always just my little sister. The one who dominated our parents' attention
when she was a baby. The one who broke my toys, stole my lollies, drew
in my books and put her hand right in the middle of my birthday cake.
Granted, she did improve
as she got older. She was a great playmate, someone to build sandcastles
with, to make dress-ups and dolls more fun. But, of course, she was the
first to kick over the sandcastles, to monopolize the best dress-up clothes
and she had a terrible habit of ripping the legs off my Barbies. As we
grew, she always wanted to tag along when I went out with my friends, try
on my clothes and experiment with my make-up. She was just my little sister,
someone to complain to my friends about, to tease mercilessly and to tease
It's true, you never
really appreciate something until you're faced with the possibility of
losing it. I was sixteen when I came home from school to find Mum crying.
"They think Maddy's got cancer," she told me. I was stunned. I knew Maddy
had been having trouble with her leg, and I'd seen the swelling on her
thigh. But I'd never entertained the possiblity of cancer.
Over the next few weeks, my vocabulary exploded.
I learned all manner of new words, like "MRI", "metastases", "port-a-cath"
and worst of all, "Ewing's sarcoma".
We were told that Maddy's chances of survival
were around 40%. And that she had eighteen months of chemotherapy
to look forward to. Chemotherapy was very rough on Maddy.
Mum stayed at the hospital with her more or less permanently. My baby brother,
Benjamin, who was only eleven weeks old when Maddy was diagnosed, became
one of the youngest babies in the child care center. And I became the only
eleventh grader who had to hurry from school to collect a baby from child
care, hurry home to clean the house, feed the baby and start dinner, all
before I visited my sister or started my homework.
Every time I thought about the stress I was
experiencing, and complained to myself, I immediately felt incredibly
guilty. How could I complain when Maddy was going through so much?
Guilt became a big part of my life. Why did Maddy have the cancer, not
me? How could I be so petty as to complain about anything? And worst, I
was haunted be everything mean or cruel I'd ever done to Maddy. Every
punch, hair pull, kick, pinch, prank, every time I'd teased her or taken
her favorite cookie or snapped at her took on mammoth proportions.
Maddy's cancer brought us much closer together.
Maddy was never one to dwell on her illness or what it was doing to her.
Right from the start, when we were in shock and expecting her to die, she
seemed to be telling us, "Get over it, I'm going to live." She was always
eager for little bits of school gossip, funny stories, anything from the
"outside world". We'd sit watching videos, either laughing hysterically
or being the most obnoxious film critics in existence. I was enlisted
in planning various pranks to play on the hospital staff. Granted, it is
a little off putting to try to tell a joke to someone who is
throwing up between hysterical giggles, but it's amazing how quickly these
things start to seem normal.
I realized how little I'd known Maddy before.
How much I'd taken it for granted that she'd always be there, just being
my sister. And once I knew that, the months of treatment that followed
nearly broke my heart. Sometimes, I do get annoyed when people assume that
Maddy's cancer has had no effect on me at all. I know how much Maddy
suffered, but it hurt me, too. That's what I sometimes wish people would
realize. I'm still terrified of the possibility of losing my sister.
But I'm inspired by her courage, and the spirit with which she faces
her challenges. I'm certainly closer to both of my siblings now, and only
I've lost a lot of my youth, and missed a
few teen age experiences because of our family's journey through
the cancer maze. But anything I've lost can't come close to matching the
degree of Maddy's losses. I'm simply thankful to have her.