Being Brave

   We know there are phrases that will undoubtedly change our lives. I love you’sand I do’sboth bringing cheerful memories or associations along with them. However, there are other words we hope we never have to hear. Your little sister has canceris 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 didnt 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 wasnt aware that there were nonaggressiveforms 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, its okay if some of my hair falls out; its 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: Its going to be okay, because Im 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 hospitals 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, though, got 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 Im cute. 

   Im 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 werent so lucky, and its not because they didnt fight hard enough. Im 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. Ive tried to learn from her and have a more positive outlook. Thats why even though Grace has cancerdid change my life, Im choosing to focus on Its going to be okay because Im being very brave.

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Movie Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

*Warning: Spoilers!

The first time I had heard of this movie was when I got an email inviting me to a screening. I had never seen a preview for it, but a free movie is a free movie, so I signed up for passes. I was expecting it to be something like The Fault in Our Stars and so did my not-so-excited boyfriend who thought I was dragging him to a chick flick. The screening itself was much smaller than the others I’d been to, so even though he was late and we didn’t get to the theater until after 6:30 p.m., there were plenty of good seats left. After a few warnings about not using our cell phones, the couple in front of us pulled out a couple of burritos and we settled in to watch the movie.

Like so many teen movies, the story opens like with an awkward high school student, Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) who doesn’t really fit in well. He floats from clique to clique and has only one friend, Earl (RJ Cyler), who he calls his “coworker.” The way they describe high school cliques is pretty cliche, but maybe I think that about most teen movies. What was interesting and different about this one, was that Greg was an outcast because he was afraid to become close to people, not because the kids in his high school picked on him. When an acquaintance of his, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), is diagnosed with cancer, he is forced by his mother to hang out with her. I went in thinking there would be some grand romance, like most YA story lines have, but I was surprised that Greg and Rachel don’t fall in love. After the initial surprise, I think it made the ending of the movie even stronger.

I had few complaints about this movie, one of them being the narration. Sometimes narration works really well in movies, but it was unnecessary here. The movie started off with Greg writing his college essay, so the narration was probably to remind you that he was telling the “audience” the story of how his senior year of high school destroyed his life, but I didn’t need the reminders that it wasn’t a typical cancer movie and they weren’t going to fall in love. Nor did I need him to keep telling us that Rachel didn’t die. Another thing I thought was strange was the lack of knowledge of Rachel’s life before Greg. There was that one awkward scene with her friends, but other than that, Rachel didn’t seem to have friends anymore. I know the movie was about the relationship between her and Greg, but I always think that there needs to be some context of how characters’ lives used to be.

Despite those few things, I think the movie was beautifully done. Maybe I’m just more sentimental than most when it comes to books and movie, but I really cared about Rachel and Greg. I almost cried at the end of the movie when Greg realized he was losing everything. His last two scenes with Rachel were the most heartbreaking, even though I suspected how it would end. The movie is about so much more than Rachel’s cancer, and that’s what I loved most about it. There was a lot going on, but I think the screenwriter (and author of the book), Jesse Andrews, and the director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, did an amazing job weaving all the aspects of the story together. That’s what sets it apart from other movies like it.