Dave Bakke: Twins don’t need to talk to keep in touch

Dave Bakke

Try telling your boss you can’t make it to work today because you are suffering from the effects of chemotherapy — except that you haven’t undergone chemo, your twin sister has.

That has been Kara Hood’s experience while her identical twin, Johnna, battles a rare and aggressive cancer.

Sometimes spooky things happen between twins. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that there can be an almost telepathic connection, as well as a physical one, between twins.

So it is with Kara and Johnna.

“I’ve never actually experienced the sympathy pains,” says Johnna. “She’s always been more sensitive emotionally and physically than I have. But if there’s something wrong with her, I’ll know. If she’s scared or angry, I know. I know when to call and check on her.”

Johnna was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. Because of the effects of the chemo, she is unable to work. She is also fighting a balky insurance company. Her family and friends are holding a benefit for her Sept. 6 at the Riverton Eagles Club.

Kara says the two have been together since their birth 27 years ago. After graduating from Waverly High School, they attended McKendree College in Lebanon. Kara decided in her freshman year that it was time to establish separate identities and that she and her sister should not live together any longer.

“That lasted about four weeks,” says Johnna, “before she moved into my dorm room, unofficially, with my roommate and myself. Luckily, I had a very understanding roommate.

“We finally accepted,” says Kara, “that we are totally intertwined.”

They recall that when they were kids, the connection was so strong that when one was stuck with a pin during diapering (cloth diapers), the other would cry.

“Dad would do weekend trips,” says Kara. “He was a deliveryman. He and my mom and one of us would go. The other twin would stay with family members.

“Once, when we were about 1 year old, one of us got injured and the other was with Mom and Dad. They called to talk to the aunt where I was staying. She said, ‘She’s fine now, but this afternoon she screamed for an hour and we couldn’t figure out what was wrong.’ ‘Yup,’ my mom said. ‘That’s when we were taking Johnna to the ER.’’

Whether there is any scientific evidence for such a thing or not, it happens. And it is happening now that Johnna is getting chemo.

“I had all the symptoms she had,” says Kara. “I just felt sick. It started probably after the second round. The first round I didn’t feel much, but after the second round, she started radiation as well. I was starting to get overwhelmed by it.”

That led to Kara’s phone calls to her boss at the ISPFCU credit union, where she is a compliance officer. Some employers just wouldn’t buy this at all, but Kara says her supervisors at ISPFCU know she is telling the truth. There are days she just can’t make it to work because Johnna is suffering the effects of chemotherapy, and Kara feels it.

“They are so understanding,” Kara says. “They have been wonderful. It’s definitely difficult, but I’ve been blessed to know I have their support.”

Kara has researched this phenomenon, but hasn’t been able to find much scientific evidence that supports it. She found a book — it’s fiction — that uses this as its subject. And there have been quite a few other stories in the media about twins who experience this sort of thing. It’s the same as the “sympathy labor pains” that husbands experience when their wives are pregnant, only more intense.

Johnna and Kara do not live together anymore, but are both in Springfield, where their homes are about three miles apart. Johnna says Kara is supporting her, but Kara says it is the other way around.

“Johnna has remained optimistic and hopeful. When I want to scream and rant and rave and blame everyone, from the doctors to my father to God to the garbage truck drivers, she’s calm and remains as she always has been, the pillar of strength that holds my family together.”

The women recently took a short trip together to lift their spirits.

“Whenever she’s tired, I’m strained as well,” says Kara. “So it’s great just being able to hang out with her, because she knows how I feel. We can just sit and watch a movie or sleep. We don’t have to talk.”

No words are necessary between twins. They just know.

Dave Bakke can be reached at (217) 788-1541 ordave.bakke@sj-r.com.