Snow dances in the night sky as I struggle with my remote car on our back steps. I’m trying to get it to the bottom but it keeps flipping over making a loud “grrrrrrrrr ” sound as the wheels spin. I flip it back over and make it to the next step. Without fail, it falls over again, I flip it back over and begin again, I need to get to the bottom.
My parents come out from locking up the house and my mom notices what I’m doing. “Chris you need to put that back in the house,” she says.
“No, I just got it for my birthday and I know Rob will like it, ” I reply.
“Honey you can’t bring that to the hospital, please put it inside.”
I stomp my feet. I’m pissed. I know my brother will like it. It’s my best toy and I want him to play with me again. Maybe if he does, he will feel better and come home.
(About a year earlier)
My brother is having a sleepover with his friend Bobby Joyce and lets me sneak downstairs with them. My parents are sleeping and they tell me I have to be quiet and not wake them up. I’m sworn to secrecy because we’re going to watch an R-rated movie on HBO called “The Class of 1999” and Rob and Bobby say, “It’s way beyond anything I’m allowed to watch.”
They’re right. Robot teachers, student gangs, guns & fighting everywhere. This is the coolest thing I have ever seen. I have the best older brother.
My brother is sick and can’t play with me. I want him to read me X-men comics but my parents say I have to let him rest.
He’s started a new medicine at the hospital that doesn’t seem like it works. He throws up all the time and never wants to eat. My parents try to get him to, they say he needs his strength, but the food makes him feel worse.
We’re having Mac n’ Cheese at the kitchen table and my parents want us to finish our bowls. I devour mine, the warm cheese, soft shells, mmmhm delicious. Rob hasn’t touched his. He asks me to eat his and then pass the bowl back to him, so my parents will think he finished it. I’m not hungry and don’t want to lie. But he’s my older brother and I want to help him. I finish the bowl and pass it back to him.
I hope he will get better and we can play again.
We’re on the way to the hospital again for my brother to get more medicine. I learned the sound a seagull makes in school so I keep yelling “Caw, caw, caw!.” My brother yells at me to stop or he will throw up. I go “Caw, caw, caw!” and my mother has to pull over in the hospital parking lot so he can vomit. I didn’t mean to really make him do it – I feel rotten.
My mother tells me that night, “When you fight with your brother you make him sicker. You have to be a good boy to him.” I’m horrified and feel an intense pain of guilt. Being mean to my brother is why he has to be in bed all day, it’s my fault.
The next day at school a kid takes my toy and I hit him over the head. I see a kid named Jon Ku in the principal’s office and he’s the only one in there just as many times as me. Ku keeps telling me “infinite is the biggest number”, but all I keep thinking about is how mad my mother is going to be for having to leave work again.
My mother says I need to control my anger and stop getting into fights. I cry and tell her I’m sorry for getting Rob sick. She asks what do I mean and I tell her what she told me, fighting with him made him sick. She tells me, “No, fighting with him makes him feel sicker. Rob has something called cancer and they don’t know how he got it.”
I ask when he will get better. She says hopefully soon.
My brother doesn’t live with us anymore. He’s bald and lives at Children’ Hospital.
My father is reading the paper at the kitchen table and says someone got sick up at the East Middle School fields because they were bitten by a rabid squirrel. That’s what must have got Rob sick, I think. I know from vampire movies that you have to kill the monster to get better, so I go gather gun toys and a bat from our room. East is near our house so I’m going to take my big wheel up there and kill the squirrels. My parents stop me from leaving the driveway and ask what the hell I’m doing.
I tell them I have to kill the squirrels at East and get Rob better. They’re confused and say I might need to “see someone” for wanting to “kill squirrels.” But they also tell me the best thing I can do to help him is just be his little brother and pray each night for him to get better. They say he has the best doctors in the world working around the clock to help him.
