Seventeen Years

At nine years old, I felt invincible. Hardship felt foreign. As is true for many nine-year-olds, the world felt like a safe, welcoming place.

My dad was the first to find out that Jimmy’s weeks of endured nausea and headaches were rooted in a golf-ball size brain tumor. He sat alone, awaiting the doctor’s news, while Jimmy sat in the waiting room, exhausted, nauseous and wanting to go home. The pediatrician that had previously shooed our parents away, disregarding Jimmy’s health issues for weeks, called my dad that evening and broke the news: “I’m so sorry about the brain tumor.” My dad’s reaction immediately revealed that this was the first time he was hearing those words … over the phone. An unfathomable experience that I learned of just one month ago.

Later that night, my dad sat my mom down in our home office to tell her. On the other side of those doors, Jimmy and I sat on the couch, just as we always did, watching Fairly Odd Parents and enjoying another evening of cartoons together.

It wouldn’t be until I turned 23 that I realized the lengths our parents went to, to protect Jimmy and me. I’d always known of the tangible sacrifices they had made for us, but it wasn’t until I graduated from college that I really understood the emotional sacrifices they made. They bore this immense burden with grace, remaining positive through a parent’s worst nightmare to give Jimmy and me the best childhood we could have asked for.

They walked out of that office as calmly and collectedly as they possibly could have for two parents who carried the responsibility of telling their 13-year-old son that he needed to undergo immediate brain surgery to remove his tumor. When I think back to that night, I remember that despite the feeling of chaos, my parents’ strength and ability to hide their fear helped me to feel like everything would be okay.

Dan holding Molly with his left arm around Jimmy. They're standing in front of a tray of homemade decorated Christmas cookies, a mug that says Milk for Santa and a bowl of carrots. Molly is wearing a long-sleeve blue shirt and khaki pants, Dan is wearing a brown checked shirt; Jimmy is wearing a long sleeve red t-shirt with Stanford on the front.

With each recurrence or change in Jimmy’s treatment cycles, came changes in our routine. Certain things, however, always remained the same. My parents never took me to one of Jimmy’s scans. As a kid, I felt left out, but in retrospect, I can’t imagine what sitting in the hospital at just nine-years-old, anxiously waiting to find out the status of my brother’s cancer, would have been like. They continued to keep me away from the scariness of the unknown for as long as possible, as they fearfully awaited the news together. With each scan, I would wait for a text from my mom, hoping for good news. I quickly learned it went one of two ways: an update meant everything was great, while silence, the opposite. Despite my hoping it would mean something different, it never did. But accompanied with the hours of silence came my mom, showing up to my best friend Analesa’s house with a hug and a smile, ready to take me home. She hid her fear and kept me in the light.

Molly, Jimmy and Margo in front of a wrought iron fence in front of Willamette Falls. Molly is on the left wearing a light blue tank top, blue shorts and a blue baseball cap worn backwards. Jimmy is wearing blue basketball shorts, a navy sweatshirt and a navy baseball cap worn backwards. Margo is wearing white shorts, a royal blue tank top and a melon sweatshirt tied around her waist.

When Jimmy was diagnosed, my role was to be his biggest supporter – to keep him company, to entertain him, to bother him, to be his little sister. The cancer was something we worked around. When we couldn’t play outside, we’d play video games. When we couldn’t jump on the trampoline, we’d play pool. His health limitations never stopped us from spending time together.

Throughout those eight years, I was able to maintain my role as Jimmy’s supporter because of my parents. As I mentioned, I often felt like I was in the dark because they didn’t tell me things. I now know, however, that they kept me as far from the darkness as they possibly could have. I never knew that my dad was the first person to find out that Jimmy had cancer, not to mention in such an ungodly and sickening way. When another doctor incorrectly assessed Jimmy’s scan, telling him that he only had 2-3 months to live, my parents got seven second opinions. One of them determined that the white spots on the scan were scar tissue, not cancer, and five weeks later, a second scan confirmed this to be true. But it wasn’t until after the fact that I was told about this horrible experience. Again, my parents kept me from the darkness; the darkness of telling an 11-year-old that a doctor had believed her brother only had a few months to live.

Margo, Jimmy, Molly and Dan at the 2006 Portland LIVESTRONG Challenge. Jimmy and Dan are wearing white bike helmets, holding their bikes and wearing Stanford bike jerseys. Margo is wearing a long sleeve yellow shirt and khaki shorts. Molly is wearing a LIVESTRONG hat, black with yellow writing, a LIVESTRONG bike jersey, black shorts and a yellow LIVESTRONG vest with a black stripe across her chest.

Growing up, people would always tell me what extraordinary people my parents are – something I, of course, already knew. But their reasons were often based on their observations of the tangible things my parents did. They raised a loving family, took care of a son who valiantly fought brain cancer for over eight years, had two kids who both got into Stanford – the list could go on and on. And I agree with them; I think our parents are incredible for all of those things. But when I think of my childhood and the roles that my mom and dad played, their impact goes far beyond the tangibles.

Our parents sacrificed everything to ensure Jimmy and I had the best childhood we could have asked for. They took on the darkness together, so I didn’t have to walk through it as a kid. They kept me informed enough while keeping me from the frightening realities of Jimmy’s cancer, a balance that I’m still unsure as to how they managed.

On the sixth anniversary of Jimmy’s passing, I’m so grateful that through all of the scary moments that were packed into Jimmy’s eight-year battle with cancer, my parents gave us 17 beautiful years together. Holding those cherished memories close, I’ll spend the rest of my life honoring Jimmy and his legacy.

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