My Family’s Worst Nightmare – My Brother Got Cancer

 

In May 2016, I received a call and my life (and my family’s) was dramatically changed forever. I was home alone when the phone rang. It was my sister-in-law. She was at the doctor’s office with my brother. I knew he had some scans done earlier in the week for elbow pain and was scheduled to have minor surgery later that morning. I heard my sister-in-law’s voice on the other end,

“They found cancer in his scan.”

“Cancer” repeated in my head, everything else drowning out. I’ll never, ever forget the tightness in my throat, the pain in my chest, and the numbness in my body as I clenched my jaw. Tears swelling up in my eyes. I couldn’t swallow.

It is all I remember hearing her say. It was crushing and seemed unreal.

Cancer.

The word itself scares me because of my preconceived notions. Over the years, I’ve heard many happy success stories, but also enough horrible ones. I can’t help to think it’s pretty much a death sentence. Horrible, I know. But again, many people have happy, successful stories. I know many people that have overcome it, and I truly think that is phenomenal. I was always extremely compassionate toward anyone I knew that experienced cancer (or friend’s that had a loved one going through it). Either way, I think it’s impossible for anyone to completely empathize with a hardship such as this one, unless you’ve gone through it first hand.

One of the scariest parts of cancer is the unknown.  It weighs on you every single day — in my case, I thought about my brother 24/7. Not knowing how he or the rest of my family would take the news was awful. Not knowing if treatments will work is heartbreaking. Not knowing if he was going to live, or how long he’d have left was excruciating.

 

 

This new thing was something I’ve never experienced, and with someone extremely close. Coping with this type of threat for me was total, uncharted territory. It was a whirlwind of emotions. I felt overwhelmed, sad, angry, scared, and nothing anyone said could fix the problem. Why anyone, but most of all, why my brother? But, I guess sometimes you get to choose your battles and sometimes they choose you.

It’s funny how life works. In fact, just a couple of months before my brother was diagnosed, I lost my job. At the time, I didn’t tell many but I was highly stressed out. I was a newlywed, who literally was laid off upon my return of my honeymoon. Being stressed out over something like that is a natural thing. I began to search for opportunities for a new job, until everything happened with my brother. So whatever situation you may be in, there’s always something else to help put your situation in perspective. It did for me. God truly works in mysterious ways. I wasn’t meant to be working any longer, but I was now meant to be my brother’s keeper. I was able to be present with my brother for his battle, which was far greater than any one I’ve ever had.

I accompanied my brother to almost all of his appointments that first summer. He was being treated by Stanford Cancer Center at Stanford Hospital. It was, however, so comforting to know he was getting cared for by the top ranked, one of the best in the entire United States. My family couldn’t be more grateful we live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where my brother had more than a couple of impressive hospital care options.

The smell of antiseptic and the hospital visits became all too familiar for us.  I remember every single appointment the first five months— each time I drove him, every single waiting room I sat in, each time I went in to accompany my brother, every nurse, doctor, and hospital worker along the way. I remember what their offices looked like, and staring at their badges during every appointment.

The weight of his diagnosis hit me at his second appointment. The oncologist sitting across from my brother, as I sat to his right side. She discussed his condition as I took notes, and then she looked right at him and suggested that the best route to go was targeted radiation.

SILENCE.

My brother stared into thin air, with a glassy, dazed look in his eyes. I felt so helpless. I’ll never forget that it took everything in me to not break down and cry. I needed to be strong for him. I can’t even imagine what goes through a cancer patient’s mind when they hear all the words, but I do know what I felt when I sat next to him hearing that. Too many words. Sarcoma. Biopsy. Radiation. Surgery. Amputation. CT Scan. Tumor. MRI. Chemotherapy. It never ended. He was going to have a long road ahead if he chose to start that process. I felt like our lives started to unravel, but we let it be. You don’t have a choice, but to do your best to keep life as normal as it was before the diagnosis.

As months went on, the impact of his health of course affected my entire family and, as he is my only sibling, I found myself in a place I never expected to be. I desperately tried to look at all the memories we currently had and could make, rather than what we might not have, because whenever that day came, in a year or ten, I could not prepare for it.

