Leah is a 22-year-old SuperSib whose brother, Levi, is 18-years-old and off treatment for epithelioid sarcoma. She wanted to share advice and her own experiences as the older sister to a Childhood Cancer Hero.
It was the beginning of my freshman year of college. I was starting a new adventure and making new friends, but also dealing with hard adjustments and a heavy class load. Like most college students, I can testify that freshman year is when I had to grow up the most. Unlike most college students though, my biggest fear wasn’t fitting in or failing classes. My concerns weren’t for myself at all, but rather for my little brother Levi. During the fall of my freshman year, Levi was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer called epithelioid sarcoma. The first time I ever skipped class was to be at the hospital for the official diagnosis. I still recall that day so clearly, still feel the emotions so vividly. My life changed forever that day because as many know, the “c” word has a way of drastically changing things.
I have always been an older sister, but on November 12, 2014 I became the older sister of a pediatric cancer fighter. I’ve always felt my job was to protect and teach Levi, but while he fought cancer, I felt helpless. I couldn’t stop the pain, I couldn’t take the chemotherapy for him, and I couldn’t keep him from potentially dying. It broke my heart. I felt helpless until I finally figured out the one thing I could do: support him.
I spent much of my freshmen year in and out of the hospital visiting Levi. That meant I didn’t have much of a social life, but it honestly didn’t bother me. I was with Levi and my family, that’s where I wanted to be. My parents would sometimes push me to go out and be a “normal” college kid, but the thought of fun left me feeling guilty. It also didn’t help that the worries of my peers seemed trivial in comparison to Levi’s cancer. How could I go out and have a good time when my brother was back home fighting for his life?
My family has always been close, but Levi’s cancer drew us even closer together. We leaned on each other and our faith in God to get us through those dark days. I tried my best to follow my dad’s example and be a rock for our family. To me, this meant I needed to keep my emotions together and always provide encouragement. I think it helped me cope and feel as if I was in control of some aspect of my life.
By the grace of God, Levi was eventually given clear scans and told to only come back to the hospital every few months. We rejoiced, but the positive reports came with a warning that his cancer was very likely to return. Basically, we were told to go out and live our lives but be wary because cancer always lurks. I take great pleasure in writing that it has been over three years since that warning and Levi is still blessedly cancer-free!
Cancer obviously changed my little brother, but it also changed me. I’m no longer a teenager who has never suffered and wears rose colored glasses. I’ve watched my little brother battle death and struggle with survivor’s guilt. I’ve made the sweetest of friendships and watched those precious friends lose their cancer battles. Cancer has brought me heartache and countless tears, but watching my brother and others fight gives me strength and passion for life.
Standing by my brother as he beat cancer taught me that we aren’t promised tomorrow. Somewhere along the way, I stopped feeling guilty about having fun and started living fully. I think living fully is the best way to honor Levi and all those who have lost their battle. I have also learned the importance of fighting for those who barely have the strength to fight, which is why I am involved with multiple organizations that help pediatric cancer patients.
Every day more children are diagnosed with cancer. Every day families like mine find out that their child is battling a deadly disease. Every day another sibling like me stands by as their brother or sister turns into a pediatric cancer patient. Cancer is difficult on the child but it’s also difficult on the loved ones. If I, if you, if we can help encourage them during these times who knows what a difference it will make! Maybe one day they’ll be in the same position that I am, a position where they can help and encourage those who walk the same path many others have tread.