My dad explains the cancer is a big softball of mass in his stomach (I imagine the Krang from Ninja Turtles). The doctors are going to shrink it down to the size of a golf ball and take it out of him. He says we’re lucky to live in Boston because they have special doctors that are the best at getting kids like Rob better. I feel relieved.
I miss my brother but he has friends at the hospital and has met every sports player in the world. Ted Williams, Bobby Orr, the Patriots, the Red Sox, the Bruins, they’ve all been to visit Rob and given him autographs, even Bo Jackson, his favorite player, has sent him a letter and a couple of autographs. He had one guy, Tug McGraw, go through all of his baseball cards with him and tell him different stories about the players. He kept asking Rob where his card was and before he got to the last page he told Rob, “Rob I’m not going to turn to the last page because I know my card is there.” He then signed the second to last page, “Ya Gotta Believe – Tug Mcgraw.” They must know how he’s the best big brother in the world.
It’s Christmas time and our home is bustling and alive like it hasn’t been in months. My parents have started to actually smile and I’ve never seen my Mom so happy.
My Mom is scrubbing the bathroom floor and yells for me to get off the Nintendo and pick up my room. I start to get up but our dog Scruffy starts barking at the door. A car has pulled up out front.
My mother rushes outside and my father is helping my brother out of the car in the snow.
All of the prayers and medicine have worked. My brother is finally home from the hospital.
I ask if he really beat, “that fucking cancer?” My mother says yes, but not to use that word I overheard.
He’s still hooked up to tube’s (I imagine he has a power socket in his chest where the tubes are plugged in) but we don’t care. After a year, he’s finally home. I finally get my brother back. It’s a Christmas miracle and we’re the luckiest family in the world.
My brother made a full recovery from a rare form of neuroblastoma and has been cancer free since. He has never spoken to me about his battle and this is the first time I’ve ever really dug into my memories from it.
I’ve always looked up to my brother and he’s never used his fight with cancer as an excuse for anything. There’s a good chance radiation at a young age is why I tower over him but he never complained or let it stop him ( especially from trying to fight me). I always admired how he never blamed it for any problem and just went on with life, living it to the fullest. He had a great group of friends growing up, became president of his frat at UMass Amherst, and is now a married carpenter on Nantucket with a budding side business.
I was young, but I remember feeling angry, sad, guilty, and confused all of the time. I didn’t know what the hell was going on and being a kid with a limited view of the world, made it just more confusing. I wanted to do something to make him better and I was pissed I couldn’t.
My sister (who I didn’t mention once in this post, sorry Liz) used my brother’s fight and that of my late genius uncle Bill’s as inspirations to become one of the top scientists in the world to fight cancer. She got her PhD from Harvard and founded her own company, Olarsis Therapeutics, that matches patients up with the best treatment based on their specific DNA. It cuts down on the adverse effects of cancer treatments and helps get the right drugs, to the right patients.
Let’s Fight – Battle at the Bay, April 7th
I suck at science, but I’ve always been game for a physical challenge. That’s why I will be fighting in Battle at the Bay, a charity boxing event, April 7th, in Norwood. 100% of the funds raised go directly to people & their families who are battling cancer.
I’ve pledged to raise at least $1,200 in ticket sales and sponsorships ($30 a ticket, I have 40 people that want to see me get punched in the face, right? I will have the tickets next week, let me know if I can save you one 617-653-6176).
The fight is three rounds, two minutes each. I have been training hard but my legs turned into jello last night during a sparring session. I have a long road to go. However, I promise I will put my full heart into the training and not make any excuses, or ever give up, just like my brother taught me.
P.S. I want to give a big shoutout to the gym I train at, Corebox. and the owner/trainer Mike Foley. Mike got me involved in Battle at the Bay, when another charity event I applied to fell through. He donates his gym for free, two nights a week, to the fighters who are training for Battle at the Bay. If you are thinking of getting back in shape, I highly recommend CoreBox. I have been a member for a year – it’s a great workout, great staff, and you can try it out for a week for free.