 

 

My brother’s journey lasted just about two years and two months before he passed, going on his own terms. Throughout most of the two years, I still don’t know if I could ever entirely grasp the reality of what was happening – and in ways I’m grateful for that, because I may have not been able to be the strong, supportive sister I was throughout. I would’ve lost my mind.

Cancer doesn’t just hurt the person with the cancer. The other side of cancer is a roller coaster. The effects rippled out, to my parents, my brother’s wife, my husband and I, and even my son. When a loved one is diagnosed with this disease, a different level of fear arises in you. We were along my brother’s side for all of it, and it was life changing for all of us. Again, we’ll never be able to wholly understand it because it was my brother who had it, but that’s how I can describe it.

So when life gets tough, I would think about the saying, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” 

Whether you’re religious or not, trusting and believing in something greater than this life, and greater than yourself can bring a sense of peace and a boost of strength. After all, whether we like it or not, there’s only so much we can do and so much we can control.

I have realized more every day that I need to enjoy every moment of this life, and that I am so blessed to be physically healthy. My brother is a hero. He had to take this on, physically and emotionally. I am stronger because of his cancer, and he is an inspiration to everyone.

I realize I’ve never loved harder than these last two years of my life. Love transcends death.

 

 

Be well and love hard.

 

39 Comments

  1. August 30, 2018 / 10:52 PM

    What a beautiful post. I am so sorry you and your family went through this. It’s such an amazing thing that you were able to be with him when he needed it.

    • Stacy Liz
      Author
      August 30, 2018 / 11:12 PM

      Thank you so much! Still can’t believe he is gone. <3

  2. August 31, 2018 / 4:34 AM

    I am so sorry your family had to go through this. It sounds like you were an amazing support. My grandmother passed away a few years ago. She had a brain tumor, and it was a terrible thing to watch. My thoughts are with you and your family.

    • Stacy Liz
      Author
      August 31, 2018 / 4:58 AM

      Thank you so much – I’m glad I’m able to share my feelings through the blog post. I’m sorry you had to see your grandmother go through cancer.

  3. August 31, 2018 / 2:22 PM

    I can empathize with you. My dad lost his battle with cancer almost three years ago.

  4. August 31, 2018 / 2:58 PM

    The word cancer really frightens me alot. In past I have seen one of my closest relative suffering from this and presently seeing a lady who is suffering from this disease…it really needs lots of courage to deal with it. Hope you and your family deal it couragely..

    • Stacy Liz
      Author
      September 5, 2018 / 3:07 PM

      It really does take a lot of courage to deal with it. I appreciate that. It’s just so tough.

  5. Shane Prather
    August 31, 2018 / 4:57 PM

    I am so sorry to hear that he and your family had to go through this at a young age. You are so very strong <3

    • Stacy Liz
      Author
      September 5, 2018 / 9:06 PM

      Thank you for your comment and for taking the time to read.

  6. August 31, 2018 / 5:17 PM

    My heart was in my throat when I saw cancer. My father survived skin cancer but recently passed away from other health issues. But it’s so good that you could be there for your brother the whole time. I’m sure he is grateful. I’m sorry your family had to go through it.

    • Stacy Liz
      Author
      September 5, 2018 / 9:07 PM

      I’m sorry to hear about your father, and i hope his journey through surviving it was ok! And yes, I’m so grateful I was able to be there for my brother. <3

  7. August 31, 2018 / 7:18 PM

    Beautifully written. I had tears in my eyes reading this. I love what you said about how God will never give you more than you can handle. It’s so so true even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. I’m so sorry for the loss of your brother.

    • Stacy Liz
      Author
      September 5, 2018 / 9:08 PM

      Much appreciation and thanks!

  8. August 31, 2018 / 7:22 PM

    We are celebrating today the seventh anniversary of my mother in laws death. She passed away because of cancer. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    • Stacy Liz
      Author
      September 5, 2018 / 9:08 PM

      Aww, 7 years… wow. How sad. Thank you for reading and I hope things have gotten better as the years go by.

