Confessions of an overprotective sister: How I deal with cancer

Frankie and I visiting Lily during one of her treatments.

courtesy of Amy Weaver

Frankie and I visiting Lily during one of her treatments.

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Everyone remembers in vivid colors the day that changed everything: college graduation, wedding day, the birth of a child. Mine is completely different. My red-letter day was when my sister was diagnosed with cancer.

My ten-year-old sister, went for a check-up because her arm hurt. My family thought it was just a sore muscle because Lily had just joined a cheer team. What small person wouldn’t complain?

My brother, sister, and mom were all supposed to come to my soccer camp after the doctor’s appointment.

In my mind, soccer trumped going to the doctors because my team was going to the finals, and it was going to be a lot of fun kicking butt. We went all the way down to penalty kicks, and I made the last glorious goal. It was exhilarating, and all I wanted to do was celebrate with my family.  I went to look around for my mom, but no one was there.

I was angered and annoyed because when my mom says she’s going to do something, she normally does. I was upset on the car ride home, but my best friend took me home, and we got Dunkin Donuts, so in my mind all was okay.

When I got home, it was like a little celebration was going on in my house. A bunch of Lily’s friends had come over and were all hanging out. I was so surprised because my mom hadn’t said anything about a party. Little did I, or anyone else know, this was the last celebration where Lily was going to be our little Lily. In the other room, my aunt, mom, and dad were in an intense huddle. 

The next day, my mom and dad were gathered around the computer. At the time, I didn’t know they were searching for the best oncologists in the area. After I questioned them, they delivered the worst news of my life. My little sister had cancer in her arm and lungs. It was the first time that I had seen my dad cry.

As the 12-year-old sister, I felt like it was my job to protect my baby sister at all cost. During the biggest hardship of her life, I had to sit on the sidelines and watch her fight the pain. I’m not used to being on the sidelines, so I had to fight my own instincts, too. 

Throughout Lily’s treatment, I didn’t want her to get made fun of, so I begged my mom to let me shave my hair to match her bald head. My mother wouldn’t let me.What else could I do? 

So, I spent a lot of time being the clown, making Lily laugh to entertain her. At Sinai Hospital, they have a playroom for all of the kids in treatment. In the playroom was a big binder filled with a selection of movies that Lily and I had never even heard of.  We had loads of fun watching movies. She enjoyed the movies, while I just tried to distract her from the pain.

Even after Lily was cancer-free and out of the hospital, I couldn’t–I can’t–help hovering to make sure she’s okay. I am even more sensitive to how Lily is treated. I recognize now that it’s a big part of the reason that I am so aggressive and hard on everything and everyone–most importantly, myself.

Middle school is tough for everyone but worse for the kid who is just coming back from missing a year of school. Lily began to transition from being home every day, with a home hospital teacher for support, to going to middle school. The friendship landscape had changed, and Lily found herself outside of the pack she had lead in the past.  Again, I thought it was my job to make sure she fit in.

I became the big enforcer. Everyone in the school knew she was my little sister, and she was not to be messed with.  Did that make life for Lily better?  I’m not sure.

High school is better.  There is plenty of opportunity to make new friends, and not everyone knows who you are.  Lily has gained more confidence, too.  She has grown into a person who doesn’t need protection anymore.

Next year, I will be leaving to go to college, and I won’t be able to fill my role as the scary older sister.  I’ll just be the sister at college. It’s going to be a hard transition for both of us.

Now, I get to be the big sister who remotely helps with boy problems in high school. I can’t say that the demon of cancer is gone forever, and I’m ready to put on my super-hero or clown costume any time Lily needs me, but for now, it’s gloves off.