16 years cancer free.
I don’t think those two little words will ever stop packing such an emotional punch.
Historically I’ve fumbled to find the right words to accurately describe what it’s like when cancer inserts itself in your life. How do you truly capture the fear, anger, confusion, and uncertainty a diagnosis like it brings? To be completely honest, I’m still not sure – but after talking with my brother this morning I decided it’s too big a moment to brush over. It’s finally time to put some thoughts on paper.
16 years ago this week my brother had surgery to remove the cancerous tumor inside his brain. A family trip to Colorado resulted in D becoming violently ill. Doctors chalked it up to altitude sickness and assured my parents he’d be fine when we were back on the flat plains of Kansas.
While they were right in some ways, after all D’s symptom did disappear after we made our way down the mountain, my mom’s killer intuition convinced her something was not right. Despite multiple doctors telling her an MRI was completely unnecessary for her “perfectly healthy” eight year old, my mom insisted.
The images revealed a tumor the size of an egg.
And just like that he was no longer a perfectly healthy eight year old.
D was immediately scheduled for surgery and in the following months went through extensive radiation treatment, physical therapy, and cognitive therapy…and then finally, finally he went into remission.
I vividly remember the fear and uncertainty that wafted in the day I realized just how sick my little brother really was. A nurse had led me back into the ICU to see him for the first time post-surgery and when she stopped at a dimly lit room, I did not recognize the little boy with the swollen, bandaged head and black eyes laying in the bed. It wasn’t until my eyes focused on the pillow case, the one that matched the set on my parent’s bed, that I realized the frail looking child was my brother. To be honest, that same fear and uncertainty still sits somewhere deep in my soul. I don’t think it ever goes away once cancer leaves it’s mark on a family.
I can’t describe the words to describe how proud I am of D. It would have been enough just to kick cancer – which I will say he did remarkably well – but even more impressive is not once has he let it define him. Not once has he let it grip and restrict his potential – even though doctors continuously promised it would.
This world would feel so empty without his sweet spirit and goofy demeanor. I’m immensely grateful for him. Grateful for the team of doctors at Children’s Mercy who crafted a skillful plan to slice into his little skull with delicate hands in an aggressive attack. Grateful for my parents who managed to keep it together for all three of their kiddos as their world crumbled – Lord only knows how they pulled that off.
But in the midst of all this gratefulness, it is not without knowing that while we navigate through the remission chapters of the cancer chronicles, others are just now having that heavy book hurled at them.
Now all I want in this world is for anyone in the midst of the heartbreak and nauseating ache that this disease brings to be surrounded by love the way we were. To know that through the mess you’ll discover a strength you didn’t know you were capable. To those still fighting, still mourning, still grappling with the bottom dropping out, please know that hope is real, healing can happen, and there is an entire community of people who have walked this path before you ready to be a support system.
If cancer has pushed itself into your life, please feel free to reach out. Whether you’re celebrating remission or just now starting this hard journey, I think we have a tendency to skim over the emotions instead of really settling in to what we’re feeling. If you want to share, vent, or have a question, I’m happy to provide whatever insight I can.
And congratulations on 16 years, D. Cheers to you.