Growing Up With A Terminally Ill Sibling

Growing Up With A Terminally Ill Sibling

It's hard to claim that nothing is wrong, when really nothing is right.
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I come from a family of two loving parents, an older sister, and an older brother. My sister and I are about four years apart, while my brother and I are only 15 months apart. My brother and I have always had a special bond due to being close in age. We played together, laughed together, and even got into trouble together. We spent a lot of time together, but that ended up changing.

I was 4 years old when I began to see the panic, sadness, and frustration in my parents' eyes. I began to spend less time with my brother. I never questioned why, but my parents always told me that he just "wasn't feeling well." He began his year of kindergarten only to be withdrawn from school just a few weeks later. He was spending a lot of his time in this huge place that was once so unfamiliar to me. He began to look different over time, losing weight and eventually losing all of his hair. The children in the huge building looked similar to him in that respect, but being just five years old I didn't know what caused this similarity.

It wasn't until we celebrated what was going to be our "last" holiday together as a family that I realized what was wrong. My best friend, my partner in crime, and my brother was hospitalized for his illness. My parents seemed to be so upset about him being sick, but then I discovered it wasn't just a cold or the flu. My brother was diagnosed with Stage 4 Rhabdomyosarcoma and had only a few weeks to live. My parents never told me the harsh reality of it all and how my brother had only a short time left, but as I grew older my parents began to explain it more.

I may have never known what exactly what was wrong, but I did know just how much it affected me. When you have a sibling with a terminal illness, not only do you see them less but you also spend less time with your parents. Both of my parents spent endless hours at the hospital with my brother, just being there to comfort him when he was sad or in pain, or to even bring him on "top-secret" (the nurses knew all about it) midnight runs to the vending machine while pushing him on his IV pole. My parents tried to make the most of the time they had left with my brother, but what they didn't realize was just how much it affected my sister and I.

My sister would try to go home from school every single day. She cried and feared being away from my brother and having him pass away. She missed her parents, and she missed her brother. She understood the situation more than I did. She tried to help care for me in the way an eight- year-old could -- comfort me and just keep me occupied. I only truly understood that my parents weren't around as much and I didn't have my brother around. I may have felt "slighted" by not being able to spend time with my parents, but once I understood the situation when I was older I no longer felt that way.

It's hard having a sibling with a terminal illness, but I could never imagine the sadness that my parents and my brother went through each day. I saw my parents struggle to smile and not cry in front of my brother. I saw them come home from work only to quickly get ready and make my brother's favorite meal (rice meatballs) to bring to him in the hospital. I saw them crying when they thought I wasn't watching. I saw them comfort my sister and I saw them comfort my brother, all while maintaining their jobs and taking care of my sister and I. Never did they break down and stop being loving parents to us all. They stood strong, not only for themselves, but for my siblings and I.

I value my brother's and my parents' strength during that time. My brother was such a trooper when it came to surgeries, chemotherapy, and even a single needle (I cry like a baby if someone comes near me with a needle). He fought through it all with such a strong and bright attitude. My parents tried to make our life as normal as could be, but what is normal about having a child with a terminal illness? Absolutely nothing. It's hard to try to raise two children while the other is looking death directly in the eyes. It's hard to claim that nothing is wrong, when really nothing is right.

I admire the strength in not only my parents and brother, but also all families going through the same situation. Cancer sucks and I pray that one day there will be a cure for it. No one deserves to have to lose a loved one, especially a child. It's still hard for my family to talk about what we went through during the time my brother was sick, but I do have to say one thing -- it made us the strong and close family we are today. My parents and my brother both stayed strong, but it took a lot for my brother to keep smiling and pushing on when he wasn't expected to. Today, my brother is more than just my brother: he's my hero.

Cover Image Credit: Sydney Weit

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To The Girl Struggling With Her Body Image

It's not about the size of your jeans, but the size of your heart, soul, and spirit.

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To the girl struggling with her body image,

You are more than the number on the scale. You are more than the number on your jeans and dresses. You are way more than the number of pounds you've gained or lost in whatever amount of time.

Weight is defined as the quantity of matter contained by a body or object. Weight does not define your self-worth, ambition or potential.

So many girls strive for validation through the various numbers associated with body image and it's really so sad seeing such beautiful, incredible women become discouraged over a few numbers that don't measure anything of true significance.

Yes, it is important to live a healthy lifestyle. Yes, it is important to take care of yourself. However, taking care of yourself includes your mental health as well. Neglecting either your mental or physical health will inflict problems on the other. It's very easy to get caught up in the idea that you're too heavy or too thin, which results in you possibly mistreating your body in some way.

Your body is your special, beautiful temple. It harbors all of your thoughts, feelings, characteristics, and ideas. Without it, you wouldn't be you. If you so wish to change it in a healthy way, then, by all means, go ahead. With that being said, don't make changes to impress or please someone else. You are the only person who is in charge of your body. No one else has the right to tell you whether or not your body is good enough. If you don't satisfy their standards, then you don't need that sort of negative influence in your life. That sort of manipulation and control is extremely unhealthy in its own regard.

