ST. PETERSBURG — Since childhood, Debbie Newell and Cindy Seaborne had been close as sisters can be.
They shared a room growing up, babysat each other's children and crocheted Afghans for family members.
After Debbie was diagnosed with cancer in 2001, Cindy — who had always been healthy — increased her time with her sister. She drove her to Walt Disney World, pushing Debbie's wheelchair down Main Street USA. Cindy told her sister she did not want to lose any time because life is short and you never know.
Cindy was born in 1951 in Chicago, a milkman's daughter. Debbie followed three years later. The family moved to a new three-bedroom home in Coquina Key. They attended the former Southside Junior High, where Cindy was head cheerleader, and Lakewood High.
In 1971 Cindy married Bill Seaborne, her high school sweetheart. She took accounting courses and worked at Leon's Air Conditioning. Debbie worked there, too, then took a bank teller's job down the street. She married twice before finding the right person. When she delivered twins, Cindy told her something their mother had always told them: "The worse it gets, the sooner it will be over."
Each sister's workplace moved twice over more than 20 years, from Gulfport to Pinellas Park, then to Clearwater. All the moves happened at around the same time, to locations a few blocks away of each other. Because their three offices were always near, Debbie and Cindy met for lunch nearly every weekday for most of their adult lives.
Debbie worked her way to up vice president. Cindy changed careers, to selling insurance.
When Debbie was diagnosed with cancer, Cindy sat beside her during chemotherapy. When she lost her hair, Cindy threw a hat and scarf party. It was a chance to laugh and be silly.
Debbie's cancer returned in 2010. The sisters went to Disney World more often. They dined atop the Contemporary Resort, and watched the fireworks.
Then Debbie's doctors diagnosed congestive heart failure. Cindy helped her sister draft a living will and funeral arrangements. She seemed to know when her sister was hurting.
She would come over, find Debbie in bed and slip underneath the covers beside her.
Then in January, Cindy began feeling tired. A cardiologist discovered a bleeding heart valve.
Debbie called her sister the morning of Feb. 12 at Largo Medical Center. They told each other "I love you" before hanging up.
Cindy Seaborne died of cardiac arrest two hours later, before her scheduled surgery. She was 61.
"I really and truly believe she kept me alive a couple of times when I was just ready to give up," said Debbie.
Their connection remains even if it has changed, she believes.
"I have another guardian angel," she said.