For the longest time, I sat on the edge of my bed, hoping that one day I would have the gift of being an older sister to a darling little boy. I wished for him every time I saw a shooting star or when the clock struck 11:11 - I hoped for Max.
I vividly recall the first time I held Max, he became a light in my world. I would do anything to revisit those initial moments when all I could think about were the countless little moments of joy we would share together, memories etched in my heart forever. Those early years of his life were filled with pure, unadulterated happiness. However, he was growing older with each passing year, and he was no longer the little boy I once held. Every December 17th, we celebrated his life and all the good times. Little did I know, we would also have to celebrate his life on another date.
It was February 24th, a day that no one anticipated. Max was gravely ill. I had been living in blissful ignorance, unknowing that my beloved little brother, my baby brother, was walking on the thin line between life and death, but not by choice. An illness that had taken the lives of countless others was now entering our home. I vividly remember the moment I learned of his condition. My sister and I, hand in hand, thought that our visit to that place would be our first and last, but it marked the beginning of millions of visits. I remember when he came from his room, but I couldn't recognize him. He was connected to an IV pole with a faded smile. My dad gently sat me down on the couch, and my heart sank as I heard a string of words that made no sense to me: "Your brother has been diagnosed with leukemia, a type of cancer." My body stiffened, and fear washed over me like a wave drowning me and pulling me back into the depths with no air left.
My body remained in a state of shock for a long time. The first year was difficult. I remember the multiple firsts we encountered: the first time I saw him cry in desperation, the first time I told my friends about his condition, the first time I watched a lock of his hair fall to the floor, and the first time I visited him in the hospital. It felt like my parents and my brother occupied a different world from mine; we coexisted in the same home but lived separate lives. Every morning, I was driven to school while they embarked on the journey to the hospital. Our days were filled with opposite activities. I would lose myself in books at school while he experienced chemotherapy transfusions. I had to continue living like an average child while a piece of my heart was battling the most challenging battle of his life.
The light that once illuminated my family had dimmed due to this ruthless illness. I always felt as though I were trapped in slow motion while the world around me spun at an unthinkable speed. I could not fathom that my three-year-old brother had cancer; my heart had shattered into a million pieces. I had to cherish every moment with him - the brief moments of laughter, our Roblox adventures, trips to Target to buy his favorite toys, movie nights, and snuggles until bedtime. I learned to appreciate the things I had once taken for granted. I decided to enjoy every moment with him because the future wasn't certain.
I often thought about my future self's regrets and whether I would regret not spending more time with him. I wondered if each day might be his last; these questions consumed my thoughts for a long time. I dreaded the idea of losing my best friend, the bundle of joy I had hoped for. I didn't want to lose my best friend, the ball of joy I had been waiting for. My wish whenever I tossed a coin and the fact that he could perish at any moment made me feel things I can't put into words. The stress my family endured is something I would not wish on anyone. I had to learn to cope with so many changes and process them on my own. But what hurt the most was that I could do nothing but watch the person I loved most suffer. Not a day passed when I didn't question why it couldn't have been me or why he was chosen to endure this process. I had to deal with grief, not the grief of death but the grief of my old life when everything was different - the grief of the old him. I had to accept that life would never be the same. My life was no longer "ordinary"; I had to learn that normal is subjective, and everyone has their own definition of it. I found myself having to understand and accept numerous changes.
There were countless moments of despair and hardship, a sense of instability, and a feeling of losing control - like driving at 100 mph on a highway with no hands on the wheel. I was allowing life to slip by, moving forward, allowing days to blur together while I dealt with it all. Until one day, it was over.
On June 21st, 2023, I felt a different kind of wave. It was as if the tide of pain had simmered, and I had finally broken the surface, taking a breath of fresh air. An overwhelming sense of joy washed over me; tears flowed, tears of happiness. I watched as my little brother rang that bell, whose soundwaves spanned far and wide, announcing that he had beaten the greatest battle.
These three years of my life were both a blessing and a curse. I witnessed my brother losing his smile, his hair, a portion of his childhood, and his friends, all at the age of four. He is the strongest person I know. Through this journey, my brother transformed into my biggest inspiration and my best friend. I realized that siblings are the only people in our lives who are there for us through every moment, and cancer made me aware of this. Cancer takes from us in more ways than one, but when it's finally over, when the tide subsides, and you break through to the surface - it's one of the most incredible feelings. You realize that it teaches you lessons that life can't. Without this experience, our perspective on life, our genuine appreciation for our time on this planet, and our capacity to love others would not be the same. Every day, I use his legacy to help other children encountering similar challenges because no child should have to endure this illness, and brightening their incredibly difficult lives is the least we can do. So, I thank cancer for teaching me that tomorrow is never guaranteed and that life has an immense purpose.
Therefore, every June 21st and December 17th, we celebrate the life of my brother Max, the little boy I had wished for for so long.
Thank you to LLS for giving me the opportunity and platform to help children like my younger brother Max through the Student Visionaries of The Year fundraising campaign! I hope to help and support other families like mine!