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What is Life?

“It’s Saturday!”, exclaimed my brother.

 

It was six O’clock in the morning, on a cold winter day it was frigid outside. We always watched Hong Kong Phooey at that time. We were trampling down our stairs like a herd of elephants, so we could get to the kitchen. We ransacked those cupboards from chocolate milk, to Lay’s Sour Cream and Onion chips. I was having difficulty looking for the remote which was stored in the kitchen, and my brother assisted me. He grimaced and then we were promptly on our way into the living room. We were cuddled up in his Pokemon blanket, which was extremely comfortable. We were laughing and enjoying each others company. He was cracking jokes. They were corny, but in a five year old's mind they were hilarious. It was completely dark outside and the sun began to rise, and I noticed something peculiar. His lymph nodes were swollen the size of a golf ball. That immediate reaction, I didn’t know whether to cry or scream, but I didn’t freak out. I without any hesitation asked my brother, “Bubba, are you okay?”, and I frantically told him. I was a five year old at this time, and it scared the heebie jeebies out of me and him also. Our emotions were going everywhere from sadness and somehow anger. But, we did what we should’ve done five minutes beforehand. We trampled up our stairs, but this time faster right into my parent’s bedroom. I jumped in my mother’s bed and woke her up harshly, and uttered “Momma, Devon’s hurt come help!”, and I explained what was going on and how grotesque it is, while the adrenaline is pumping through my chest. I could hear my heart beating three beats a second. Thump! Thump! Thump! We both came running down the stairs, because he was on the couch. At this point he was in pain, all of a sudden dire pain. He was screaming and crying, and we began to as well. We were settling down, and we were beyond perplexed at this point.

 

My mother called Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, and they insisted we come in right now, and so we did. We exited our house, and my mother forgot her jacket, because she was in shock and it was in the dead of winter. But, we were instantly on I-75 driving to Beaumont Hospital, and I was doing my best to comfort him, while I was in utter distress myself. I began talking to him, about our favorite Pokemon characters and Dragon Ball Z. That somehow lightened the mood, but not completely. We pulled into the emergency room parking lot, and we’re rushed inside. We we’re met by the triage team, who took his vitals. Then, they rushed him into the treatment room, and  we’re all still on edge with emotions running high as a kite. Not even five minutes had passed, and the Doctor came in. That look on his face when he saw my brothers lymph nodes, was enough to know their was something extremely serious wrong. He straightaway took labs and ordered tests. He had a CBC, Chemistry, Spinal Tap, X-Ray, CT Scan, and a few others. We’ll still trying our best to maintain our emotions and keep calm, because we didn’t want to freak my brother out even more than we already have. The child life specialist came in, and decided to take me upstairs into the playroom, and I was playing with other kids. It was helping me, I was starting to feel better, and my stress and my emotional pain was dissipating little by little. I had a ultimatom for the worker, and I demanded I go to see my brother and she obliged. I was back with my brother in the treatment room, watching Kim Possible on Disney Channel. Then, a few moments later the Doctor came in this time with a Social Worker. My mom noticed this and tears began rolling down her eyes, and then mine and Devon’s did as well. She didn’t know what it was, but she knew it was detrimental, and we we started feeling sorrow. The Doctor interjected and uttered, “Ma’am, your son has leukemia.” These words were heart wrenching. We began crying hysterically again, where are tear ducts began to hurt. But, we didn’t necessarily believe that at this point, and we decided on a second opinion. We left for Cincinnati that night, with emotions we couldn’t control. We had emotions of agony, sorrow, frustration and many in between. We were in the car for our journey.  Jamming out to Queen, not trying to think of what’s happening, but we couldn’t contain ourselves. Those four hours flew by, and we were settling into our new homes, where feelings of anguish danced in our heads. That night had passed, and we stayed up all night playing video games and talking. We called ourselves the “Nintendo Bros”. The morning rolled around that we dreaded most, we were eating our delectable breakfast that consisted of Apple Jacks, and Florida’s Natural Orange, while watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. After our breakfast we all changed out of our pajamas, and left our newly acquired home. We piled into our car, and whisked away off to the renowned Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Our stomachs filled with butterflies, and we’re hoping that this was all a mix up and he was fine. We arrived in Level 3 of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital parking garage. We proceeded in the elevator to A5 the Cancer and Blood Disease Institute floor, and we were greeted with kindness and warm smiles. The floor was filled with color and abstract decor, enough to amuse me for days. Not long had passed and we were in the exam room, the Nurse came in and took the usual labs and vitals. We were anxious and nervous, anxious that everything will be okay, and nervous that it probably wouldn’t. We had a wide array of mixed feelings and that was soothed when we met Dr. Denise Adams. Dr. Adams, was a very warm, compassionate, exuberant person who enjoyed being social and getting to know us on a personal level, rather than a medical level. Dr. Denise Adams is also known as a miracle worker, little did we know at this point she was in a sense. She did the required tests the same ones we had in Michigan, but she added a biopsy of the lymph nodes which would definitely confirm Cancer. She had those tests rushed and they came back faster than usual. Dr. Adams, confirmed what we dreaded most, but she did so in a compassionate merciful way. “Mrs. Curling, your son has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, we need to him admitted to the Inpatient Floor immediately, and if it’s any consolation I’m sorry!” Those words were like a knife to the heart they hurt immensely. We once again broke out hysterically, and our emotions were shanked that moment of dire agony hit us like a speeding bullet train. My mother was in a frenzy, and I was too in a way. My brother remained calm, and assured us everything was going to be okay. I’ll never understand why such a loving God would do this to someone who had faith his whole life, and never lost sight of the important virtues of life. We were admitted to A5 South, and met our “Dream Team”. It consisted of Attendings, Fellows, Residents, Social Workers, and Etc. We came in contact with Wanda Merriweather the Social Worker, she was such a kindhearted warm glowing person you’d want to be their for you, her kindness was as tall as the Eiffel Tower. We met Dr. Deepika, who was the same as anyone else we’ve met, she was a Indian Physician who my brother adored. We met with them and they formulated a plan of action and did so diligently. The best course of action was; around the clock monitoring, chemotherapy, radiation, steroids, blood infusions, antibiotics, and feeding tubes. That first week was horrendous in a sense, we really got to know what other families call “Cancer Life”, and it’s constant struggles associated with it. Every morning started with rounds, and then the Nurse came into to administer the chemo and when you thought you had enough,more chemo arises. Those days were rough, they felt like a nail piercing right through your skin that’s how much it hurt on the inside. He was bleeding from about everywhere, vomiting, in more pain than you could imagine. But, he always kept a smile on his face, he was angelic like. He’d do for others when he barely can do for himself, and that’s what I’ve always admired about him. The ironic thing of it all he always wanted his family around, we meant the world to him, their was never a dull moment between us. We come together as two peas in a pod.

