It’s cancer. Again.

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This is my brother, Jude. He’s ten years old. And in December 2010, he had a bone marrow transplant that saved his life.

Today, I found out that his cancer has returned.

I’m just completely and utterly shocked, and never in a million years would I have expected this. I still secretly don’t believe this is happening, and I really think this could be just a really bad dream or an elaborate April Fool’s joke everyone is in on except for me. But the waves of guilt and anxiety and fear and anger have been crashing down on me, and no matter who I tell or how many times I tell people, I just can’t get these feelings to go away.

“It’s not your fault,” I was told by every single person I talked to today. “It’s not your fault.” It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. The words sear into my head with the intensity and pain of a hot branding iron.

With each repetition of this phrase, I don’t feel any better. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault that Jude relapsed. It’s not your fault that your bone marrow didn’t work. And it’s not your fault that he’s going through this again. My mind becomes numb as I hear this phrase repeated over and over and over and over. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.

But no matter how many times people tell me it’s not my fault, that I shouldn’t feel guilty for my brother getting cancer a second time, the feelings of guilt don’t go away. I feel guilty for every time he came in my room and asked me if I wanted to do something. I feel guilty for every time he asked if I wanted to watch a movie with him. And I feel guilty for every time he asked me if I would watch him play video games. If I could go back in time, I would’ve stopped whatever I was doing to just be with him, before he was in pain, before it became too difficult for him to smile.

KERA, Dallas’ NPR affiliate, did a feature on my brother’s cancer story and recovery that ended just last week about how we’ve moved on from the cancer experience and what we’ve taken with us. When I was asked whether or not I worry about Jude’s health, I answered with a resounding “No.” I don’t worry because Jude’s health will be fine. Yet, I was proven wrong in the worst way possible. The “He’s been cured” line I told everyone back then is now a lie.

“I don’t know how I’ll get through this” has been my anthem today. And as I write this, I still have absolutely no idea how I’ll be able to cope. All I want is a sense of normality. “Normal” is the result I’m searching for but one I know is impossible to achieve. Because “normal” means my parents come home, my brother goes back to playing on the laptop at his desk, I go back to worrying about my physics class, and my brother doesn’t have cancer again.

When I was told that Jude’s leukemia returned, a few thoughts rushed into my mind. How will I ever get through this again? It was a fairly typical response, a textbook reaction of someone in my situation. But what surprises me is what my next immediate thoughts were. Will I have to email my teachers and ask for extensions on tests and homework? What does this mean for my extracurriculars? Am I still allowed to be as involved at my school as I currently am? Has everything I’ve been working towards for the last three years just been thrown out the window for something that’s “not my fault”? It feels incredibly selfish to wonder about what happens to me first, and maybe it’s not what everyone expects—or wants—me to worry about, but that’s all I can think of. And I just can’t even fathom how much longer my brother will be a cancer patient, what that will mean, and whether we’ll both make it out of this mess.

At this point, what I really want is to clear to me, and there are only a few things that I really want right now. I really want a strawberry-banana smoothie that’s thick, but still thin enough I can drink it through a straw. I really want to go to the library and check out a book on sociology that I’ve kept on hold for the past few days. I really want to reach a conclusion on whether or not I’m taking psychology next year and which class I’d have to give up to take it. And I really want to wake up.

10 thoughts on “It’s cancer. Again.

  1. The hardest part of loving someone is knowing that sometimes, to really love them, you have to love yourself too. It’s okay to feel that way, to want to know how your life will change from here on, because Jude’s life is so intimately intertwined with the rest of yours. Have faith that all this has a purpose. Have faith that Jude will overcome again, with you and your family’s love and support. And please know that we all love him, as we love you and your whole family. May God always give you strength and comfort.

  2. I follow your mom’s blog and I’ve seen how much she loves your family. Now I see how much you love your brother. Sometimes we think of practical matters first (such as your classes) because they are easier to deal with and thinking of something else prevents us from drowning in our grief. As someone who’s dealing with a devastating, ongoing problem, I can relate to how you feel. People’s well-meaning reassurances rarely work, especially at first. What I liked, though, was when people said “stay strong.” Even though I was tired of staying strong, I understood from that statement that they understood how difficult it was, and that they knew how nothing they say can make the problem go away, and they just wanted to convey that they believed in me and wished me well. So I hope that you and your entire family stay strong through this, and I really really hope that your brother will be okay. Hug your mum. xx

  3. I agree with smalltowngirlsmidnighttrains in that we tend to distract ourselves from the pain of the present by thinking of other things. You are not selfish. The fact that you feel guilty about your brother’s condition even if you shouldn’t says so much about how you love him. I can’t say that I feel or understand your pain, because every person’s experience is different. But know that your family is in my thoughts and prayers.

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  5. I’m so sorry to hear that Jude’s illness has returned.
    Nothing is harder than fighting to be strong when life is cruel and unfair. That’s when when we really need each other. Jude is lucky to have a brother who stands by his side even in the darkest times.
    Best wishes to Jude and the whole family!

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