Shock is an understatement to how I felt as my father said those life-changing words. He gasped in intervals and cried between each syllable.
Last week, my 6-year-old brother Jacob was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
I had never been so speechless in my life. While my aunt, uncle, and cousins cried, I stood on my porch with a blank daze.
“You have to be strong—for him,” they said. “Don’t show him you’re crying. Stay strong for your mom and your dad and for us.”
In order for this to have been a conversation, I needed to reply. Instead, I let out tears of confusion, anger, and sadness. My hands shook as we sped to the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital.
During the car ride, I imagined my mother and father crying into each others arms. The sound of my dad punching the wheel and seat synced to these thoughts. He cussed at the air and begged God to put him in my brother’s place. I was scared to look at him and I couldn’t talk without my voice cracking after each word.
Entering the hospital’s parking lot was hard enough. My fingers fidgeted as we walked up to the front desk. Passing through the lonely hallways was even harder. Seeing the faces of sick children caused a cold wind to rush up my body.
However, the smile I saw on my brother’s face as I opened the door soothed me. My mom embraced me and I could see the mascara smudges under her eyes. I was overwhelmed and I couldn’t determine whether my heart was beating slow, fast, or if it was beating at all.
“Mommy’s been crying,” he said.
I laughed then sat next to him. The IV and pick lines in his skin worried me, but the light I saw in his face and the joy I heard when he spoke to me was the best comfort I could ever ask for. He acted completely normal during each visit.
The days after that, friends and family confronted me saying that if I needed anything, I could go to them. It was clear that I had support and love from everyone around me.
Within a day, we received information that his cancer was curable and treatable. Although this is great news, my parents were and are always worried. Progress is great, yet the thought of your child fighting an enemy you can’t defend him from is beyond difficult.
I attended school and did just as my family told me to– stayed strong. When I was anxious, I called my mom and brother. His serene voice gave me the warmest feeling. As for my mother, she updated me on how his treatment was going. I could hear how afraid she was.
As the days went by, he got better and better. The week he was diagnosed seemed an eternity. Each second felt like an hour and each visit felt years apart.
We were told that he would receive therapy and procedures for three years. His hair would come off, he’d gain weight, and he’d have mood swings.
These effects didn’t seem like much because all I cared about was whether I could come home to him. Unfortunately, hearing from the doctors was a waiting game. The anticipation slowly suffocated me.
Chemotherapy has painful side effects, so imagining a kindergartener experience that is gruesome.
“Think about this like a war and we are the team who must win,” his doctor said.
Talking about how much I missed him or how things were gonna be from then on was definitely a struggle. Everything reminded me of Jacob and I’m the type of person who’s easily triggered. I stayed home with my dad and the loneliness would kick in whenever I did homework. Normally, my brother barges into my room to bug me or sing, but it was silent.
I coped with my rushing emotions through dance. It cleared my mind and made me optimistic.
To add on to this positivity, everyone I knew was praying for him and asking if he was okay. It feels amazing to say that he was doing well.
He came home a week later from being admitted to the hospital. When discharging him, I was happy to see the piles of cards from his classmates, the balloons left from his teachers and principal, and the many other gifts given by visitors. Jacob had one ultimate wish though– to sleep in his own bed.
We arrived home to see our house decorated with “Welcome home” posters. All of our family came to greet Jacob. At this point, it felt like everything was okay for a bit.
Reality is, one out of 8,000 kids get leukemia. My brother is that one child. My mom and dad cry at night, so Jacob doesn’t see. He avoids the subject and wants everyone around him to smile. My parents are scared for what the future will hold, but they want to help others who will go through what they are and are allowing Jacob to be part of cancer research.
Leukemia is gonna be a tough battle, but Jacob is an even tougher boy.