I still remember the day. I cried inside my car for what felt like hours, then finally fell asleep on a park bench. I was hovering between boyhood and manhood, and suddenly, I had to step up and be the strong one for my parents, my siblings, and most importantly my little sister, Mariela.
It was me, my mom and my sister in a conference room surrounded by four doctors and 10 strangers trying to help us understand. I can still feel the pit in my stomach and the knot in my throat. I showed no emotion. I couldn’t. I had to be strong. I had to make sense of it all. And nobody in that room even noticed I was there. There is no way to describe the isolation, confusion, helplessness and fear.
My little sister’s cancer had returned.
Sweet Mariela, only 13-years-old; she’d have to muster whatever strength she had left in her little body to face the battle she had ahead of her. My parents were beyond devastated. I didn’t dare shed a tear in front of them, and no tears in front of my little sister…. ever! I had to be the strong one, even though I, myself was dying inside.
I remember the day I realized I wasn’t alone. There was a magical, loving place called Jacob’s Heart full of people who cared about siblings like me. At Jacob’s Heart there were other siblings of kids with cancer who were suffering, feeling guilty, and trying to hold it together…just like me.
Jacob’s Heart became our second family. They provided groceries, rides, gas cards and counseling, not just for Mariela but for all of us. We had a larger family encircling our family with hope.
I remember another day. Mariela, now in her 20’s and seven years cancer free, called me with joy bursting from her voice, “Guess what, Bro…I just got my dream job! I’m going to help teens with cancer…and their siblings…at Jacob’s Heart.”
You might know Mariela. She has run the Teen Support Program at Jacob’s Heart for the past six years. Under my little sister’s leadership, Jacob’s Heart’s teen program has grown from just a couple of teens getting together to a thriving multi-dimensional support network. Mariela now studies post-traumatic growth in teen cancer survivors and their siblings – those who turn traumatic events into growth opportunities. To me, she’s the most shining example.
Not every story has a happy ending like ours, but every child with cancer and every one of their siblings deserves the kind of love and support found at Jacob’s Heart.
For families going through childhood cancer, there are some days we will remember for the rest of our lives. Thanks to places like Jacob’s Heart, the dark days are uplifted by joyful memories.
Thank you for caring about our families,