  9. August 31, 2018 / 7:43 PM

    🙁 Sorry to hear that. Kudos on being strong all the way through

  10. August 31, 2018 / 10:03 PM

    I’m so sorry for this loss for you and your family. It is never easy. Thank you for sharing your story.

  11. August 31, 2018 / 11:55 PM

    Much love and good thoughts to your family. I’m sure you being a strong support for him through his battle was felt by all.

  12. September 1, 2018 / 1:22 AM

    There really are no words. I am so sorry for your loss.

  13. Christa
    September 1, 2018 / 1:35 AM

    I am so very sorry for your loss. I know it must be difficult to write about it, but appreciate you sharing your story. I know too many people whose lives have been affected by this terrible disease.

    • Stacy Liz
      Author
      September 5, 2018 / 9:10 PM

      I really appreciate that – I think sharing my family’s story is hopefully helping others in some way to not take things for granted and appreciate the moments.

  14. September 1, 2018 / 12:02 PM

    I am so very sorry for your loss. I pray this writing has been helpful. I know it can be so helpful to get it all out. Praying over your family.

    • Stacy Liz
      Author
      September 5, 2018 / 3:01 PM

      Yes, writing it is very therapeutic and i’m thankful I’m able to do that. Thank you so much <3

  15. September 1, 2018 / 4:41 PM

    I’m so sorry for your loss. You are so strong!

    • Stacy Liz
      Author
      September 5, 2018 / 3:00 PM

      Thank you very much!

  16. September 1, 2018 / 8:54 PM

    This was very difficult to read. I have a friend who was also stricken with cancer so I know firsthand how scary and devastating this news can be for the person and those who love them. I’m so sorry that you and your brother had to experience this and I am definitely sending encouragement and strength your way!

    • Stacy Liz
      Author
      September 5, 2018 / 3:00 PM

      I hope your friend is doing ok. Cancer is awful. Thanks so much for sending good vibes!

  17. September 2, 2018 / 2:48 AM

    I admire your strength, you truly are a mantle for your family and I give you kudos. Also I really liked your statement about putting your situation into perspective. Sometimes I just get mad about things, and keep that anger with me, but I want to enact your philosophy into my life more. Thank you.

    • Stacy Liz
      Author
      September 5, 2018 / 2:59 PM

      That means a lot! I hope we all can, no matter what our situation. Thanks!

  18. September 2, 2018 / 5:47 PM

    I am so sorry for your loss. It’s incredibly vulnerable of touch to share what it like when someone in your life has cancer and not only does it affect that person but everyone around them. I hope with time the pain and sadness lessens.

    • Stacy Liz
      Author
      September 5, 2018 / 2:59 PM

      I know it will take a LOT of time, and I appreciate your sentiment!

  19. September 5, 2018 / 3:00 AM

    Sorry for your loss. And you’re right, everything for a reason. I’m sure he was happy you were able to fight with him.

    • Stacy Liz
      Author
      September 5, 2018 / 2:58 PM

      I appreciate it. Thank you.

  20. Robb Soszka
    May 3, 2019 / 5:00 AM

    I feel lucky to have had Eric as a friend. But Eric was blessed to have you as a sister. This post really touched my heart. I lost my father to cancer 7 yrs ago and felt many of the same emotions & feelings of helplessness that you describe so well, but that I could never put into words. Thank you for keeping Eric’s story alive for all of us.

    • Stacy Liz
      Author
      May 16, 2019 / 10:16 PM

      Thank you! I had no idea, and I’m so sorry about your father. Thank you for reading – I appreciate it!

  21. March 15, 2020 / 2:30 PM

    Thanks so much for sharing the story of your deep love and care for your brother during his (and your) two year ordeal.

    Cancer is a such cruel disease, and as you noted above it affects the entire family, not just the patient.

    I’m so glad you were able to be there for your brother when he needed you most. God will truly bless you. In fact, I’m sure He already has.

    I’m also glad your mom sent me the link to this post. That was very kind of her.

    • Stacy Liz
      Author
      April 1, 2020 / 10:00 PM

      Hi Rick.

      I appreciate your response and thoughtful comment! Glad my mom sent it to you, too. Thank you so much for reading.
      I hope you’re doing ok during this crazy pandemic. Come back and visit again.

      All the best.

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