No One Fights Alone

October 20, 2018

About a year and a half ago, my oldest brother, Taylor, the healthiest guy I’ve ever seen in my entire life, was diagnosed with Melanoma skin cancer. I remember that day as clearly as if it was only a moment ago, we had gone to my grandma’s house to see my aunt Nancy. She was visiting in Yakima for the week and was staying with my grandma. My dad asked me to walk back home and get his phone for him, we only live a few blocks away so I agreed. I walked those few blocks home and in my parents room was my other brother Jordan, he was sleeping so I tried not to wake him as I walked over to the nightstand next to the bed and unplugged my dad’s phone from the charger. I explained that dad had sent me and he went back to sleep. As I walked out of the house, my dad’s phone started to ring. Taylor was calling. I don’t see him a lot because he lives in Seattle with his pregnant wife, Erika. When I answered, my brother said “Brianne? Where’s dad?” Now that I think about it, I heard the uneasiness in his voice but hadn’t noticed it at the time. I told him that dad was at grandma’s house and that I was getting his phone for him. Taylor said that he was going to call my grandma’s house phone and we’d talk later. We hung up and I walked back to my grandma’s house to find my whole family was out in the backyard, except for my dad. He was in the living room, pacing rapidly. I looked at him curiously and he seemed worried. I don’t think he even noticed I was in the room. I walked up to him and he tried to shoo me away but, being a teenager, I didn’t listen.
At that moment, my mom came into the living room and looked at my dad with the same look I gave him. About 30 minutes later, my dad finally got off the phone with Tay. He sat down in one of my grandma’s wooden chairs and put his hands over his face. Once I saw my dad’s eyes tear up, I started to worry. My dad looked up at my mom and grabbed her hands. He looked at her and then at me. I asked him what was wrong. He said “He went to get the big mole on his neck checked out and they found that he has Melanoma, a type of skin cancer.” My mom burst into tears. I just stood there, in shock I didn’t know what this meant. I’ve never had someone so close to me have cancer before and no one had actually explained what cancer can do to someone and I wished I had at the time.
Over the next several months, my mom, dad, I, and my other brother Jordan went back and forth between Seattle and Yakima. Taylor attended many appointments at the Seattle Cancer Care Center. I was the only one not allowed in the room. I just sat in the waiting room for hours waiting to find out everything that was happening in that room, everything the doctors were saying. Of course since I’m the kid, no one would tell me what was being said in that room after every appointment. There is nothing more terrifying then knowing your brother had a deadly disease eating away at his body and not knowing why or how long it would be until it would be out of him or if he was even going to survive.
A few months afterwards Taylor was scheduled for a surgery to remove the tumor from his neck and chest but, the doctors told us that once the surgery was over he wouldn’t be able to use his right arm for a while. He assured me he’d survive through it. The surgery took over 5 hours, longest 5 hours of my life. Once he was done, we had to let him rest there for few days so his wounds could heal enough for him to leave. We spent those few days in the hospital. They had a family area close by his room we could stay in. Those days passed by so slowly it felt like forever but when he was finally free to go home, they told us that he would have to come back in for a scan to make sure they had takin all of the tumor out of his body. About a week later my niece was born, although Tay could only hold her with one arm. The days seemed to speed by at that point, getting better with every day that past. Ellie was an amazing baby, cried very little, didn’t have any problems with eating. It was almost as if she could tell what a struggle Taylor and Erika had been going through and wanted to help them be less stressed.
When we went back to the doctor the first couple of times, they didn’t find anything. We started to think it was over, that Taylor was free of cancer. My mom, dad and I went back to Yakima thinking everything would be ok. Until one night, when he was home with Erika, he started getting sharp pain in his stomach. He went to the doctors and they scanned him again. The doctors found another few tumors in his chest and said he needed chemotherapy. We got the call and were told by Erika to wait for a while before coming up, by then it was October and I was in school and I couldn’t afford to skip it. At least that’s what my parents said but I think they just didn’t want me to see Tay in that sickly state.