 

Weeks had passed and he was finally able to come home, but the weeks leading up to that time were hell on earth, but we managed to adapt even when it hurt more then words could explain. He still had to be at the hospital multiple times a week and if things worsened he had to come back. We were hoping and praying they didn’t. He was on every medicine in the book from pain, nausea, chemo, muscle relaxants, steroids and antibiotics. He was in Fourth-Grade at the time and adored school. He decided on attending the same school I went to Florence Elementary School, I was in kindergarten at the time. I vividly remember those days we’d get up together, get ready, and eat breakfast. That made him feel good to try and live a normal life. Everyday when lunch came we’d sit together and enjoy ourselves, and he would crack jokes and I’d laugh. We were brothers but we were also best friends, he was my rock. We met Tracy Todd the guidance counselor at our school, she took a special liking to us as we did too her. She was a very kind, compassionate, enthusiastic human being. She was their when kids were bullying him, because he had no hair and wore a mask. It hurt me, but It never hurt him he didn’t let what others said bother him, and that made me admire him more. Mrs. Todd, accompanied us on activities, wherever he went I went that was my philosophy on our brotherhood. She introduced us to the Cincinnati Bengals where we met the Coach but most importantly Frostee Rucker. He became fond of our family, and became a “Friend For Life”. We were invited back on multiple occasions to the games, and after parties in the locker room. He was a celebrity that cared about others rather than his fame and fortune that’s a trait everyone should have. He’d come visit us anytime he could they’d play video games and talk about football and they bonded. They organized a birthday bash at our school for Devon, where the team marched around with us on their shoulders and had a meet and greet, that made his day and mine too. One Sunday evening things took a turn for the worst. Devon was rushed to Cincinnati Children’s for a infection and his immune system was shutting down. He was rushed to the PICU where are “Dream Team” tended to him. He was hooked up to many machines I lost count, and it was killing us on the inside again to see him like this, when he was doing okay not even a day before. I had so much fury running through me I had no idea what to do with it. I braced myself praying everything will be okay and God will heal him of this rancid disease. He was starting to improve and was out of the ICU and in the Cancer Unit. One day later, the Make A Wish Of Kentucky Ohio and Indiana offered him a wish, and that lite him up from ear to ear. His smile was as wide as the Pacific Ocean. He responded I want to take my family to Disney World. He could’ve wished for anything else, and that’s what made him who he was. He was so happy and content and we were too. We left for our trip a day later with joy consuming our hearts. We jetted off or more so drove, because I was afraid of flying, but we enjoyed our drive and time together. It was a fourteen hour drive full of moments that will last a lifetime. We stopped in Georgia for the night, and my brother and I soaked ourselves in the Jacuzzi and we laughed so hard that night I almost wet my pants. The morning after we were on the road for a trip that will make the best of memories. Eight hours later we had arrived in Orlando at our Disney Hotel The Boardwalk Inn to get settled. Once we were unpacked and ready to leave we were at the park enjoying ourselves. Downtown Disney lite up, along with Space Mountain which was my first roller coaster and I was scared at first. But, my brother helped me overcome my fears. That day was filled with excitement and overcome with joy. We settled into our room after a day of fun and watched Aladdin. We went to sleep, and woke up the next day ready for the festivities. We went to Give Kids The World, which is a nonprofit organization in Orlando for kids and their families with terminal diseases. We had ice cream sundaes for breakfast, and relaxed by the pool, before Devon getting a star on the walk of fame. He had more joy that day then anyone else, he got to be normal for a change instead of being crammed up in the hospital room with chemo infusing into his body and staring at a television all day. Having ice cream for breakfast is something you won’t get anywhere else. We relaxed the rest of that day, and prepared for tomorrow's activities. The next day rolled around and we merely thrilled because we were going to universal studios and we got to meet Dr. Seuss characters. My baby sister was taking a picture with them in her stroller and they toppled her over, she was okay it was just a comical moment of the entire trip which will stick with me for life. That trip concluded a day later, and we were heading home after a long vacation, that will last forever. We arrived back home in Florence with a week's worth of fun and many stories to tell. I’ll forever cherish those memories.

