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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It’s a Love-Hate Relationship Between Siblings

Does anyone remember that 2003 movie, Cheaper by the Dozen?  It’s the one starring Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt and a teenage Hilary Duff. In the movie, Steve and Bonnie have 12 kids and they move from the country to suburbia for Steve’s dream job. The entire family has trouble with relocating and the film ends with a huge reunion after one of the children, Mark, runs away.

As my brother picked me up from work the other day, I was reminded of Cheaper by the Dozen. Not because I have 11 siblings—I can’t even imagine what that would be like—but because of the relationships the siblings maintained with each other. There were rivalries, alliances, fights and making up. Underneath it all, there was loyalty and love.

I’ve realized that siblings have a unique relationship. Sometimes the relationship can be extremely close. Other times it can be distant or volatile. Almost always, though, the relationship changes over time and with maturity. Before I entered kindergarten, my brother and I were very close. My mom tells me that when I started going to school, my brother Joey, would constantly ask, “Where’s Ally? When’s Ally coming home?”

If I was writing this article five years ago I would have laughed. That friendship my brother and I shared disappeared in late elementary school/early middle school. Maybe this is because at that age we’d been developing our own ideas and figuring out our identities. Younger children wouldn’t have yet experienced the divide caused by “eww boys/girls have cooties.” Also, at that time, we’d recently moved. We’d previously lived in a housing complex where we’d had mutual friends with similar interests. As we discovered what new activities we enjoyed we began to drift apart.

Then add in teenage hormones, the belief that we were invincible, independent, and infinitely knowledgeable and there was no way my brother and I would ever get along. We became two entirely different people. Joey was, and still is, charismatic, athletic and social. I was, and still am, introverted, quiet and studious.

During middle school and high school, our rivalry grew out of control. Every day as we got off the bus, Joey would rush to the back door before I did. He would then slam the door shut and lock it, prohibiting me from getting inside. He’d laugh; I’d yell. Our relationship was not a happy one.

Now that I’m older, I think that a reason we didn’t get along is because our personalities were so different. We saw in each other qualities we wanted to possess ourselves. He wanted to perform better in school while I wanted to meet new people with ease. I think that this situation can be attributed to almost any sibling relationship. Each person has a distinct personality and due to insecurities, hormones and any other pressure, whether it’s coming from friends or family, relationships become strained. It’s almost like a battle of who has the dominant personality.

This is not to say all siblings will act like opponents circling one another in a boxing ring. I have two friends who are twin sisters. They’ve always been close and even though they’ve had their differences, they’re still close today. They have a mutual friend group and similar hobbies.

As my brother and I are nearing adulthood, we’ve re-forged our friendship. Nowadays, we’ll have long conversations about our weekend plans, our parents and what we want in our futures. With maturity, we’ve grown comfortable with who we are, our interests and our individual idiosyncrasies. We’ve acknowledged our differences and know that we want to get along so that we can always be in each other’s life. For anyone, maturity changes you. You’re more knowledgeable and not as naïve. You also begin to realize what is important and what you want as a priority in your life.

Obviously, not all sibling relationships are like the one I have with my brother. Joey and I are only a year apart and so we both had to face similar challenges around the same time. Many siblings have a larger age gap. Some have step-siblings or half-siblings they may not see often due to a multitude of reasons.

While every family is different, siblings may still face similar challenges. Personalities may compete, differences in opinions on a subject may cause a heated debate. There are a number of reasons why siblings may not get along. With maturity and time, however, the relationship between siblings will change. Whether this is to bring siblings closer together or have them drift farther apart is individual. In my case, I’m pleased that my brother and I get along. He’s another person in my life I know I can count on and he knows I’ll be there for him as well.