30 DAYS/30 STORIES® 2023
Hello, my name is Tanaya, the older sister of Antonio, and I'm here to share my experience as a sibling of a child with cancer. I remember that day like it was yesterday. That morning my mom took my brother and me to get bloodwork done. She had already been skeptical about the bruise-like marks all over his body, and I was worried. However, like any kid in 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, I was focused on finishing school online and finding ways to keep my little brother and me entertained. So, we both got bloodwork done the morning of May 23, 2020. After we got home, we watched TV all day as a family. It felt like one of those days that felt like a blessing to have my family. That night my mom got a call. I watched as her face dropped and she quickly walked away. My heart started pounding. It felt like it was going to explode out my chest. I looked at Antonio who was lying next to me. He had a scared look on his face. I took a deep breath, took him in my arms and held him close. I knew our lives were about to change and I had to stay strong for him.
Once my mom got off the phone, she walked towards my brother and I and said, "We have to take him to the hospital. They're waiting for him". My little brother started crying. I asked my mom what could be wrong with him, and she said, "they're saying it might be leukemia". Her voice broke and my heart sank.
My mom scrambled to pack a bag, while I tried to comfort my brother. All I could think in my head was, "I can't lose him. Why would the universe do this to him? It should've been me.” These three phrases raced through my head as I watched the nurses and doctors poke and prod my baby brother as he cried. As they took him away for scans with my mom by his side, I was left with my own thoughts. It should've been me. The last thing I wanted in the world was to see him suffer. I wanted to protect him from everything bad and to just keep him safe and happy. I felt guilty then. I still feel guilty today. I feel guilty that my bloodwork came back normal and his didn't. I feel guilty that this little boy who has done nothing wrong in the world, had to suffer for no reason. It should've been me.
It was 2:00am at this point, and I was unable to stay with my mom and brother in the hospital, per the pandemic hospital rules. I called my best friend Kiera and asked if I could stay with her so I didn't have to be in my house alone. She came and picked me up, and I will forever be grateful to her. She comforted me as I cried. That was the first time I cried that night. Kiera is such a pure soul, and I love her so much.
Throughout the 3 weeks he was in the hospital, I was taken to New York to stay with my grandmother then taken back to my house. My uncle was usually the one to drive me around and he would try his best to keep my mind off of things. He would get me Starbucks and introduced me to the musical Hamilton, which we scream-sang every time we got in the car. I’ve learned throughout this experience that it showed who will be there through the good and bad.
My brother and I FaceTime’d everyday, and I saw the physical changes in his appearance. His hair got lighter, and it started to fall out. He started to look as sick as he actually was. He was still in the hospital on his birthday, so Kiera and I decided to make posters and stand outside his window so he could see us. I still was not allowed to see him because of the pandemic, so this was the most I could do.
On June 8, 2020 he finally came home. He seemed weaker, so I was very gentle with him as he ran to me for a hug. I missed my baby brother so much. There were many ups and downs in the 3 three years he was in treatment. He would have scheduled and unscheduled hospital stays. Those are the days I would feel most alone.
I never wanted to make anything about myself, and all I wanted was for Antonio to be healthy. I saw some changes that I still miss today. I miss when he used to dance with me. I miss when I could hold him in my arms. He's taller than me now so he can hold me instead. I definitely had to grow faster even if I was only 13 years old at the time. I had to grow independent and look after myself at times when I felt like no one else was. I was lonely, but I’d rather be lonely and my brother have all the support he needed.
Although I felt lonely, PCFLV provided a lot for me as a sibling of a cancer kid. I felt like I didn't deserve what they gave me because there were kids more in need. I understand now they do more than just provide for the cancer kids. I am grateful for what they have done for me. I'm 17 turning 18 in a couple months. It seemed like it was yesterday when I was in 8th grade, and my brother was diagnosed. Now, I'm a senior in high school, looking into colleges, and Antonio is in remission. