I’ll never forget standing at that gas station pump while my phone rang, I had my hands full – but I was waiting for this call, I left the house in hopes of getting my mind off things, just to take a drive. Today was like any other MN summer, beads of sweat form on your forehead fast than a shot of vodka takes effect, you begin to sweat in orifices only a human anatomy class could teach you their locations, and you hope to god that the car you are riding in, if not your own, doesn’t have leather seats; for you may be stuck there for days. I swipe my credit card, and pick my fuel, $2.99 God that’s a lot of money for a gallon of gas. (Yes that’s the time frame in which this story takes place, sad we can think of how many years ago that was due to the minute cost of gas, looking at the pump now)
I hear that monotonous ringtone I should really replace with something catchy and cool, I’m not spending $2.99 to get ‘lose yourself’ blaring out of my phone. It’s my mom, eh I was hoping it’d be my brother, I answer anyways juggling the pump, my credit card, juggling plates, taming tigers and whatever else could possibly be going on at that moment.
Hey Meg, it’s Mom… Yes I’m aware, that’s what the caller ID is for, thank you though. “So we just got back, your brother’s inside…” She has this way about lingering statements that would be nice to hear as a whole sentence instead of the chopped version that makes me wait in anticipation; get it out woman. “The tumor is cancerous…they say Hodgkin’s lymphoma…”
There couldn’t have been any longer of a pause as I stood there at a loss for words, with a loss of breath, I couldn’t speak – my brain was doing its best to keep up with what it just heard. I had taken comfort in my brothers light heartedness about the whole situation, his playful remarks, and joking demeanor made me think that everything was going to be OK – he didn’t seem scared, so why would I. It was all at this moment, every feeling I’d not addressed or known in my 16 years of life, came flooding on in to wake me up and throw a red flag to my cerebellum saying, this could be it Meg, I felt blindsided and helpless.
I remember continuing to go for my drive after that, I knew what I was going to be facing when I walked in those doors upon returning home, as selfish as it may be, I just wasn’t ready. With every mile of road covered, my thoughts unfolded more and more; I let my mind wander to dark places they shouldn’t have even gone, I consumed myself with the what – if’s and imagination engulfing fallacies, I convinced could soon become realities. I drove for so long and so far that before coming home, I returned to that same gas station, pulled up to that same pump to refuel, almost to note in my mind that this was real and unlike the movies – we aren’t sure what the end is going to be.
After talking things over with the family, sitting, crying, hugging, crying some more, we came to the conclusion that we were all in this together; not an option to not be. This was my Junior year of high school, my brothers early years of college; the cancer forcing him to take a leave of absence to attend treatment to get better. It was weird and calming at the same time for him to be living in the room next to me again, it hadn’t been this way for a while – and I think I realized how much I missed it once he was back and I could see him whenever I wanted. I would return home from school and he would either be sleeping or lying on the couch and watching TV. If he was awake, I would usually join him in what he was doing – and if he was sleeping, I’d patiently (not so much) wait for him to open his eyes.
Watching the man I’ve looked up to for so many years struggle to walk around the house and stand strong was painful, looking inside myself and knowing I couldn’t be emotionally weak was difficult, being there to see my brother endure and conquer was nothing short of beautiful. We are lucky we didn’t have to say many lengthy goodbyes, or well thought out letters; instead we filled the air with I love you’s and I’m here for you’s. Sure there were bad days, there were days that were terrible for him, but he never once complained, ever. He always stayed so strong that it helped me to stay strong as well, it gave me the hope and belief I needed to imagine the day that he was cancer free and going about his life again. I will never forget the car ride to church one Christmas when things were looking grim, and he started to grow tired from the fight; we were casually talking about life and how we hated going to church on Christmas, but did it because that’s what our mother wanted. I kept staring straight ahead, not allowing my face to express anything but what it had prior to my question, I asked him “are you scared?…” A man so strong, one that held onto his emotions 90% of time, stared straight into the windshield as well, silent…then I heard a quiet and uneasy voice…”like hell”.
I’ve never loved and respected my brother more that day, being able to stay strong, hating all the attention he was getting for the negatives, holding steady to show that he was alright, was willing to let the walls down and let me walk on in. He showed me that at times of adversity it’s ok to be scared, it’s ok to hurt, and it’s ok to feel; it doesn’t make you weak, it doesn’t make you dramatic, it makes you real.
My brother is now cancer free living in Pennsylvania, owns his first home, has a nice job, a wonderful girlfriend, and the world in his pocket – it’s his abundance of fight that reminds me everyday to do what I love instead of what I have to, because there will come a day where the have to’s aren’t going to be worth it anymore. From watching my older brother struggle on a daily basis through radiation treatments, hear him sick to his stomach in the bathroom at least once a week from all the medication, losing weight at a rapid pace, and losing his hair (eyelashes, arm hair, facial hair as well) to seeing the man stand before me cancer free and strong, guiding me through life like he always has and will continue to do, I’m so very thankful.
On a day where we celebrate freedoms and recognize those who have fallen as soldiers, heroes, and loved ones; while honoring the living that fight everyday for us, I thank you now Kent. You are my hero, I couldn’t have asked for a better brother, and I couldn’t have wished for a better set of footsteps to want to follow in – thank you for always giving, and always caring; you mean the world to me and I’m so glad God gave you your fair chance at life. Many people find someone famous in the past or present to look up to, I’m lucky enough to have my hero always nearby. I love you.