September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. At PCFLV, we are committed to spreading the GOLD all year long. However, in September, we truly make it our mission. 30 Days, 30 Stories celebrates the children we know and love and the brave battles they fight and have fought, with their families by their sides. In celebrating these beautiful children and their stories, we hope to inspire you to join us in our mission to SPREAD THE GOLD in September and all year long!
A change is coming: March 25, 2009 was a pretty big day for my family, and one that will certainly not be forgotten. I was eight years old, sitting in my second grade class, when I discovered what a "gut feeling" was. That moment before your life changes... it was one phone call informing my teacher that my parents were picking me up early, and I knew. I was out of the class within a minute and at the end of the hall was my dad. I broke down in that hallway, knowing something was so very wrong with my sister, Sarah. We got in the car where my sister and mom were waiting. We sat in the car not saying a word until we were home, and trust me the silence had a sound. Then they told me. Everything after that is a blur but I remember the pain. Like losing air - slow and painful, just waiting for that next breath.
Shock to the system: Turns out kids get cancer too. That's pretty big news to an eight year old. I was completely unprepared to be told my five year old sister had cancer. I knew she'd been sick but there was nothing in my mind that made me think my little sister could be dying. And I mean that's the first thing you think when you're eight. People that get cancer die. They go bald, and then they die. Luckily, in this case, my sister would not die...but how was I supposed to know that?
Much too much: To say the least, I did not have the kind of personality to handle all the untold mysteries that come with cancer. I like facts, I like to know what's coming at me so that I can be ready for it/brace myself. There was already so much I did not understand, and I felt the need to control the things I did. That made things a bit challenging for my parents. The first time Sarah was taken to the hospital for a fever, I did not handle it very well. I was told my grandparents were coming to watch me while my parents would take her to the hospital. That's when I hit my parents in the gut. That's when I said, "What if she dies and I'm not there?" Yup, I did that. Not my proudest moment but for all I knew she was dying. So with that, I was going to the hospital with them, and man did that suck. My sister was lying there being poked and prodded by nurses and doctors, and all I could do was watch them hurt her.
The face of change: The worst thing about treatment, at least for me, was the spinal taps. It took me a while to build up the courage to watch one of those. It took courage each time, but I felt a need to be there. I only was there for a few, but in those few times you could see the pain my little sister had to go through. Sarah would lie on her side with a movie on, silently crying. The silence in that room screamed louder than words. Those days shook me to my core. What made it especially tough was, for the most part, this kid was a rock. She rarely let the fact toxins were being pumped into her show, but on days like these, she couldn't keep it in. It all became clear during in moments like these all that had happened in such a short time.
Catastrophe and the cure: For two and a half long years Sarah was on treatment. When treatment stopped I thought the memories would stop hurting, but they didn't. Then I thought when she hit that cured mark five years later, it would stop. The only problem was, it didn't. Cancer doesn't define my sister nor my family, however it definitely took a part of us. For me at least, I just wait for the next thing. The next thing cancer will take from us. We've had two relapse scares, and luckily neither has been cancer. The thing about cancer is that it's almost like the world forgets that anything bad has happened. Your life moves in slow-motion, while the rest of the earth keeps turning. Everyone comes together and rallies around you, but as time passes people stop caring, as if the second her hair started to grow back, she wasn't sick anymore, and that all was right in the world-when this couldn't be further from the truth. Because there is nothing right about a child getting cancer.
Band-aid covers the broken heart: I've heard my mom cry behind closed doors, witnessed my dad stick my sister with needles, seen my sister go bald, and watched friends die. It's all really hard, but when a chemo buddy dies, it hits you like a freight train. It's so intimate, such a possibility, there's no way to describe it. The first person, the first kid to lose their battle, broke me. I spent hours sobbing on my mom. It was as if all hope I had left was ripped away. There was no coming back to the life I'd known before Sarah got cancer. Each loss after that was bad too, because each time it felt like we knew the kid better and better. Those losses took so much of my spirit, of my hope. All I could do is grab the ones I loved, hold them, and try to prepare for the uncertain future.
These ties that bond us: Being a sibling to someone with cancer is a unique thing. While you, yourself are not sick, you wish you were. Wish you could switch it, so that it wasn't them. Instead of having nightmares of monsters, mine consisted of cancer and the horrors it could unleash. Our parents are great, they really are. But there's only so much they can do, because they have to care for our sibling and deal with their own pain. My parents were particularly good at keeping me involved and aware, but they couldn't get exactly what I felt or take away the pain. Today, I am 16 and Sarah, 13. We fight, and I get mad at her, but she's my sister. I love her. Everyday is a war between remembering and forgetting, and it still hurts. We've got scars and souvenirs to remember the days when everyday was a fight, but I feel beyond grateful to still have my sister, when so many people have lost their loved ones. The scars cancer leaves look different on all of us, but they bind us to each other just the same.
-written by Sarah's sister, Katie