I think I’ve mentioned in Meiskie’s Story about my brother having cancer and being in hospital for some time.
Lately, I’ve been talking in class about it, to my friends and with my family, reliving the bittersweet memories of the amazing Planta 4 of the children’s hospital that my brother was in at the young age of 9.
In late 2006, just before my brother’s 10th birthday, the doctors told us that my brother had cancer. My mother cried. I don’t remember how I reacted, I was only 8 at the time, I didn’t quite understand it. I knew it was bad, but not quite how bad. My brother knew exactly what it was, and he just seemed to accept his fate there and then.
My mum called my dad, who was away at that time, working, and told him about my brother. He booked the first flight back home, while my mum drove back home, dropped me off at our neighbours’ and then took off to the hospital. She left the house keys with our neighbours and we went to my house to get some of my stuff. We also packed some clothes for my brother and for my mother.
I stayed home with the woman, while the husband drove to the hospital to drop off my mum and bro’s clothes. He stayed there until my daddy came home. I spent three days at my neighbours’ house, and they took good care of me, making sure I was okay, calling my mum every evening so I could talk to her, taking me to school and telling the school what had happened.
One of my parents, I can’t remember which one, came home on the third day and from then on they took turns in staying home. Two days mum, two days dad. This was all in September. I didn’t see my brother until his birthday, in the third week of October. It’s amazing how much people can change in the space of five-six weeks. My brother had started chaemotherapy, he was starting to lose his honey-blonde hair, his cheeks were puffed up from the medication and he was pale and skinny. I certainly didn’t expect it, but he was still my big brother, and it was his birthday, so we made the most of it. I think we handled it quite well, and no one cried. We played in the games room together and my brother introduced me to some of the children he’d met there. I don’t remember their names, and I don’t remember what they looked like, but I do remember that they were all happy. Just happy and optimistic. The fact that they all had cancer didn’t seem to bother them in the slightest. They just accepted it and lived their hospital lives however they could.
There is one boy who I remember quite clearly. His name started with an H, so I’ll refer to him by that.
H was a little two-year old who just didn’t seem to stop smiling. He blabbered, he giggled and he smiled. He was always happy.
The first time I saw him was on my brother’s birthday. My brother really liked that little boy, and he took me to his room to visit him. The next time I saw H, he was in his hospital bed, being rolled into the lift with two broken legs, crying his eyes out and screaming. He’d broken both legs when he fell over, down the stairs at home. The chaemotherapy caused him infinite amounts of pain, and he couldn’t have any morphine. I never saw him again after that. He died a few weeks after I saw him like that. That’s what cancer does to people. To little children who never did anything wrong.
In the rest of the time my brother was there, another two children died. I never met them.
After my brother’s birthday, I didn’t see him until November. My mum had told me that I was the glue holding the family together, and damn me if I didn’t age 5 years when she said that. My brother was allowed out of hospital for Christmas, but he was back inside again on Boxing Day.
On the 9th of January, 2007, I went to hospital to see my brother, as it was my 9th birthday. I met K then. I will tell you more about him later.
My brother had been put on the transplant list, for a bone-marrow transplant. His immune system was very low, he couldn’t walk, his body had stopped growing, but his feet hadn’t. They grew from a size 36 to a 42 in the space of 6 months. This caused his feet to be deformed, though they couldn’t do anything about it until after the transplant, because the transplant would affect his growth too.
I didn’t see him much at all in the next three months. I’d had two or three blood tests done, to see if I could donate my bone-marrow, to see if I could donate blood and to see if I could donate platelets for after the transplant. I was not a compatible donor for any of the above.
My brother got really lucky. They’d found a bone-marrow donor for him in Germany. We still don’t know who it was, but we want to thank that person for saving my brother’s life. We found a platelet donor in our own village, who we still keep in contact with and thank her every time we see her. The blood wasn’t so hard for the doctors to deal with and they soon found a donor.
On April 4th, the day after my dad’s birthday, my brother was released from the sterile room where he’d had his transplant. The best birthday present my dad ever got.
To be able to have the transplant, my brother’s immune system had to be brought down to 0, he couldn’t have any platelets in his blood, which means his blood didn’t coagulate; he had a lot of sessions of radiotherapy, and he was in a white, sterile room for a month, on morphine.
One day, out of nowhere, he got a nosebleed. He had no platelets to coagulate his blood, so the bleeding didn’t stop until hours later. The doctors had a hard time then. Between the bleeding nose and him begging for more morphine, it was hard.
I went to visit him, but I couldn’t go in the room with him. I had to talk to him through a phone and look at him through a big glass window. He was asleep most of the time, but the short time he was awake and lucid, he managed to talk to me. My parents made sure to take me away before he asked for more morphine. Only after he got out of the room did my parents tell me that my brother had been a morphine addict during his entire stay in that room, from the amounts they pumped into him.
After that, my brother was on the slow road to recovery. This year it’s going to be eight years since my brother got diagnosed, and he still has to go for check-ups. There was one time a couple of years ago that we thought the cancer had come back, but it hadn’t. The first two or three years, my brother spent a month in hospital, a week at home, then a month, two weeks, etc. up until now. He now goes to the hospital once every six months for a check-up and comes home that same day.
As for my brother’s feet… he was so weak when he came of out that room that he couldn’t walk, especially because of his feet. My dad made him a type of bike thing that my mother made him pedal on for 20 minutes every day. He used to cry because it hurt and he didn’t want to. If he hadn’t, he would be in a wheelchair.
Medication: for the first few months, he was on thirty-six different kinds of pills, injections and liquids, three times a day. There was one I remember very clearly. Sandimun. Three times a day, in orange juice to mask the flavour. My brother threw up nearly every time he took it, because of the flavour. He begged my parents to not make him have it.
My brother got really sensitive skin and got a rash on his face and his buttocks. My mum used to cry while she applied the cream on his skin, because my brother would be in pain and crying. I always tried to stay away, but it isn’t easy when your bedroom is two meters away.
None of us are the same as what we used to be, we’re all scarred from that somehow.
I mentioned a boy earlier, K. He got diagnosed when he was eight. He’s now nineteen, and he’s still got the cancer. His hips have gone, he has to bathe in oil three times a day because his skin is so dry, he can’t walk, he hasn’t been to school in years, he’s had more operations than 20 people combined, his life is ruined… his body is slowly giving up. His kidneys are failing, his liver is failing, but he’s still alive. His parents are rich, the doctors have done with him exactly what they’ve done with my brother, but his body just can’t fight it. There is still hope, but even if he recovers, he won’t be able to do anything with his life. He’s got no friends except for my brother, he’s missed out on ten years of education, all he knows is hospitals all over Spain. What kind of life has it been for K? For my brother? For H? For all those others?
My best friend said to me yesterday that I was probably more scarred than my brother from that. I think my whole family is scarred, but I see her point. I slept over at friend’s houses, at our neighbours, I stayed at school with a teacher for an extra hour because no one could pick me up, I felt neglected. I can’t talk about it without shaking and without crying. This has been really hard for me to write, and it’s like a knife through my heart with every memory I relive while writing this.
Cancer doesn’t only destroy the person that’s ill. It destroys the people around that person, and it scars people forever.
Remember, we’re here to raise our voices and speak for the people that can’t raise their voices. Don’t be afraid to tell your story, and I wish you the best of luck if you have been affected by cancer, or any illness like that, in any way.
All my love and hope,