In February 2012, my brother CJ Banaszek was diagnosed with CML Leukemia. At the time, he was only 11-years-old and I was just a year older. CJ was not only my younger brother, but my best friend. Even before his diagnosis, my brother was my inspiration and role model solely because of his warm demeanor and the way he accepted any challenge with a smile on his face.
CJ was always quiet and humble and my family never knew of his true strength until he began his two and a half year battle with cancer. As his older sister, it was incredibly difficult for me to watch CJ go through such a physically, mentally and emotionally painful process because the only thing I wanted to do was take his pain away; which was the only thing I could not do.
The days I got to visit CJ in the hospital were the best days of the week. I got to hang out with his nurses, who had become like family, watch movies and play games with my best friend. When we were together, it was like nothing was wrong. It was only when I left his room with my parents to go home that it hurt the most. The knowledge that he couldn't come with us and have family dinner was when the reality of our situation really sunk in. Because CJ was sick for so long, I was a part of a lot of great days and a lot of not so good days. Even now, two years later, I know my parents kept me from knowing about many of the really bad days, and that's what breaks my heart.
On July 15, 2014, CJ passed away due to complications in his brain. This did not come as a shock to my family. He had been on hospice for two weeks, but he passed away two months before doctors believed he would. Unfortunately, I was at a volleyball camp in Kansas when I received the worst phone call of my life. Not only had my brother passed away, but I was a three hour plane flight away from being with my parents. CJ was my only sibling and losing him was the hardest thing I will ever go through. About a year after CJ passed away, my mom began to work for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation and it peaked my interest in non-profit work to keep my brothers spirit alive. For the past two years, my mom has put on an event around the time of my brother's birthday, called Striking Out Childhood Cancer. It not only raises money for an amazing cause, but it brings together many people who knew my brother, allowing everyone to celebrate his life. I have seen how my Mom has used this event and her work with Alex's to help her cope with the loss of her child, and I am proud to be saying I am doing the same thing.
Being a SuperSibs Ambassador for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation not only helps other siblings of children with cancer, but it helps me to remember my brother and know that he would be proud of who I am today. Like CJ once wrote in a journal, "My point is, even though we have to go through this horrible experience, we will turn it into something brilliant."