 

  Things were starting to improve, or so we believed. But then it all took a turn for the worst again. Devon was vomiting, bleeding, bruising, swelling, extreme pain, and running fevers. We were all in emotional distress once again, it’s felt like the same day he was diagnosed. The ambulance ride to the hospital is one of the most treacherous ones we’ve been on, he was going in and out of consciousness, bleeding in multiple places, and running a fever of 106. We were rushed to the Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute Inpatient floor, and the “Dream Team”, tended to him. They deliberated and decided on a course of action. They decided on a Bone Marrow Transplant and we’ll obliged, which has shown great results in the past. We were thrilled that my brother is going to be healed. He was drained of all his existing bone marrow and put into isolation waiting on his surgery. The room was inclosed and he couldn’t leave, and we all had to wear gowns and masks to come visit him. He enjoyed our company, because family meant the world to him. We breathed a sigh of relief, and just like that a kind hearted latino is going to save my brother from this rancid disease. We we’re all crying tears of joys that this is finally going to be over, and just right there we jinxed ourselves. The day of his surgery rolled around, and he was whisked off into the OR, and after his surgery he woke up with a smile on his face which brought tears to our eyes, and uttered “Mom, I’m healed! God works miracles.”. We had tears of happiness, tears that everything was going to be okay, and God heard our prayers. September twenty-sixth rolled around and it was his birthday. We had a small modest party in our house, with cake and ice cream and gifts. The simple pleasures in life, bring the most joys. His birthday was one we’ll always remember, because that was the day he got his red mini crotch rocket and he felt a great deal of joy cruising down the street, that he was normal and it brought tears to our eyes, we’re a tight knit emotional family. Our whole family shared many memories that day and we reminisced about our lives before cancer struck our family and everything the future entails. We talked about his next birthday and our family vacations too the simple things of what he wants for dinner because he can finally eat regular foods without getting sick. That day ended in laughs and love, he loved cracking those corny jokes and I loved laughing at them. Love was in the air and will always be!

 

