While she was home for Thanksgiving Kimberly asked me to proofread a “memoir” she had composed for her college writing class. I loved it and because it illustrates childhood cancer from a sibling’s point of view I asked permission to share it on this blog. (I know she has more to say but since it is an assignment she had a limited word count.)
The Blessing of Cancer
Ten years ago my family was faced with a vital decision that would change our lives forever.
A small vibration tickled my foot as my sister, Natalie, bounced her leg next to mine, her eyes fixed on the abandoned bowl of chicken noodle soup in front of her. I twisted and rolled the tablecloth between my fingers. My dad reached out and gently took Jackie’s hand in his as a small tear escaped her tightly closed eyes. It felt hard to breathe.
Our mother had just explained that our older brother, Greg, had been diagnosed with cancer and the rest of us would need to get tests done immediately to check for a gene mutation.
This gene mutation is called the Li-Fraumeni syndrome. The simplest way to explain this rare disorder is that every human body has genes that naturally fight growing cancer cells. However, people with Li-Fraumeni don’t have these genes. Their bodies have a substantially higher risk of developing cancer. This disorder may be extremely rare, but four out of my five older siblings, my father, and several of my close relatives were all born with it.
During the last decade, I have witnessed my siblings undergo multiple brain tumors, suffer through chemotherapy three times, get a bionic leg, break a bionic leg, get a new bionic leg, fight breast cancer, quit basketball due to a tumor in the shoulder, have colon cancer in college, and have that colon cancer spread to their lungs. My aunt died before I got to meet her, and my dear grandpa passed away when I was twelve.
When you take a step back and look at the whole picture, our situation can seem overwhelming. Many would be crushed under the pressure. Still, I consider Li-Fraumeni and my family’s cancer to be one of the greatest blessings in my life. After that night of nervously fidgeting around the dinner table, we knew our family was given this trial for a reason. We trusted God to protect us, found ways to fill the darkest moments with positivity, and decided to enjoy the ride.
Our most cherished memories are in hospitals. I was only eight when this whole adventure began. During surgeries, my dad would gather my siblings and I together and take us on wheelchair adventures. Half of us would put beanies on our heads and pretend to be sick while the rest would push. After a couple hours of exploration, we would switch roles and continue on our way. The halls echoed with our childish laughter. The nurses always loved when our family visited because we always came with new balloons and entertaining stories for our siblings instead of gloomy sadness.
Despite the number of times my brother and sisters have gone through dangerous treatments and surgeries, they all come home with large smiles on their faces. They brag about their new scars and who gets to prep for the next colonoscopy. They have made friends with all the nurses and finessed their way into rooms full of secret snacks.
All of them have attributed their happiness to that decision we made ten years ago. Our ability to be lighthearted in the face of cancer has blessed us immensely. Our trials and heartaches have bonded us together for eternity. I have learned how to see the positive aspects of life’s low points and developed a greater love for God. So although most people still feel too uncomfortable to talk about sickness around me, I know my family is blessed to battle cancer and wouldn’t trade our experiences for the world.