My brother. My hero.

This guest blog post by Kelli Very Ben-and-KelliWhen you hear childhood cancer, you think babies. toddlers. middle school.  I hear childhood cancer and think teenager. college. brother.

I came home for Thanksgiving break in Fall 2004, and my mom told me my brother Mike, a 17 year old freshman in college, had osteosarcoma, a childhood cancer.  I didn’t know what that meant at the time.  Didn’t know the words mediport, methotrexate or dilaudid.  Didn’t know he’d go through 18 rounds of chemo, two thoracotomies, and an implant surgery (from his femur to shin, including his knee), all before he turned 19.

It’s an interesting place to be, the sibling of a “child” with cancer.  All attention, all the time is no longer on you. Not only from your parents, but from family, friends, neighbors, everyone. If you have a slight fever, it means taking it easy and resting.  If your sibling with cancer has a slight fever, off to the hospital they go, with the possibility of being admitted and not coming home for a few days.  Your life changes.

I consider myself lucky – I was 20 years old and in college when Mike was in treatment.  My parents were able to devote all their time and energy on him.  Mike came first, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  I did stay in the hospitals during/after his surgeries, had to wear a mask at home so I didn’t sneeze and share germs and I definitely played shofer to and from the hospital.  But nothing compared to what my brother endured.  He showed me courage and strength I’d have to dig deep to find in myself.

I am thankful every day that Mike is now eight years cancer free.  He graduated from college [only one year late]; became a paramedic [his dream]; and continues to be a volunteer firefighter.  And just recently, Mike became a member of the New Jersey Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) – medical personnel designed to provide medical care during a disaster or other event [this is not an easy accomplishment].

The battle doesn’t end when treatment does.  There will forever be check ups, long-term effects and tearful times when friends met along the way don’t make it.  So every year we have a party to celebrate life; family and friends from all over the East Coast come to raise a glass to Mike.

Some people never meet their hero, my brother is mine.


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