After Cancer: Second Chances and Birthday Wishes

Turning 29 is not a huge life milestone for most, but it’s a milestone that I didn’t think she would be around for.

My sister was only 27. She wasn’t supposed to have cancer. Breast cancer predominately runs in the female side of the family, and many other cancers on the male side. But never at 27. That was simply too young to be sick with such an awful disease.

Or at least that is what I thought.

In 2014, we all began to see changes. She was losing weight, walking funny, popping more Advil than she should and declining to partake in her normal activities. So many thoughts ran through our heads, but she was in such denial. We set appointments for her, but she wouldn't go. There was not a lot that we could do, after all, she was a 27-year-old.

Months passed and we noticed symptoms getting worse. Her neck was visibly swollen and now friends were greatly concerned as well. My folks came home from Chicago and they made the choice to take her in against her wishes. I was concerned and when they said she had elevated calcium, so I googled it. The results were shocking. When I told my dad that I thought it was cancer, he said I was being unrealistic and that I shouldn’t assume the worst.

Tests showed that the disease had spread all over her body, which was riddled with cancer. Oncologists call it the “Christmas tree effect”, because a PET/CT scan glows like a tree one when somebody has that much cancer in them. The prognosis wasn't good. It was stage 4 cancer and we didn’t know how much time she had.

Even though it was my worst fears confirmed, I was in complete shock. How could my sister go from being a healthy 27-year-old to facing such an uncertain future? My parents’ hearts were broken and the thought of losing her was devastating. How could life ever be the same without her?

The days that followed were such a daze that I don’t even think I took time to cry. The fact that she was, that we as a family, were facing cancer was a numbing experience. I knew that if this battle was going to be won, then we had our work cut out for us.

Although you can not go back, and I don’t know how I could have made her go- I wish that my sister had made the decision to be seen earlier than she did. Early detection is huge. 90 percent of all Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients are curable. In fact, statistically, it is considered one of the most curable forms of cancer.

I honestly believe that had she been seen earlier, she would not have had the immensely difficult battle that she has had. And even though she is technically in remission, she will always have stage 4 cancer. She will take various medications and receive chemotherapy for the rest of her life --or as long as her body will tolerate it. The disease is lying dormant in her body, but at some point it may rear its ugly head again.

Cancer has changed her, me and the entire family. The worry that we live with every day is almost indescribable. I have spent more time than I could ever calculate sitting in doctors offices and countless nights in the hospital. This is why I will be oncology nurse someday. It is definitely a balance between being aware and not living in fear.

As she approaches her 29th birthday, I am still trying to take it all in. Turning 29 is not a huge life milestone for most, but it’s a milestone that I didn’t think she would be around for. Early detection could have saved her from this cancer battle. It is against the odds that she is here at all. I refuse to sit by and let cancer continue to dictate our lives. We have fought so hard these last two years for every breath and moment of time.

With that in mind, I am hoping that she will see this is a second chance of sorts-- an opportunity to start fresh and decide who it is that she wants to be and what it is that she wants to do. She has been through so much in these last two years. It is a gift that she is alive, but I want more than that for her. I want her to live.