Sunday, August 3, 2008

Reflections on my brother

As many of you know, roughly a year ago, my brother Steve got sick. At the end of last July, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was removed and found to be malignant - a form of melanoma. There were long, worrisome days in the hospital, then more at home as he recovered and went through chemo for six months. Then, this year in March, he had the bottom lobe of his right lung removed to take care of a tumor there that hadn't responded to the chemo. There were more long, worrisome days in the hospital and then again at home as he dealt with an infection.

Finally, at the end of April he was pronounced No Evidence of Disease - the closest the doctors will get to saying he's cured. We still have follow up appointments to do for the next year to keep an eye on things, but in general, it's over. For now, and for ever, hopefully, we're done dealing with this. Steve's back to his old self, back to work, back to living. To see him today, you would never even know he had been sick. I cannot be more thankful for how well he's come through this.

It has been quite a year, for him obviously, but for me too, and my family. Watching him go through all this has been incredibly scary but also amazing - seeing his strength as he faced a life-threatening and life-changing disease. He was always in good spirits even after weeks cooped up in the hospital, after two operations, countless poking and prodding, frighteningly severe reactions to medications, painful procedures and most of all, just plain not wanting to be there, wishing he was at home in his own bed - through all of it he never lost his good humor and sweet demeanor that those who know him find so endearing. I was so impressed at what a model patient he was. So good natured - but that's who he is, who he always has been.

I know it was frightening and life-altering for him, but it was for me, too. While I did my best to be there for him, to be supportive and do whatever he needed to get through it, I felt so helpless knowing that really, there was nothing I could do besides care for him in all the little ways I could and make sure he knew I loved him. I hated feeling so helpless and I hated being afraid that we were going to lose him. I'd spend days with my heart in my throat, afraid to leave the hospital for fear that something would happen while I was gone but unable to stay because my own life was still moving forward outside. It seemed like things would get better only for something else to happen and I'd be back there, scared to death.

Going to the hospital nearly every day was so difficult. At first it was hard for me to see him like that - so helpless and hooked up to a million tubes and wires and machines. But even later, when he was doing better, some days it was hard to make myself go - I was so sick of the hospital and what it meant, what it could mean. I took some days off but not being there was just as difficult - I felt guilty for leaving him alone there, knowing how much he hated it, knowing that life is fragile and anything could happen while my back was turned.

Coming so close to losing him reminded me just how much I love him and how much he does for us. How much I would miss him if we were to lose him. I did my best to let him know in deed and word how much I love him and how important he is in my life. I hope he does know.

When my mom died in 1997, I remember vividly how much I grew up practically overnight. I have always said that if losing my mom hadn't been the most awful thing that had ever happened to me, it would've been one of the best. I know that sounds weird, but what I mean is that it forced me to find myself, to face the absolute worst thing I could conceive and find that I was up to the task. I was 24 and still a stupid, spoiled girl who never lacked for anything. People - my mother, especially - took care of me. I had barely any concept of misery or loss or pain. I had never been tested because the people who loved me protected me from it. I learned so much from my mother's death. I learned that I could help my dad and brothers make decisions I had never even considered. I learned that I could write and give a dignified eulogy to a church crowded with friends and family without crying. I learned that I could give comfort to others even when I needed my own comfort. I learned that I could make up my own mind. I learned that I already knew the right thing to do. I learned that I could get up every day and go on even though my world had just ended.

I learned so much about so many things but mostly, I learned that I was capable of so much more than I had ever really given myself credit for.

Everything that happened this year with my brother served as a reminder to me of what I learned so long ago. I can do it. It doesn't matter what it is or how much it hurts, I know I am strong enough for whatever comes my way. Almost as much as I am thankful that we get to keep my brother for a little while longer, I am thankful for the reminder of who I am and what I can do.