(From Left: Rebecca, Megan, Madeline, and I)
I’d like to share a story this week. In high school, at the ages of 18 and 16 respectively, my sister and I went on a mission trip with our youth group to Chicago to work in an inner city school. Our remembrances of the trip differ greatly. I remember almost everything, the kids, seeing family in Iowa, all of the horrible corn fields in Nebraska (ugh awful...sorry to those who live there). My sister Rebecca doesn’t remember much. During this trip she began feeling awful. Not the flu awful. She wasn’t eating anything and only was able to stomach coffee in the morning. She looked pale to me. As if she was wasting away. I didn’t know then. No one did.
A week later we were camping about an hour from our home in Colorado. The pain had gotten so unbearable she couldn’t lay down and she couldn’t sleep. She spent days in sheer agony. It wasn’t normal. The doctors eventually decided to do more tests to determine what was going on. To them it looked like a cyst on her ovary. Cysts develop all the time, or so they told us. So surgery happened. We were positive. She’d go in, come back out, it'd be great! The hour long surgery turned into three hours and then six before I lost track. In a haze of confusion and worry our family gathered at the hospital to be told that a cantaloupe sized tumor had been taken out of Rebecca along with 10 inches of intestines it had killed and her appendix. Portions of the tumor were sent all over the country to determine what type of cancer it was...there was a strong likelihood it was malignant we were told. In Spanish mal means bad. I knew enough spanish to know what malignant meant.
Rebecca’s cancer turned out to be incredibly rare, Burkitt’s Lymphoma. Common in old African males. Not what anyone expected. It was extremely fast growing. And in the week of downtime she had between surgeries another tumor had formed. Over the next year our family was torn apart on a regular basis. My sisters and I had school and couldn’t be in Denver for chemo treatments. Cancer takes so much from you. Dignity, health, it divides families. Once while at the hospital in Denver I saw four of the children in the pediatrics ward that all had amputated limbs from cancer. Children that we no older than three. There were so many times I hated that cancer. I hated what it did to our family, what it did to my sister...but standing in a room with little children with missing legs or arms broke my heart.
Cancer is still in the process of stealing away joy from my sister’s life. The effects of the tumor and the harshness of the chemotherapy never really go away. Today though, Rebecca has become such an inspiration to me. She has not let her struggle with weight loss or our inherited image issues deter her from her goals. She has set her sights to run the Disney Princess Half Marathon in February. She has used her pain to toughen her resolve, to make her stronger.
There are so many reasons why we can all give up. There's always a reason. Always an excuse. Usually it's easier. But the next time you think about giving up, think of those who would kill to be in your place...to be healthy...to have the ability to push themselves further each day. When you look at your family and friends...smile and be thankful for them. For everything that they bring into your life.
For all those out there struggling with your own cancers, your own health issues, please be strong. There are those who love you, who are rooting for you. There is light, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. We are with you in spirit.