Andrew vs The Bug

October 20, 2018

Andrew and I were only born ten months apart but that didn’t stop me from proudly wearing the title of being the eldest. We were products of a high school relationship that was never destined to go beyond high school. My mom was only 18 when got pregnant with her first child, me. She had graduated a year late in an alternative school where she began a job as a manager in a car dealership, a very male dominated field. Coming from a relationship where she was constantly placed as the inferior, this job truly forced her into becoming a stronger woman as she had to adapt to the rough working environment that comes with a job like this. Although becoming stronger, a toll was still taken on my mom. A harsh work life matched a harsh home life as she faced a divorce. She found her escape in substance abuse. My mom had hit rock bottom, but life was only going to get harder. My brother, age 4 at the time, demonstrated an increasingly alarming sickness. He would throw up blood, his eyes would roll to the back of his head, and he claimed that he could feel bugs eating him from the inside out. With every one of these occurrences, my mom consistently took my brother into the hospital. The doctors were cruel and condescending, claiming that if she took in my brother one more time then they’d call CPS. Despite these threats, my mom still came back weeks later. It’s on this day that we found out my brother had kidney cancer.
It truly seemed like one minute I was in my hometown and the next I was in a large and loud foreign city, Seattle. My mom, my brother and I had been relocated into the Ronald Mcdonald house which was a large charity home for children with cancer. Our lives had drastically changed overnight. My brother was fighting for his life against “The Bug”. The Bug was strong though, The Bug would crawl through my brother’s stomach in the darkest hour of night and it’d leave him in the most intense pain. My mother was still so young and so fragile during these times. She went from a tough reality to an unbearable one. She knew she had to transform into the mother role she was always meant to fulfill. She became the rock of our small family and that began with a series of tough decisions, including quitting drugs on the spot. She had become superwoman overnight, with my brother being superman. And then there was me. Even though I was only 5 years old, I had to step into a man’s pair of shoes and contribute to my small family and be the father of the house since my dad wasn’t with us during these times. I’ve always had this quality to where I feel like I’m not physically present, that I’m a silent observer recognizing the emotions and actions of those around me. My mom and brother were under destroying stress and I knew that I could not contribute to any further problems. I had to shape my mentality into becoming a very mature and soothing voice that could constantly keep my family leveled. This experience was shaping all of us into stronger people and a truly inseparable trio. We grew emotionally intertwined, if one of us hurt then we all hurt. We had all became one single person fighting The Bug.
The Ronald McDonald experience was indescribably humbling and made us all so grateful for the little we did have back in town. We moved in between two other younger boys. On the right side of us, there was Creed. He had been inflicted with brain cancer and thought his stay at the Ronald McDonald house was a family vacation. On the left side of us was Gibby. Gibby was one of the most energetic kids I’ve ever had the pleasure meeting. Throughout our stay, the four of us formed a little bond that consisted of trading Pokemon cards on the daily. Neither Gibby or Creed survived their battle with cancer which truly put into perspective that this devastating disease could take anyone in that building at any time, including my brother. Andrew was a fighter though. He fought and he fought until the day the doctors told us he didn’t have to fight anymore. He had defeated The Bug. After receiving this news, my mom took us on a midnight drive throughout the city we never got to appreciate as we spent all of our time cooped up in that house and hospital. Seattle was beautiful and full of large buildings and flashing lights. I wished this had been the end of our journey, our happy ending. But, that night during that car ride I asked a question that my mom couldn’t answer, “How do they know that The Bug is dead? How do they know for sure?” I wish this question was just a child’s thought. I wish this question held no weight. Slowly but surely after arriving home, the doctor visits had started rolling back in. No one wanted to tell me the harsh reality, but this experience had made me sharper and I knew exactly what was going on. I felt my insides crushing once I found myself back in the Ronald McDonald house, home of sick kids.
Not only did my brother’s cancer come back, it had spread throughout his lungs as well. We were back to square one, back in our room, back in this battle. The Bug had challenged my brother to a rematch. This second time around was more of a blur than the first. Although, I have some very distinct memories. Some of these memories are light and positive, such as meeting Beyonce and having her sign my freshly painted plate. Or playing the game cube in the hospital lounge. But it’s the harsher memories that linger in my head the most; my brother throwing up over nurses because he could no longer stand the smell of alcohol wipes consistently surrounding him, a couple screaming in agony in the hallway as they learn that their daughter wouldn’t be winning her battle, or how my brother had slowly became a shell of a boy. A kid robbed of a precious year of play, a kid who had become accustomed to appointments and needles. But, like before, he fought and fought and fought and won. For the second time in a row, my brother beat The Bug.
We had all evolved from a weak, small family into superheroes who could take on the world for we had truly taken the world on and came out on top. However, till this day the signs of this disease linger. Andrew still can’t do what most kids can because of the treatment. This includes little things such as lifting heavy weights and of course, more severe effects such as not being able to have kids. Despite all this, my brother still lives life to the fullest. Now 16, he is a star track player and honorroll student. My mom is now happily married to my stepdad and has had my two sisters; Alex (10) and Aleyah (4). I truly believe that my mom wouldn’t have become the woman she is today without the way cancer affected her life. As for me, I still remain a silent observer of the world around. I’m now 17 with a part time job and college-bound attitude. My brother and I push each other every day into becoming the first members of our family to attend college. Although we’re polar opposites, we remain and always will be best friends. Every year, our entire family runs in the Relay for Life marathon in honor of my brother and all the other strong families we meant during our stay. We still travel back to Seattle for Andrew’s checkups and are reminded of the experience we went through and it always keeps us grateful for the little things and for each other.
Anthony Krueger