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It was a day of doctor appointments for Tim. While just another ordinary day at school, anxiety lurked in the back of my mind. This was not just another day in February. Something was wrong with Tim, and I wasn’t looking forward to the news that we would get later. A horrible feeling gnawed at my stomach. I thought back to the day before, when I was oblivious to any worries.
“It’s not looking good,” my dad said vaguely. “They are running some more tests tomorrow morning.”
My breath caught . Whipping my head around to look at my brother, I saw nothing seemingly unusual. He was hunched over, vigorously typing on the computer. Does he know? Does he have the same feeling as me, that something unimaginable may happen? He just typed. His expression was unreadable.
Pushing the memories of the prior day aside, I snapped back to reality when the garage door opened. Knowing that I would soon get the news I’d been dreading would soon be told I tried to calm my increasingly violent heartbeat. Tim and my parents got out of the car. My mom looked older. Her face was a colorless gray, and her eyes avoided mine as she passed. Running her fingers through her hair, she unsuccessfully tried to smile.
“Laura, how was school?” she asked. Staring at her and waiting expectantly was my only response.
“Not in front of Tim,” Dad said as he approached. My nod was almost imperceptible because Tim had just appeared.
His hair was astray. I imagined him running his hands through his hair while trying to understand what had happened. Tim’s lower lip hung open, as if there were no possible reason in the world to close it. No words could change the way he was feeling.
My sister, Sarah, came into view. “Tim,” she said, spreading her arms out for a hug. That’s Sarah, using her helpful nature to reach out to Tim in a time of clear distress.
We sat down for dinner and talked about the weather and school. Someone filled the silence, but there was a distance between Tim and the world.
Dinner ended, so I retreated upstairs to the office. Mom came into the room and called Sarah over. She proceeded to tell us the worst news I have heard in my entire life. The feelings invoked can never be explained or put into words.
“Tim has testicular cancer. He starts three days of chemotherapy this weekend,” Mom said shortly. It was straight to the point -- no fluff beforehand .
It shouldn’t have felt this way. The aching, ripping, smoldering of my soul. My lungs shouldn’t have tightened and my hands should not have shaken. The world shouldn’t have seemed so unbearable. The pain was completely blinding. Not the pain of cutting words, disappointment, or even surgery, but the excruciating sting of the unknown.
This wound was familiar, but it still hurt the same. I think back to a time when it was almost as intolerable . That time, it was Mom who told us that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and would be undergoing chemotherapy. “Life will be changing around here,” she mustered.
“Does that mean you will lose your hair, Mom?” I had asked, struggling to hold back tears.
“Yes,” was all she could say. At that point, I crawled toward her and sat by her feet. Sarah and Tim followed my lead until we all released a flood of salty tears. We held each other, trying to make the pain go away. Of course there was fear, but never for a second did I doubt Mom’s ability to win. She was extremely strong, and I admire d her for it. She fought through the nausea, lost her hair, and was still able to smile and appreciate life. Mom beat cancer, and though there was a gaping hole in our hearts, we had begun to heal.
Until now , that is. All of those horrible feelings came crashing through the protective wall around my heart as if it were made of sand. The questions came first. Again? What did we do to deserve this? Why Tim? He is fifteen; he shouldn’t have to face this kind of fear.
But most of all, I asked why it hadn’t been me. I had faced back surgery, overcame it, and came out stronger than ever. Why couldn’t it have been me to face this kind of pain and leave Tim unscathed, unscarred.
And so I cried. For Tim, who didn’t know what was coming. He would have surgeries, lose his hair, and wonder if he could survive. For Dad, because he would have to watch his son struggle. Mom, who knew chemo well, at least partially understood what Tim was up against, but every case is different when it is your flesh and blood. Sarah, in her eleven years, had to watch two family members get knocked down by cancer. She had to face the harsh realities of the world too soon. I cried for the other cancer patients of the world and for their families, knowing that they were in the middle of a similar experience.
I had heard about cancer my entire life. I thought I understood it until I witnessed it firsthand. To watch Tim go through the agonizing chemo treatments hurt me. I never wanted to see Tim stuck in a hospital bed, unable to walk on his own. Loving my brother was so painful, but watching him fight made me love him even more. And so it hurt more.
Something happens when a family member has cancer. You have to band together to survive. Neighbors and friends came to the rescue, showering Tim in gifts, and making sure that Sarah and I were driven to our activities and appointments. In the hard times, we stick together, supporting each other, watching each others’ backs.
We had a party for Tim when he came home from his third day of chemo. It was his sixteenth birthday, so we lit candles, sang “Happy Birthday”, and a friend came over to bring him hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards contributed by the neighbors. Tim smiled some, but he didn’t touch his cake. His diagnosis and treatment led to some very dark days along the way.
The snow gradually melted and the grass sprung up from the ground during Tim’s final chemo treatment. Everything was up in the air. Would he have more chemo treatments? Was the cancer malignant? Did the cancer affect Tim’s lungs? Thankfully, Tim had started to become his old self again -- cracking jokes about being bald, and talking about the teachers that had stopped him in the hallway for wearing a hat.
After four surgeries, many chemo weekends, and the ultimate test of will, Tim got the message. Cancer free. Free of that disease which had caused him to miss school, shed his hair, and lose his innocence.
Because of this experience, I learned to look at life differently. When my mom had cancer, it changed me. That time, though, I was young and innocent. When Tim struggled, it struck a tender nerve. My sixteen year old brother was dealing with things that no person ever should.
Tim grew stronger every day. His hair grew back, along with a more positive attitude. When he was diagnosed, I thought that he might not be able to handle the pain and fear of cancer. Now that he has gotten through this, he can do anything. Tim faced what may be the hardest challenge of his life at only sixteen. When a bump in the road comes up for him, he remembers that there is a lot worse in the world then trivial problems that some people think are obstacles.
After seeing Tim come out a stronger person, I sometimes take pity on the people who had a perfect childhood and never endured any problems in their life. When something tough does come up, they might not have any way to deal with it. I hope that they will find the strength within themselves to persevere.
That’s what it really is -- a test of will. The chemo will kill the cancer, but nothing can prepare a person for the mental battles that are faced. No one can do it alone. It took a team of support, kindness, motivation, and understanding to get Tim through it.
It still hurts me to see him in a swimsuit with his scars exposed. The jagged seven inch slice down his stomach will be a constant reminder of the ravages of cancer. I can’t imagine what it’s like to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and see that angry scar. He will forever be reminded of the possibility that the cancer may come back.
That goes for me, too. I will always worry about that small chance of cancer returning. I try not to focus on the negative, though. Thinking about the achievements he has made, how can anyone not be happy? So that is what I think about – his accomplishments, not the fear of the future.
Tim wants to become a pediatric oncologist -- a doctor that works to help kids with cancer. Before this, he probably wouldn’t have considered this for a job. I realize that there is a point to everything. Maybe Tim will become that person who cures cancer. Surely he will change lives. I know this because he has already changed mine.