On that weekend, we headed up to Seattle to see him. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I was just told to be prepared to see him with a lot of water weight. When we arrived at the hospital, I was terrified, what was I going to see when I walk into that hospital room? As soon as he saw me, he smiled and said “hey B, how have you been?” It was a real smile; I didn’t think he was able to do one anymore. I felt so reassured and ran over and hugged him. I felt that he was going to be ok, but life doesn’t work like that; it doesn’t have that happy ending we wish it did like in fairytales. We spent the next few months commuting back and forth from Yakima to Seattle. He was at UW Med and everyday he had visitors to come see him and cheer him up. There was always someone right next to him. My family took over one of the rooms that families could wait in while the person was treated. It kind of became our home while we were there. We only left to go get food and see Tay. At one point my parents had planned to take me out of school for a while because it looked like Tay would get better, it only ended up being 2 weeks.
On that day November 13th, 2016, the night before my parents wanted me to sleep on a real bed so I could actually get a good night’s rest. They told me to go sleep at Taylor and Erika’s house. I tried but the bed didn’t help much. My mind was only thinking about Taylor, Was he sleeping ok, was the chemotherapy working? I felt so helpless, I didn’t have money to pay for his medicine or doctors, I didn’t have experience to help keep him calm, I couldn’t even think of life without him. I got a little bit of sleep but on an hour or two. I woke up that morning and as soon as I got up I went to take a shower so we could leave for the hospital as soon as possible. When we left, we had no idea what we would have to endure in the next 30 minutes. When we got there, everyone was crowded around Tay’s bed. My dad looked up and walked over to talk to us. The look on his face said everything. He would be gone soon.
My dad said to us “The doctors asked him if he wanted quality or quantity, quantity would be putting him under and prolong his life to find a cure or quality, to let him go to the next life and spending his last moments with his family. He chose quality.” Everyone was saying their goodbyes. I was shocked, angry, scared, sad, so many emotions at once. My sister looked the same way, holding my niece tight against her chest. I ran into his room as fast as I could. I looked at him and he… smiled at me. He literally smiled in the face of death. How could he be so happy? How could he have chosen this? I ran to him and looked at his weak, yet smiling face. I couldn’t believe it; god was going to take him from us. My dad walked up behind me and said “go and give your brother a hug.” I didn’t hesitate, I hugged him and the tears burst from my eyes. It all hit me at once; this was the last time I could hug him, that I could talk to him, that I could see him. I had to step back and let him say goodbye to Ellie. He took her and hugged her tight. He asked to take one last picture with his daughter and his wife. We all pulled out our phones and cameras, anything that would take a picture. As we all gathered around him to say our last goodbyes, I could only think “This can’t be happening. He can’t go this easily. He’s survived worse than this.” I held his hand and he squeezed it as his eyes started to roll back and his heartbeat started to fade, he looked at my dad and said “It’s ok, I’m not afraid.” Everyone was crying around him. He took one last breath, popped open his eyes, looked at everyone and said, weakly “I love you, I love you” he just kept repeating until the light was gone from his eyes.
There was just a lot of crying and comforting for a while and each person got to be alone in the room with Tay for a couple minutes. During my time, I looked at him, held his hand and said “I love you Taylor, you are the best older brother I could ask for. I’m so sorry I couldn’t do anything for you.” I just kept saying it over and over. I didn’t even notice my dad walk into the room to come get me. I never thought I would lose my brother at only 26 years old. I went back to school 2 days later, it was the last thing I wanted to do but I had already been gone too long. I put on a smile and everyone kept asking where I had been. If I told them, they’d only worry about me so I just said “Some family problems.”
They discovered afterwards that he had multiple tumors in his chest. He would never have survived. I still miss him; there is never a day I don’t think about him. It’s been about a year and a half since he passed. My family has been strong, some days are better than others but we never give up. One person in particular has been the biggest help to me. When I’m upset he never lets me forget the good in life. He has taken away the frustration and anger, made me happy again. I never would have made it through this without that nerd, my family and my friends.
Brianne Cliett