Do not hold back on things you love or want to do because of how you interpret your body. You are enough. You are more than enough. You are more than your exterior. You are your inner being, your spirit. A smile and confidence are the most beautiful things you can wear.

It's not about the size of your jeans. It's about the size of your mind and heart. Embrace your body, observe and adore every curve, bone and stretch mark. Wear what makes you feel happy and comfortable in your own skin. Do your hair and makeup (or don't do either) to your heart's desire. Wear the crop top you've been eyeing up in that store window. Want a bikini body? Put a bikini on your body, simple.

So, as hard as it may seem sometimes, understand that the number on the scale doesn't measure the amount or significance of your contributions to this world. Just because that dress doesn't fit you like you had hoped doesn't mean that you're any less of a person.

Love your body, and your body will love you right back.

Cover Image Credit: Lauren Margliotti

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The Things Nobody Told Me About Depression, But I Really Wish Somebody Would Have

I was diagnosed with depression six months ago. These are some of the things that I wish I had known sooner.

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There are a ton of things about having depression that no one will tell you. For example, something that no one ever told me about depression is that I have it.

I was diagnosed with depression in December of 2018 - just six months ago. But my therapist tells me that, based on what I've said about my mental state, I've likely had depression since elementary school, if not earlier.

The fact that I've had depression for so long and not know about it only goes to show how easy it is for one to live with mental health issues and never know it.

The fact that I apparently developed depression at such an early age only goes to show that mental health issues do not exclusively affect people only after they have lived and experienced all that life can throw at them.

The fact that I have had a pretty good life - a loving family, success in academics, never experiencing severe poverty - only goes to show that mental health issues are not always caused by shitty life experiences and traumas.

These are all things that no one ever told me about depression, and things that I never knew until I got to college and took a psychology class focused on mental health issues.

I did not know that depression can hide for years without you ever knowing about it.

I did not know that depression can manifest even in young children.

I did not know that depression can affect even those living happy lives.

These are things no one tells you about depression.

These are things that I had to learn by myself, and things that I am still learning how to compromise with the reality of my own life experience.

It's no one person's fault that I didn't know these things, it was the fault of a societal system that didn't know it needed to be concerned with such things. The early 2000s, when my young brain was developing and learning how to cope with the world, were not exactly focused on mental health in children. By the time people realized that children were suffering from depression and anxiety at earlier and earlier ages, I had already been living with my own issues for years, and I thought that my experiences and interpretations of the world around me was normal - that this was how everybody felt, that this was all normal. I didn't think that the symptoms that our counselors and teachers warned about at the beginning of each school year applied to me.

Nobody told me that depression isn't always sadness and crying.

Nobody told me that sometimes depression is a creeping grey numbness that clouds your brain. That sometimes it is a blurring and a muting of your emotions until you feel nothing at all. That such nothingness is worse than any level of sadness you would ever feel.

Nobody told me that depression isn't constant.

Nobody told me that I would have good days amid the bad ones. That every now and then, a day in a week or a day in a month or a day in a blue moon, I would have all of my emotions sharp and bright and my smiles would be as soft as they were genuine and I would relish the taste of the air around me. That these good days don't invalidate the bad days and mean that I don't have depression after all.

Nobody told me that once I was diagnosed with depression it would simultaneously feel like a weight had been lifted and like a punch to the gut all at once.

Nobody told me the relief that I would feel at the explanation and the knowledge that I might not always have to live like this. That I would also feel my understanding of my life flipped upside down, because if the way I have been experiencing the world is because of a disease, then what does that mean for the validity of my life and who I am?

Nobody told me that there would be a part of me that feared to get better, because who would I be without depression? Without this parasite that has somehow been such a constant throughout my life?

Nobody told me that I would begin to question which parts of my personality are "real" and which parts of me are the depression?

And if those two things can even be separate? And if so, will I ever be able to say I am better, if these parts of me developed through depression are still a part of me once I am "recovered"?

Nobody told me how scary that thought would be.

But what people have told me is that recovery is possible. They have told me that life gets better. That those good days that I used to find - unexpected yet welcome - could become my normal day. That I can be my own person, separate from my depression, and I can grow stronger, and happier, and more vibrant and more driven and MORE.

These are the things that people have told me, and these are the things that I remind myself of.

Nobody told me how lonely depression can be, but I hope that this article might make you feel a little less alone, and a little more prepared, and a little more understood.

I am not an expert. I still do not know everything, and my experience is my own, and in no way represents a majority or speaks on behalf of everyone out there suffering from depression. But I know now that I am not alone in my own experiences, and I hope that whoever is reading this, if you need it, maybe now you can know that you are not alone in yours.

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