You Are Not Alone." They buried her with the blanket. They visit her grave site often at Graceland Cemetery in Valparaiso. Stowers brings a lawn chair. She chats with Porch's memory. She reads to her. She naps near her.

"There were always four chairs at our card table, but now there are only three," Stowers said. "So I bring that chair to her grave."

The sisters say their story is about a family that's been left behind to pick up the pieces and somehow move on.

"It's so hard to be left behind," Stowers said. "The Relay for Life event helps keep Vonnie's memory alive. It also helps heal our hearts."

"We don't want people to forget Vonnie because we never will," Blunk said.

"Too many people don't know what Relay for Life is all about, or why survivors do it. This is why we do it," said Hines, who will be a guest on this week's Casual Friday's radio show.

Tune in Friday at noon, or at 7 p.m., on 89.1-FM, or online at .

The sisters admit that their family has been walking with a limp since Porch's death. Watch a video here: .

"But we're still walking," Hines said.

"We'll keep walking around that lap again and again at Relay for Life," Stowers said.

"And we will keep doing it each year until we can't no more," Blunk added.

Gary mayor on the air

On this week's Casual Friday's radio show, I also welcome into the studio Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who will be asked dozens of offbeat questions, similar to my recent on-air chat with Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. Call in with questions or comments at 769-9577.

Twitter@jdavich

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