I’d never heard of sarcoma before her diagnosis and cancer was one of those things that definitely happened to other families. It wasn’t until after word of her diagnosis spread through our school and friends that I started to hear from other people whose lives had been impacted by cancer.
I’m pretty sure we were all home when we got the official diagnosis. When you’re that young, you don’t have the understanding of what, “your sister has cancer,” really means. My reaction was along the lines of, “This isn’t a big deal, right? She’ll be fine, right?”
Ali’s diagnosis came just before my 16th birthday. Not having a birthday celebration was the first way that I really felt like the disease impacted me. Obviously, that was incredibly naive, and I never could have guessed how much cancer would impact our entire family.
ME, SCHOOL, AND SUPPORT …
School definitely suffered. My dad was working in another city, and my mom and sister traveled far from home for treatment. There were long stretches of time where I was by myself. This was the first time in my life that I realized no one was watching. I didn’t have to go to school if I didn’t feel like it. My grades slipped for one semester and I probably missed 3-4 weeks of class while my parents were both out of town.
I mostly didn’t get support and didn’t know how to ask for what I needed, especially when Ali needed so much just to stay alive. I always tended to “go with the flow,” and at the time, I saw that as a positive trait, but I took that too far.
My friends definitely helped – they would come by the house when they hadn’t heard from me, and I had a holiday meal or two with their families.
I later learned that it’s very common for siblings of cancer patients to have similar academic problems.
The other siblings will survive, and so they may fall through the gaps. I don’t know if there’s a good answer – I don’t think our family found one, we just did what was necessary. Maybe it would have been different had there been extended family in the area – I could see a large family being able to share the weight of childhood cancer.
Sarcoma is a terrible thing, of course, but have there been any hidden blessings?
Oh, and I’m still a fairly obsessive hand-washer more than 15 years later, so perhaps I’ve been spared some flu and cold seasons!
If we came to your house for dinner, what would we have?