We know there are phrases that will undoubtedly change our lives. “I love you’s” and “ I do’s” both bringing cheerful memories or associations along with them. However, there are other words we hope we never have to hear. “Your little sister has cancer” is definitely on the list. I was fourteen when my younger sister Grace was diagnosed with precursor t-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
I had been out of the country with my mom for a couple of weeks, and when I returned home my dad urgently requested that I come over the next day. I had no idea what was going on, but being fourteen, I automatically assumed I was in trouble for something. The whole drive over I prepared myself for a lecture that never came, but instead heard my Dad say the words “Grace has cancer”. Time seemed to stop at that moment. Everything felt heavy, the air, my limbs. I didn’t know what to say. Should I ask questions? What questions am I suppose to ask? How can you subtly ask if your three-year old sister is going to die? My dad kept talking about how the cancer was aggressive. At fourteen I wasn’t aware that there were “nonaggressive” forms of cancer. I focused on breathing. He asked me if I wanted to go play with Grace upstairs. I nodded. I went upstairs to play with my sister, unsure if I should be acting normal. At three years old one of her favorite games was dress up. I found her in her bedroom among assorted plastic jewels, shiny bows and itchy dresses. She was beaming when I walked in, proud of her collection. She handed me a purple hairbrush and asked me to do her hair. I slowly combed her soft brown curls while she looked through the assortment of bows and barrettes. After a few moments of silence, she said, “Sissy, it’s okay if some of my hair falls out; it’s because of the medicine.” I was stunned by her candid tone. I focused on brushing her hair to keep from crying. But then my sister turned around and looked at me and said: “It’s going to be okay because I’m being very brave.”
Today my sister is nine years old, finished with treatment, and less than a year away from being cleared. She has been busy helping organize toy drives and working with the hospital’s dog-therapy program to help provide some joy and comfort to the kids still going through treatment. In her two years of treatment, she fought like hell to keep her spunk and sunshine demeanor, some days getting the best of her. Yet, on others, like the day at the park when two older boys made fun of her not having hair, she had the courage to go up to them and say, “Well, I have cancer and I’m cute.” I’m so incredibly proud of her. I know some people are proud because she beat it. As happy as I am about that, it feels wrong to say because along the way I met so many other children who weren’t so lucky, and it’s not because they didn’t fight hard enough. I’m proud of my sister for keeping her spirit and positivity and having the insight to use them to give back even at such a young age. I’ve tried to learn from her and have a more positive outlook. That’s why even though “Grace has cancer” did change my life, I’m choosing to focus on “It’s going to be okay because I’m being very brave”.