Dealing with cancer was not in my plan, but it’s a memory I can recall very clearly. I was in the seventh grade and was headed into the last weekend of acting as a nun for a theater production of Sound of Music.

Throughout the week, the oldest of my three brothers, Adam, wasn’t feeling well. For a while we all thought it was mono, until one day, he spiked an extremely high fever.

My parents left my siblings and me I at the house to rush Adam to Northwestern Hospital in Chicago. Brenden and Ben, my other two brothers, and I were left wondering what was wrong with our college-aged brother and we waited anxiously to hear any updates.

Since my brothers were heavily involved with high school and after school activities, I stayed at a family friend’s house. During my stay, I received a phone call from my mom; she didn’t have much  time or strength to talk. She said shakily, “The doctor told us that Adam either has lymphoma or leukemia…we’re still waiting on a few results. Keep him in your prayers. You guys will be able to come down to the hospital tonight.”

Strong and Unshaken

As a  stoic seventh grader, I felt as though I needed to remain strong and unshaken, especially for my mom. How was I supposed to burden my family even more by showing my confusion and sense of loneliness? I cried for a good bit after the phone call with my mom, an event that she still doesn’t know happened.

My mom was right.Later that night, family friends drove my brothers and me down to the hospital. I didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived to the hospital, yet I kept my poker face strong and remained confident in my actions.

I gave generous hugs to my parents and other family friends and pastors at the hospital. As they hugged me, I witnessed the tears in their eyes. I knew I was about to become heartbroken.

The nurse led my family and I into the room where my brother was staying and I immediately spotted folders that asked questions such as, “Living With Cancer.” “Coping With Cancer,” and “Treatment Plans for Cancer.” My heart began racing. The doctor entered and closed the curtain. He greeted us all with a handshake and then revealed to my brothers and me that Adam had a rare form of leukemia, a blood cancer.

He gave us the hope of treatment and then gave us our privacy and left. I too scurried as fast as I could to privacy. Tears filled my eyes as I bee-lined away from people towards the bathroom. As soon as I entered the private bathroom, I finally was able to release all of my emotions that I had built up. I wept. After a few minutes, I knew I had to go back and greet those who came to show support. So, I put my wall back up and unwillingly gathered with loved ones in the visiting room to attempt to eat pizza. As soon as I finished socializing, I went back and spent some time with Adam, who I hadn’t been able to talk with for quite a few days. I ended the night by giving everyone a hug and hearing the words, “we’re praying for you.”

Cancer Whirlwind

The next few months were a whirlwind of events. Adam lived in the hospital from May to September with the exception of a few weekends when he was able to come home. My parents were making trips to the hospital daily and I tagged along many days as well. It was an exhausting summer of restless nights in the hospital, answering questions of how Adam was doing, and maintaining a constant joyous emotion that I felt obliged to.

After Adam received a few rounds of chemotherapy, he was finally able to receive a stem cell transplant in September that led him into remission. Adam was able to come home and my family and I were finally all reunited under one roof again.

Fortunately, I received a happy ending to my family’s journey with cancer, and I know that not everyone experiences that. Looking back at those months, I learned so much.

Throughout those months, I felt very lonely and not so accepting of people. I didn’t open up to my family nearly enough and when I did it was with bitterness and anger. I remained prideful by building a wall of false happiness, which led to relationships with my family and friends into downhill spiral.

Let the Walls Come Down

I regret this and I wish that I opened up to more people, especially my family. Through my experience, my number one recommendation is to be real with people and let the walls come down, because just as cancer is hard to deal with first hand, it’s also draining to deal with it second-hand, and it’s OK to admit that.