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 He began his year of kindergarten only to be withdrawn from school just a few weeks later.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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A Senior's Last Week Of High School

The bittersweet end.
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Well, this is it. This is what we've worked so hard the last four years - who am I kidding - basically what seems like our whole lives for. This is the very last week we will set foot as a student in our high school's hallways. As most schools are getting ready to set their seniors free at last, it all begins to set in - the excitement, the anxiousness, and also the sentiment and nostalgia.

For seniors, the years since our first day as a freshman at the bottom of the high school totem pole have seemed endless, but as we look back on these last few weeks, we realize that this year in particular has gone by extraordinarily fast. It was just yesterday that we were sitting in our classrooms for the very first time, going to our 'last first' practice, and getting our first taste of the (very real) "senioritis". With all that's going on in our lives right now, from sports and clubs, finals, and the sought after graduation ceremony, it's hard to really sit down and think about how our lives are all about to become drastically different. For some it's moving out, and for some it's just the thought of not seeing your best friend on the way to fourth period English; either way, the feels are real. We are all in a tug of war with the emotions going on inside of us; everything is changing - we're ready, but we're not.

THE GOOD. Our lives are about to begin! There is a constant whirlwind of excitement. Senior awards, getting out of school early, parties, and of course Graduation. We are about to be thrust into a world of all new things and new people. Calling our own shots and having the freedom we have so desperately desired since the teenage years began is right around the corner. Maybe the best part is being able to use these new things surrounding you to grow and open your mind and even your heart to ideas you never could before. We get the chance to sink or swim, become our own person, and really begin to find ourselves.

Things we don't even know yet are in the works with new people we haven't even met yet. These friendships we find will be the ones to last us a lifetime. The adventures we experience will transform into the advice we tell our own children and will become the old tales we pass down to our grandkids when they come to visit on the weekends. We will probably hate the all night study sessions, the intensity of finals week, and the overpowering stress and panic of school in general, just like we did in high school... But it will all be worth it for the memories we make that will outlive the stress of that paper due in that class you absolutely hate. As we leave high school, remember what all the parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors are telling you - this are the best times of our lives!

THE BAD. The sentimental emotions are setting in. We're crying, siblings are tearing up, and parents are full-out bawling. On that first day, we never expected the school year to speed by the way it did. Suddenly everything is coming to an end. Our favorite teachers aren't going to be down the hall anymore, our best friends probably won't share a class with us, we won't be coming home to eat dinner with our families...

We all said we wanted to get out of this place, we couldn't wait, we were ready to be on our own; we all said we wouldn't be "so emotional" when the time came, but yet here we are, wishing we could play one more football game with our team or taking the time to make sure we remember the class we liked the most or the person that has made us laugh even when we were so stressed we could cry these past few years. Take the time to hug your parents these last few months. Memorize the facial expressions of your little sister or brother. Remember the sound of your dad coming home from work. These little things we take for granted every day will soon just be the things we tell our college roommate when they ask about where we're from. As much as we've wanted to get out of our house and our school, we never thought it would break our heart as much as it did. We are all beginning to realize that everything we have is about to be gone.

Growing up is scary, but it can also be fun. As we take the last few steps in the hallways of our school, take it all in. Remember, it's okay to be happy; it's okay to be totally excited. But also remember it's okay to be sad. It's okay to be sentimental. It's okay to be scared, too. It's okay to feel all these confusing emotions that we are feeling. The best thing about the bittersweet end to our high school years is that we are finally slowing down our busy lives enough to remember the happy memories.

Try not to get annoyed when your mom starts showing your baby pictures to everyone she sees, or when your dad starts getting aggravated when you talk about moving out and into your new dorm. They're coping with the same emotions we are. Walk through the halls remembering the classes you loved and the classes you hated. Think of the all great times that have happened in our high school years and the friends that have been made that will never be forgotten. We all say we hated school, but we really didn't. Everything is about to change; that's a happy thing, and a sad thing. We all just have to embrace it! We're ready, but we're not...

Cover Image Credit: Facebook

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The Things I Found At Rock Bottom

It was the darkest, but the dawn did come.

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About 3 months ago, my whole life was uprooted by a breakup.

