Cara is a 21-year-old SuperSib to her older sister Caitlin, 23, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) at age 15 and is officially off treatment. Cara wanted to share her experience as a SuperSib and encourage other siblings of childhood cancer kids to remember how much they matter too.
As I was being picked up in New York’s Penn Station from my week at sleepaway camp, I immediately started to tell my dad about all of the amazing adventures I had in Savannah, GA, my new favorite place in the world. He smiled and nodded. When I finally took a breath to ask how the week went without me, I heard the worst words I’ve heard to this day, “Your sister has cancer.”
I was not able to anticipate the whirlwind my life was about to become. Walking through the doors of the hospital to see my older sister, Caitlin, poised and collected as always, but with IVs in her arm and an exhausted look on her face was not something that I could have ever prepared for.
As the months went on and my sister seemed to get sicker and lose her hair, I withdrew into myself. I lived my life thinking that I could not put more of a burden on my parents by showing my fear and expressing how devastated I was to watch my sister suffer while there was nothing I could do. I told myself I had to be strong for my younger siblings and parents.
One day I received a letter in the mail with a necklace attached that said strength. The letter was from a SuperSib telling me that my experience was important too and that even though I was not sick, I also deserved to be taken care of. Only after five years of my sister being in remission was I able to come to terms with the experiences I endured as a sibling of a cancer patient. I finally understood that what was written in that letter was the truth, that what I went through mattered, that I mattered.
When I think back on my life all of those years ago, I realize that the lonely and isolated feelings were a result of me closing myself off to the love around me because I didn’t think I deserved it. Today, I remember fondly the people who took the time to support my family and my sister and I think fondly of the people who took the time to support me.
I remember that my neighbor saw my dad, brother, cousins and uncles shaving their heads so that Cait wouldn’t have to do it alone and came over to have part of her head shaved too. I remember my mother’s friends who took turns cooking dinners when they knew it would be a late night at the hospital. I remember the friends’ moms who picked my little sister up from school every Tuesday or Thursday and my friends’ moms who kept an eye out for me. I remember my cross country coach who watched over me and made sure that I had a supportive place to go to every day after school. I remember my friends and family who did everything they could to support all of us through the worst time in our lives.
I know that when you are the healthy one, it can feel like talking about how much you are hurting seems selfish. I know it seems like isolating yourself might be the best choice, but it isn’t. If I could tell one thing to another sibling of a sick child it would be to remember that your feelings matter and your story matters too. There are people who care and people who will listen. You just have to look for them.