September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Each day I will feature a different guest blogger who will generously share their personal experience with childhood cancer. Stories are always more potent than statistics.
By Jacob Wagner
The day when my little brother, Ryan (you can read Ryan’s Story HERE), was diagnosed with cancer it seemed to me as if the earth stood still. Time ceased to move forward. All of it seemed surreal; the severity of it all hadn’t hit me. I took the news as any eleven year old would, and never even thought of the possibility that Ryan might succumb to the beast of a sickness that lay inside him.
For ten tumultuous months, we would fight alongside Ryan. We would cry, and scream, and sometimes laugh, but most importantly, we would savor and cherish every single moment we had with Ryan.
Ryan was an energetic kid, a firecracker of youth and explosiveness. He would dance, shadow box, run around in circles, all sorts of wild things. After he started chemotherapy you could notice the change in his energy. Physically he just seemed more tired. I soon found myself coming to feel the same exhaustion he was feeling after only months of treatment. He was kicking butt for a while into his diagnosis, and made me think that everything would okay, that he would come through, until things took an unexpected turn for the worst.
We found ourselves in a new hospital, thousands of miles away in another state, where Ryan was introduced to new forms of chemotherapy. Six long, chaotic, painful weeks we would spend there in that new hospital, trapped in a purgatory. I almost lost my brother to surgeries and toxic treatment in that place.
I had finally come to grips with the fact that he may not make it out of the war against his sickness in one piece, and this tore at me for the weeks to come, gnawing away at the wall of confidence and subconscious denial that I had built up around me since Ryan was diagnosed.
We soon found ourselves on a military medical flight back home to Hawaii, and along with feelings of confusion and anxiety, a heavy and abyssal pit formed in my stomach, which I was sure, would swallow the entire plane up in its dark claws.
As soon as we returned home, Ryan seemed happier, full of more energy. He smiled more. We were living on a military base at the time, and previously had to move houses due to his condition. When we returned home, we visited the old neighborhood, where we had first lived before Ryan’s diagnosis, where our friends lived.
I recall a very vivid memory of me, wheeling Ryan around in his wheelchair out in the field area behind the old house. I was a little upset that he couldn’t play and run around like he usually did back there before he got sick, but to my joy I was able to wheel him part way onto the grass, where his friends swarmed him and played around him. He seemed so happy, and his eyes so bright.
I was sure now that he would make it through this. I was sure that he’d get to play with his little friends for years to come, and this moment alone had gotten my hopes up. That was one of the last good memories I have of Ryan.
After two weeks of being home, Ryan passed away in my mom’s arms, the gentle Hawaiian trade winds and the light tropical rain welcoming a new soul into their fold. I feel as if I lost a part of me to the winds, that night. I stood next to my mom on the patio, as Ryan slipped away from us.
I was overcome with such a great sadness, but I was afraid that if I were to cry right then and there I would scare Ryan as he closed his eyes. I waited for the inevitable and when it came and passed, I screamed. I screamed so hard that the back of my throat hurt, and cried so heavily that my stomach and jaws started to both ache.
We all cried and we all screamed, and then we had close friends drive out to say goodbye to Ryan. Not wanting to call the mortuary right away, these friends of ours stayed all night at our house, as my parents cradled my brother’s body. We cremated him and had his ashes spread at his favorite beach. Yet, even after all of these years, those events still feel as though they happened only just yesterday.
I lost my best friend, my playmate, my brother. For the rest of our time in that house, something was missing, something was terribly wrong. I carried that weight with me when we finally moved off the military base, and the pain still emits a dull echo of that fateful night every time I look up at his pictures or see his toys, or every time we visit his beach, or every time I hear his favorite songs on the radio.
I long for the days when he would go swimming together, when we would curl up on the couch and watch our TV shows, or even when he was in that wheelchair, surrounded by friends and family in the big grassy field, still alive.
If Ryan were still alive now, I would tell him that I love him. I would tell him that he was the toughest fighter I’ve ever seen, and his bravery was beyond comprehension. I’d let him know that nothing in this world could ever drive us apart from him, nothing out of this world or in between would be able to sever my love and eternal bond with him, my deeply missed brother.
If you don’t want to miss a single entry in the September Series, consider subscribing to my blog. Here is how: Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.