My ex ended a relationship with me very suddenly that I had the full intention of being in for the rest of my life, and even thought I knew it was a necessary loss, coming down from that high and detoxing our toxic relationship from my system was the hardest thing I have ever been through. There was a day I finished up in class and zoned out and started driving, until I found myself three hours away from home. I didn't eat for days, and I woke up every day having panic attacks when I remembered everything that had happened. The first few weeks were a dark, horrible blur, with pain at levels I would never wish on anyone. On top of that, I was also forced to move an hour away from home and quit a job that I loved as a result of the breakup.

I wasn't just losing a person, I was losing everything that I built my identity up to be. Our relationship was my whole life, and that's why I knew that us breaking up was necessary, but that didn't take away the two and a half years of memories I was left with. He also chose to end it in such a violent and excruciating way — telling me he never loved me, cutting off all contact with me, and basically telling me to kill myself. Sitting in the rubble of all of this, I had never felt so empty and void of happiness before.

But when you're completely shattered and sitting in nothing but rubble, you're presented with a beautiful opportunity — a blank canvas. There are no morning and night routines laid out for you, you don't have the same people texting you as before, you don't have the good morning text that you were used to. You have nothing. Because of these things, your own interests and desires become the default setting you're programmed to operate on, and you get to know yourself in a way that you didn't before.

Here's how I found my way out of the void.

1. Small distractions are so helpful.

.There were a few things that I turned to that were absolutely crucial to me when I was struggling to keep it together: New Girl, playing the game Words With Friends, and journaling (free-writing, and writing in these that I found at Target). Honestly, these things rarely actually made me feel better. However, the value I found in them was creating new habits and filling my life back up with things that didn't involve my heartbreak.

2. You need a support system.

I have always had a hard time trusting people and talking about my feelings. So I thought, naturally, the way to cope with that is to find one person you can trust, and for them to be your ride or die. That's what my ex was for me. When he was gone, I had to learn how to open up to people again, which was extremely foreign and uncomfortable for me. It was an odd feeling to text a friend and say "I'm not okay right now and I need you", and even more uncomfortable when they were nice and supportive back. But all of the dozens of people I leaned on ended up being literally a support system for me- giving me advice, keeping me in check, and telling me all of the things I didn't want to hear, like how pathetic I was acting at some points.

3. You absolutely cannot avoid pain in life.

A quote I found by Jon Kabat-Zinn reads, "You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to swim" and that became a guiding philosophy for me in dealing with pain. As comforting as it would've been for me to tell myself I'll never let anyone hurt me again, or I was never going to be in another relationship again, I instead decided to tell myself that I was never going to let something break me so deeply again, because I would have a stronger foundation of me and a stronger sense of self. So that when the next person left my life, I would be sad, but I wouldn't feel shattered to the core ever again. Life involves constant rejection, constant disappointment, and constant anxiety. You will never escape that. You will hurt so much throughout life. But if you can build yourself to be strong enough, it won't matter.

4. You can empathize with somebody and forgive their actions and still want nothing to do with them- and that's okay.

When my ex and I were together, he messed up and did a lot of things wrong. He would scream at me and tell me he hated me and apologize with so much fear and hurt in his eyes and say, "I'm sorry, sometimes my anxiety causes me to demonize you" and in the moment I wasn't strong enough to say "it's okay, but you're abusive and I need to be away from you". I instead would say, "It's okay, let's not worry about it and just go to bed" and it would keep on happening. I empathized too much with his demons and gave him too much understanding at my own expense. Now I've learned that I can still feel that way about him, but when he reaches out asking for another chance, I can say no. And I don't feel guilty anymore.

5. Your relationship with yourself should be your top priority.

To explain my experience of learning to love myself, it would take pages. Simply put, I started being okay with things just being me, myself, and I. If I had a rough day, I would at first come home wishing I had my ex there to talk to and be there for me. Eventually I started going to Target, picking up a bottle of wine, and taking care of my damn self. I stopped thinking "oh I'd love to do this but I don't have anybody to go with me" and started eating at restaurants alone, going to bars alone, and going on hikes alone. I bought myself jewelry that I wished a guy would buy me. I said yes to every guy that asked me out on a date just to put myself out there. I spontaneously went and got a new tattoo completely by myself. And now that I steady to the core in my own being, anybody in my life is there because they're a complement, not a supplement. This will protect me from ever staying in a relationship again that manages to gut me in the way my previous one did.

A quote that I love from J.K. Rowling reads, "Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life", and that is absolutely true of what the past three months have been for me. Day by day, I've pieced together a new identity and healed my soul. I wouldn't have been here if I hadn't hit rock bottom.

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