When I was in fourth grade in 2015, my older brother Nate (a freshman in high school at the time) was rushed by ambulance to the U of M Masonic Children’s Hospital. His spleen was holding 10 times the normal amount of red blood cells. This led to the discovery of his cancer. He was later diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). He missed out on the first month of high school and hockey season, but he was able to take medicines at home so that he could eventually attend the rest of the school year.
Two years go by, and he’s now on the last medicine possible to try because, after a decent amount of time of all the past medicines working, they eventually stopped doing their jobs. His cancer has now come back stronger than ever, and his only option was a bone marrow transplant. When I found out this news, I was in tears. I lived in fear he would die. Siblings are typically the best match, so I and my sister were tested to see if we have the same or similar blood type. I wasn’t even a slight match, but my sister was the perfect match! This was the best news! However, I always felt guilty for not being able to help my brother because I so badly wanted to. I always wished to take away his pain on hard days. The hardest part of not being a match was that people would always ask, “Are you the sister that’s donating?” I would respond, “No, I wasn’t a match, my older sister is the perfect match.” Then the rest of the time I’d be ignored by them. This is honestly what fed my guilt. I can’t even count on both hands the number of times this happened. I mean it happened with news reporters right before my brother had interviews on television, before his last hockey game, before his transplant.
Fast forward to January 2018, my brother was admitted to the hospital to start chemotherapy and radiation. My mom took a leave of absence from work and would stay with my brother during the week, and then my dad stayed with him on the weekends. They never let him be in the hospital alone. They were always there for him through it all, which has always made me happy because he needed them more than anything through this. The hard part was hearing them tell me about the pain he was in. I was home alone most of the time because I had school and hockey practice and kept things going around the house like dinner for me and my dad. I learned to do laundry, shovel the driveway, etc. At the time, my dad also had a broken and infected foot, so I had to help him with a lot of stuff too. I occasionally would visit my brother, but I always had hockey on the weekends when they’d go down to visit. And when my mom was home on the weekends, I mostly wanted to take advantage of that and spend time with her because she has always been my best friend.
My friends at school didn’t understand what was going on. I would often walk into school while wiping my tears and then just hold it in for the entire school day. I was embarrassed to reach out for support or help and didn’t want to add anything to my parents’ plate. My brother and parents were definitely going through the hardest battles, but I had a different battle of my own. I felt very alone and cried myself to sleep most nights.
Then fast forward to February, my brother received his transplant from my sister, and everything went great! Many weeks went by, and he finally got to move home! This was the best thing. He was healthy, and cancer-free, and our family got to be together again. We weren’t allowed to have any visitors at our house because my brother’s immune system was basically brand new, and his getting sick was the last thing he needed. I was fine with this because being with my family was all I wanted anyway.
Five years later, I still felt like I wanted to do something to help since I never felt like I directly helped my brother, so I decided to run for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) Student Visionaries of the Year. My team raised $24,000, which I was super proud of! Getting my community and school involved and informed about such a great organization was something that made me kind of heal in a way. I felt like I was finally doing my part. The best part of the campaign wasn’t the money I raised; it was the lives that the money raised impacted! And that’s my story.