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.

Food and Fashion: Saint Valentine’s Day Luncheon and Fashion Show

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On Tuesday, February 12, 2013, I had the privilege of attending the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s annual Saint Valentine’s Day Luncheon and Fashion Show. How was it? Completely amazing.

As I mentioned earlier, I was selected for the Spirit of Tom Landry Character Award—a great honor that I’m so grateful to receive! The luncheon and fashion show were such amazing experiences, and I even got to bring along one of my first childhood friends, Alessia. (I thought she’d enjoy the fashion show much more than any other one of my friends, too.)

We got out of our car in the pouring rain, something I assumed was “good luck” for the events to come. Running into the Meyerson Symphony Center in the Dallas Arts District, I knew it would be an exciting day. I was surrounded by tables covered in the classic Valentine’s Day red and pink, with little gift bags—and pledge cards with my face on them!—on the tables. (The fun part about the picture was that I took it on my camera while I was in San Francisco!)

The Tables Continue reading

Cancer, Hope, and Miracles: One Moment Changed Everything

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This is my brother Jude, and it’s a miracle he’s here today.

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My brother, Jude, was a sickly child, constantly being taken out of school for medical reasons — what we believed was asthma. Jude going to kindergarten was such a huge moment — the two of us would be at the same school, he’d actually be going to school, and I’d be able to see him there every day.

Seventh grade was the first year I tried to stay extremely optimistic for the future. I started writing in a journal I bought, making sure to include even the mundane details of the first days of school. As I was rereading it, something caught my eye — Jude had a stomachache one morning, and we were almost late to school.

It was August 19, 2010, Jude’s fourth day of kindergarten and my fourth day of seventh grade. He cried for so long that day about losing a game in his gym class. He screamed about how they cheated him and how unfair the game was, as we told him that “it was just a game” and that it wasn’t worth crying over.

His cheeks were bright red, which I thought was my mom’s lipstick. Later that night, we found out he had a 105 degree fever, and we brought him to the emergency room. I’ll never forget the flashing lights of the ambulance that whisked my only brother away from the emergency room to the large hospital, Children’s Medical Center, in downtown Dallas.

The next morning, my friend A-’s dad brought me to the hospital to see Jude. I kept my sunglasses on for the ride home, trying to hide the tears.

When I made it home, I started packing up my things to take with me back to my friend’s house. My journal was exactly where I left it. I opened it, turned it to the next blank page, and wrote three words.

“Jude has leukemia.” Continue reading