My Sister’s Battle With Cancer

The last year has been more than a little stressful.


Beth Punches / Creative Commons

Cancer patients often lose their hair due to chemotherapy. Groups like Locks of Love take hair donations to create wigs for cancer patients.

I never really understood how horrible cancer was, until it became a part of my family. Four months ago, my 16-year-old sister was diagnosed with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma. It was the same day I went to Glendale Community College after winter break. I actually didn’t make it to any of my classes that day.

I was in the bathroom getting ready for school. My mom answered the house phone, and next thing I knew, we were both crying on the bathroom floor. The news was devastating, but we had to put up a front because we didn’t want my sister to know, at least not yet. She had a doctor’s appointment the next day and we wanted her to have a good night’s rest.

When we went to pick her up from school, the strangest thing happened. She was full of energy and love.

Now, I’m not saying my sister is a cold-hearted gal, but she was never like this after school. It almost felt like she knew something. Seeing her so happy warmed my heart, but killed me at the same time. Maybe because I knew tomorrow everything would change.

As I look back, I am actually thankful for that day. On days that are a little more difficult, I just think to myself that my sister will soon smile and be as happy as she was that day.

The next day I had to go to school and my sister had her doctor’s appointment. My day at school was pretty much a waste of time because I couldn’t think straight. All I knew was my sister was going to find out she has cancer and I wasn’t going to be there.

By the time I was out of school, my cousins had reached out to me. I had to break the news to them because all they knew was that my sister was in the hospital. I remember typing and deleting my reply multiple times.

Maybe it was so hard because seeing “Mel has cancer” spelled out, turned  this nightmare into  reality.

When I finally had the courage to respond, we arranged for all of us to head Over to the hospital, where my sister would spend her next three days, getting her first round of chemotherapy.

Room 6204 became all too familiar to us, as we crossed the long hallway of the UCLA Medical Center for those three days.

That’s when it sunk in that cancer doesn’t discriminate.

The whole sixth floor was for children and newborns with cancer.

Throughout the many rounds of chemo my sister has gone through, there have been just as many side effects.

The list goes from nausea and vomiting to diarrhea and neuropathy to insomnia and exhaustion.

Of course there is also the obvious hair loss and days of complete isolation.

The worst weeks for me as an older sister were those, where my sister would practically cry everyday. When she developed neuropathy on her feet, she couldn’t even stand or sleep without feeling a throbbing sensation of heat all over her feet. Her inability to sleep began because the pain was too much for her to ignore.

My poor sister would cry all night because she wanted to sleep.

But she couldn’t.

Frustration began to linger in my family because we tried everything from buying medical marijuana to a variety of natural alternatives. Though my sister was prescribed narcotics for the pain, we tried to use them as little as possible, as medicines also came with a long list of side effects. One of those included addiction, being that my sister is so young, her body could cling onto narcos a lot easier. On top of everything we had to make sure my sister didn’t develop addiction.

Losing her hair, was extremely hard for my sister. When she was first told she was going to be starting chemo, they recommended that she cuts her hair short. My innocent little sister thought if she did this, her hair would not fall off. Sadly, that was not the case.

Within two weeks of starting chemo, my sister lost almost all her hair. It was during this time, that I felt like a terrible sister, because there was nothing I could do to help her.

Sadly, hair wasn’t the only thing she lost during this time.  She lost the second half of her junior year, and all the joys that came with being a cheerleader, or that of being in student government. Cancer changed everything.  Her new normal is chemotherapy, emergency trips to the hospital, constant labs and possible blood transfusion to inpatient stays at the hospital. 

You hear about it countless times, when family and friends have shaved their heads in solidarity for a loved one. Though the thought has crossed my mind many times, I have yet to do it.

I hate myself for not being brave enough. I think this just goes to show how wrapped up I am in society’s norms and how insecure I really am. Though I have and will always think my sister is beautiful with or without hair, there is a society that will stop and stare at those who are a little different.

My sister is now considered handicapped. We even have a pass to prove it. Once a strong cheerleader, she now uses a wheelchair when going out.

Even walking has become too difficult for her. I remember when we first mentioned getting a wheelchair. She refused. When we finally convinced her, the hardest part was getting her to use it. You could see discomfort all over her face.

It breaks my heart to see my sister in such a vulnerable state. The once confident and bubbly girl has become clouded by fear and the society around her adds so much to it. F

rom giving her looks in public, to remarks and more, people all around give unwanted attention, making it hard for her to forget about the condition she is in. It infuriates me.

During this entire journey, I have been fortunate enough to find my way back to God. However, this experience has really opened my eyes. It’s not important what you believe in, but I think it’s important to have faith. Faith and family have been my greatest support throughout this difficult time.

About a month ago, my sister’s doctors informed us that there was a chance that they would amputate her foot. Anger, devastation and sadness were a few of the things we felt upon finding out the devastating  news. I don’t remember ever praying so much before.

I began to pray, specifically to the Holy Infant of Atocha.

All I can say is that the week after we were told amputation was be the best choice we were blessed with the news that amputation would no longer be necessary. We went from a horrible extreme to being able to breathe again.

My sister’s journey is almost over. Talks about a minimal surgery to remove the tumor on her foot have been brought to the table. I have learned a lot and my perspective on everything has changed. Cancer became a part of my family and though it is still not all gone, I am a completely different person. I am closer to my family than ever.

Often, family is all you have I have found a new relationship with God and I will treasure it forever. This illness is life-changing to to not only the person who has it, but those around.

I know that we will come out of this stronger than ever. I am not angry, but I know that this has changed our lives forever, into something different, and different is beautiful.