By any literal definition, I’m not a cancer survivor. I didn’t receive a heart-breaking diagnosis. I didn’t go through 13 months of rigorous chemotherapy, lose my hair and temporarily my friends, go under the knife a dozen times and almost lose my life. I didn’t, but my baby brother did.
He was six and I was eleven when he was sick. My baby brother, the golden haired, blue-eyed angel was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer, similar to that of Terry Fox. All of the aforementioned treatments and effects ensued. I didn’t know of anything different at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I knew it wasn’t normal to spend so much time in a hospital; to know all of the nurses and doctors, to know which days the cafeteria served what food, to wander the hallways and alcoves of the hospital alone. What I didn’t know were the things like the fact that my brother almost died in the middle of the night because his white blood cells were fatally low, or the times where his roommate would disappear forever. My mother didn’t necessarily lie to me, but she chose her words carefully. She did her very best to protect what little naivety we had left.
Recently, I was in my parents room (for what, I don’t remember) and noticed a diary lying open. The diary was an account of my mom’s experiences while my brother was sick. My throat immediately felt tight, but I couldn’t help but read. What I read, I will never forget. She recounted a time where my brother looked her in the eyes and said “Mom, am I dying?” and she said something to the tune of no, we’re fighting. His response will forever haunt me: “What will it feel like to die though? Will it hurt?” She recalls that her eyes filled with tears as she told him no, it wouldn’t. I’m sure, looking back, that it seemed like a more appealing alternative to what he was dealing with. Fortunately, he was one of the lucky ones. He survived, and so did our family. Now, my brother is a typical teenager. His room is a mess. On weekends, he doesn’t surface until mid-day, and even then it’s like you’re talking to a brick wall. But as a family, we couldn’t be happier, because so many other families aren’t as lucky. He will always wear a leg brace from his hip to his foot, and will always wear a lift on his shoe because his affected leg is several inches shorter than his healthy one. In the grand scheme of things, though, it doesn’t matter.
As I said, by literal definition I’m not a cancer survivor. My brother is. In a way though, I am a cancer survivor. Everyone who is affected by cancer, whether it be directly or indirectly has had to fight. Our family was a unified force. We fought long and hard for my brother to survive. In fact one of the biggest challenges associated with cancer is attitude. Patients take similar cocktails of meds, choose one of several treatment options and fight in that sense, however your attitude, your outlook is much harder to control. Just like the age-old saying, “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” I’m not my brother. I don’t understand, and don’t try to understand what he went through. What I do know, is that if you know someone suffering through the disease, the best thing you can do is support them in any way possible. Be positive, and be strong. And above all else, know that there are other people out there who went through what you’re going through. You’re never alone.