Starting in 2006, Cancer Pathways of Seattle, Washington started a unique program called Cancer Unwrapped Writing Contest. This program uses the power of writing to allow the children of families undergoing cancer treatment the opportunity to write about their own emotions and experiences. Ten years later, this writing contest is still successfully helping families cope with pain and the stress of cancer. We want to thank Anna Gottlieb of Cancer Pathways for sharing some of these heartfelt stories with us. Search Out of the Mouths of Babes for more stories.
My Brother Michael by Jonathan Linders
The immense coughing continued to resonate through the night, disturbing those who were listening. Blood began to seep out of the sick boy’s mouth, mixed with undigested food and mucus. There I was sitting on a rickety, old chair, rocking back and forth, and pondering what was to come. A doctor finally walked in, wearing a white coat with his neatly stacked reports, and the look on his face revealed everything. “Cancer?…What did this sweet boy do to deserve such a life threatening disease?” I asked myself. However, an answer never came.
Michael was the happiest boy ever who played cheerfully every day, whether it was hanging out with the family, playing video games, or imagining explosive battle scenes in the bathroom. Whatever he did, joy emanated from his heart. He had a sense of enjoying life fully, and accepting nothing less. Even in the hospital as cancer crept upon his life, he maintained a warm attitude that was always pleasant to be around. The atmosphere would change completely when he entered a room, changing from dullness to full of humor and absolute fun. This boy Michael truly amazed everyone.
I was about four years old when the doctor diagnosed my younger brother with leukemia. This fatal type of cancer slowly weakened his immune system, which would gradually destroy his whole body in a matter of years. However, several kinds of treatments were used such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy to prevent the distressing results, giving Michael about a seventy percent chance of survival. Our family could only hope and pray that these remedies would cure our beloved Michael at the young age of two.
Many long months of fighting the cancer dragged on and the doctor finally announced a clean bill of health, releasing Michael to go home. During his remission, he started going back to school and enjoyed everyday life again, as everything soon went back to where it used to be.
Just three years passed and the cancer unexpectedly relapsed. His chances dwindled down to fifty percent, shocking my family and other close friends. At this point, the doctor recommended a bone marrow transplant, which was an operation of intensive surgery for the donor.
Blood tests were taken throughout my family to test blood type compatibility. My parents went first, my older brother next, and then me. My turn finally came and the doctor called me up, positioning the chair for me to sit in. I glanced at the long needle as if it was going to stab into my heart. Knots started developing in my stomach and I felt like fainting. My feet felt as cold as ice and pressure compressed up in my face. The doctor strapped my right arm down and I felt ready for the worst. At once, the needle drove into my pasty white arm, sucking blood out like a mosquito. The time seemed to have paused. The minute felt like eternity, but I made it through. The doctor gently slid the needle out and I was finished.
Fear built up in me as the doctors compared my blood type to Michael’s. Surgery always frightened me and the hospital scene constantly gave me uneasy feelings. Every night in bed, I would ask God to take this burden off me and let someone else in my family have the matching blood type. However, it was just my luck that the blood tests showed my blood matched perfectly with Michael’s. My mother said, “Do it for your brother,” and those words stuck out to me like black against white. After thinking about it, I firmly decided to go in as the donor, and donate my life-giving bone marrow, hoping to build back his immune system from ruin. I didn’t want my brother to die because I loved him so much. So I was willing to give a couple pints of bone marrow and begin with the operation.
The transplant succeeded, adding two more years onto Michael’s life and he came into remission for a second time. Yet he relapsed once more, and for the final time. His chance of survival became very minimal and despair struck us deep in our hurting hearts. My family and I knew it was the end for Michael and it was time to let go. There was no other suitable treatment to cure this resilient cancer now. I looked into Michael’s eyes and told him, “Thanks for being the greatest brother and being that humble friend of mine.” Then momentarily after, his last breaths were taken.
On September 5, 1999, Michael passed away. It was hard for me to realize how a cancer such as leukemia could take away life in years. I ponder, the greatest thing that I recollect from Michael’s life is that he had joy throughout it all, in spite of the pain and suffering. He was constantly in and out of the hospital and complaining was never apparent in his life, even though none of us would have blamed him.
Looking back, I see this emotional incident more as a positive hardship than a negative one. The grief will trouble me for the rest of my life, but I have grown in so many different ways because of it. I believe I’ve grown much closer to my family. Together we reminisce about the past events that we enjoyed with our dear Michael, accepting the fact that he is gone physically, but never apart from our love. In addition, I can reach out to other people who are suffering from a similar situation and offer a comforting shoulder to those hurting, now that I have gone through something equally traumatic. Furthermore, I’ve learned to remain joyful, whatever the circumstances may be and that a positive attitude is the key to making life enjoyable for yourself and to everyone else around you. Michael taught me that poignant example and it reflected off other people around him as well. Forever I will miss Michael, and forever I will love him for his tender loving spirit.