It was a regular Saturday morning and we still had our routine similar to the one in Michigan, except it was the one month check up at the oncologist. We arrived in the Level 3 of the parking garage like we always have, and we were met by our “Dream Team” We were  whisked off to the Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute Floor, and it was everything it had always been except it was different. It was different because my brother was cured, it was different because after today we wouldn’t see the inside of the hospital for another year. We were taken back to the treatment room like we’ve always been and the nurse took his vitals and drew labs. But, my mother had an intuition for lack of a better term, just like she had in Michigan. We were frightened and perplexed again. Dr. Adams had a routine down, but it was different that day to a certain extent to freak someone out, it was very peculiar. That moment we had a cringe worthy realization that everything he worked so hard wasn’t getting better it was getting worse, and there was no cure for him. That’s what scared us most call it a sign from God, but everyone knew at this point there's no coming back from this now except for Devon and I. Dr. Adams knocked on the wide wooden door and opened the door but she did it slowly, and that was another red flag. But, we remained positive. She was in the room at this point and flatout uttered “Elizabeth, Devon rejected the transplant, and their is nothing else we can do. He has three months to live, and you need to think about end of life care, I’ll refer you to Palliative Care, because he has three months to live and from the bottom of my heart I’m sorry!”. My mother’s notation that she hoped and prayed wasn’t true was, and that scared us most. We all broke out hysterically into tears, even Dr. Adams too. Those emotions that hit us two years before, came back again and even worse. Everything he had been fighting for is going to be gone in three months, and their was nothing anyone could do about it. We felt a wide array of feelings from agony, sorrow, anger, and  we’re inconsolable. It was extremely heart wrenching, and all we could do about it was cry and pray for a miracle that likely won’t happen, we were pist at God and what he had done to our family, we began losing faith. That moment of anguish hit us again, he had a seventy/thirty percent survival rate and he fell into the thirty percent, we were at our breaking points just sitting in the treatment room being comforted by Dr. Adams. Devon, somehow seemed okay that everything was going to be fine and he was going to a better place and that was heaven.

 

He uttered, “Mom, Corey, I’m going to be with God. It’s all going to be okay, because I’ll be looking down on y’all and forever in your hearts and never lose faith.”

 

Those words were enough to feel a heaviness in your heart, and we felt God’s presence and it somehow melted our hearts amidst the trauma in our lives at that moment. Things happen for a certain reason, even if they entail an insurmountable amount of anguish.

 

We had three months to do everything he wanted to do. We went to amusement parks, movies, zoo, zipline and Etc. Despite our best efforts we couldn’t hide our emotions, we were feeling hurt beyond explanation. Thanksgiving rolled around and we had a big dinner, from Turkey, ham because Devon and I didn’t like turkey too green beans and mashed potatoes. Devon and I stayed up all night talking, playing pokemon, and watching television. He knew what was happening and he took it all in and assured us everything was going to be alright. I truly believe he was an angel sent by God. We had our Christmas decorations up that night. We had a big ‘ole twelve foot tree decorated with popcorn strands, ornaments, lights, garland, and mementos we’ve made over the years. Devon of course had his Pikachu pokemon stalking up. We knew this was his last Christmas and we were going to make it the best one yet. Christmas peeked around the corner, and before we knew it Christmas Eve had arrived. We had the inaugural chocolate chip cookies with little marshmallows inside of them, and we went to bed that night where images of sugar plums danced in our heads, more like the new Lego game we had wanted. We woke up early that morning two o’clock to be exact. We rushed into my mother's room jumping on her bed full of empty tissue boxes and a bible. We rushed into the living room and it was like we hit the jackpot. The tree was stocked with presents, the Pokemon wrapping paper lite up the room, along with our smiles. We ransacked those presents like we had the cupboards that one saturday morning that changed our lives. We didn’t think about the sorrow and anger, we thought about the love we had for one another. We thought about our Christmas morning breakfast, when my mother made Pokemon and Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes, we thought about our newly acquired game system. Cancer may have won, but at this point we prevailed! We shared those memories that have lasted a lifetime, and we played video games all day and we even had our Mom playing with us. That night my brother went into a coma and we were heartbroken, but we remembered the wise words he had shared with us. “Everything will be okay, I’ll always be in your hearts.”. He ran fevers of 110, but we never left his side. We were going to be there until the very end. He was in a coma for six days until he passed on New Year's Eve at 5:30 PM. He died surrounded by the ones he loved the most, he died physically but on the inside we died too. We tried our best at remembering what he had said, but we couldn’t it hurt immensely. Hysterical tears, and crying ourselves to sleep filled our nights. He will always be my best friend no matter our distance and knowing he is with me spiritually makes me smile. A few days had passed and it was time for his funeral and we weren’t ready, we were mourning the lost and we didn’t want to be bombarded but we carried on and preserved through it and we’re glad we did. I vividly remember looking into his baby blue casket, and seeing him pale and unable to move I began to cry harder. But I know he is in a better place with our savior not feeling any pain. ‘Swimming In Pools Of Pudding”, as he once put it. Those many memories I shared with my brother won’t ever be shared with anyone else and even if they did it wouldn’t be the same. From jumping bed to bed wrestling, cartoon marathons, jamming out to queen, video games, and Etc. I’ll never hear him utter the words “Come to Big Brotha!” again, but I have satisfaction in knowing he is God’s kingdom. You never fully get over losing a loved one, but it gets easier day by day.

 

Every year we make the trip to where he is buried, and visit him at his grave and place flowers moments I’ll never get anywhere else. He was my best friend, but he was also my miracle sent from heaven. Rest in Peace Devon, you're gone but never forgotten! 




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