October 20, 2012

“How many siblings do you have?”
My worst nightmare; my greatest fear; the moment I hoped would never come, but knew ultimately would. There I was. And there was no way to stop it. How will I answer? Two? One? Will my facial expression give it away regardless of my response? Does she already know? Can my mom hear me? I’m taking too long to respond. Umm..
On February 23, 2009 I woke up expecting a normal day in my Freshman Year of High School. But, that day was far from normal and a day I would never forget. My mom came into my room, laid next to me, and uttered thirteen ungodly words which together would change the rest of my life: “Last night your brother was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma- a type of cancer.” Shocked but seeking normalcy, I pleaded to attend school for my morning classes and to later visit my twelve-year-old brother, Sam, at the Seattle Children’s Hospital. She granted my wish, told me she loved me, and sent me off to school.
The time I spent at school was consumed by fear-filled thoughts regarding the fate of my best friend and brother, Sam. With every bit of might inside of me I grasped onto each second I spent surrounded by comfort at school, full-knowing that the moment I stepped foot into the white-walled, Purell-reeking, labyrinth-like building I would be welcoming myself to my new home-away-from-home. When I finally mustered up the courage to sacrifice my comfort for my desire to be with my brother, I was driven by a close family friend from school to the hospital. Passing the security guards of the Level 1 Giraffe entrance for the first of what would be countless visits, I admitted my name and photo into the visitor system to get a blue 24-hour “visitor’s badge.” This was the mark of an eight-month life-changing journey centered on my brother and the third floor oncology unit at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Relying on best friends, the game of basketball, and my teacher’s leniency and understanding I was able to push through the remainder of my Freshman year while still helping myself and supporting my brother and family. In June of 2009 Sam was pronounced cancer-free but, sadly, he went into reoccurrence mid-July. He spent every minute of the next two and half months fighting for his life with the help of my loving and supportive parents as well as the incredible Seattle Children’s Hospital oncology staff. After a failed bone marrow transplant I looked at the calendar. 09.09.09 would forever be engraved in my memory. An MRI in early October showed that Sam’s brain was completed consumed in a tumor—making our job to “keep him comfortable.” After doing so for the next few weeks, my brother had passed to the only real comfort that existed; one that existed outside of this world.

One afternoon in the following January I came home after a basketball game to a house full of my mom’s friends. I decided to talk to a couple of the women, including a woman named Debbie. After talking for a while she asked, “How many siblings do you have?”
… I’m taking too long to respond. Umm… “One.”
The moment I uttered this so seemingly simple three letter word I was overcome with shame and guilt for taking a shortcut to avoid a moment of pain, and I vowed to never do it again. I now know for certain that the correct answer, the only answer, is “two.”
Sam: I love you, I am proud to be your sister forever, and I will proudly share your story with any person who asks me how many siblings I have.
Julia Owen