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Friday, March 22, 2013

My Brother's Keeper

Loving my new baby brother's fro in 1987

Growing up I always wanted a sister. I thought having a sister would be the best thing ever because we could share clothes, do each other's hair and play Barbies together. I would constantly tell my mom that she needed to have another baby--and make sure that it's a girl. She finally sat me down and told me that she wasn't having any more babies, so I better learn to be happy with my little brother! Frankly, now I'm actually glad I never got that sister...selfishly speaking of course...because all the physical transformations I've had to deal with in the past 3 years probably would have made me hate my sister. She would have remained the same as I lost my hair, lost my perfect skin and in some ways, lost my dignity.

So I guess it took cancer for me to realize that having a brother wasn't so bad! Lol...just kidding bro! My brother Garrett will always be my "little" brother. Like any big sister, it's hard for me to see my brother as a true adult. Despite the fact that he towers over me at 6'4",  he just graduated business school, he's living in Atlanta on his own, paying his own bills, and working in corporate America, I still see him as the eternal 12-year-old that drove me crazy. So it makes it even harder to realize that on March 24th, Garrett will turn 26. This is astonishing in itself, but for me, 26 is a milestone age because it's the age I was diagnosed with cancer. I often mourn those first 25 years of my life and the person I was. The way life was before it became so damn hard.

1999 holiday photo! Don't we all
have a pic like this? 
My parents (especially my father who has seven siblings) constantly remind me to check in on my brother because "he's the only one you have." And it's true. When I relapsed, I was told to have my brother tested to see if he was a match for me. If he was, I would received his stem cells through an allo transplant.

"Oh the irony," I thought. The brother that I had tormented growing up would now be charged with saving my life. God was definitely trying to teach me a lesson with this one! But sadly, Garrett wasn't a match. I just assumed he would be, and after learning that he wasn't, I soon became fiercely jealous of any cancer patient with a sibling who was a match. There's a sense of safety in knowing that your sibling will always be there to give you the stem cells you need exactly when you need them. As opposed to a stranger, who may not be available if and when you decide to push the button to move forward with an allo. I am still lucky, having two 9/10 matches and one 10/10 match, but in the back of my mind I worry about those potential matches. What if something happens to one of them? What if they change their mind? What if they (God forbid) get cancer themselves? Hey, it happened to me. I've been in the Be A Match registry since 2001 and was diagnosed in 2009.

When did he get so tall? Garrett and I in November 2009
So if my brother had been a match, I could watch over him, make sure he was being healthy, make sure he was doing all the right things, and yell at him if he wasn't. Of course, I still do that, because all I do is worry about my friends and family and their health. Sometimes I'm glad it was me who got sick, because I'm vigilant enough to go to the doctor when something is wrong. Would Garrett have reacted the same way? He almost made my heart stop this past Christmas when he casually mentioned to me that he had a "swollen lymph node" under his arm. Those exact words I google'd 3 years ago and led me to a cancer diagnosis. I berated him about it and he said it went away and he was fine. And most likely he is, but hearing those words from my little brother on the cusp of his own 26th year frightened the crap of out of me. After all, we grew up in the same house, ate the same food, and were exposed to the same environment, until I moved away for college. Garrett was actually the "sickly" child in our house, having asthma throughout his childhood, even though he swears he's grown out of it now. So even though Hodgkin's isn't genetic and no one really knows the cause, I still worry about him and if he's getting regular checkups, and doing the right things. Because the only thing more frightening than one sick child is two. I can't even imagine. My father actually has a colleague who is dealing with just that. His daughter has thyroid cancer and his son has Hodgkin's. WTF. How does that happen? When I hear stories about siblings with cancer at the same time, or a mother/daughter or husband/wife, I think, "how much can one family take?" Just not fair.

So I pray that as Garrett turns 26, his health remains unblemished. He gets to hold on to a little of the carefreeness that I no longer have.  Of course he's not completely naive due to the fact that his big sister was diagnosed with cancer at such a young age, but I hope that he has a long, healthy life in front of him. Because health is the best birthday gift you can get!

4 comments:

  1. So sweet! Be good GB (yeah right)!

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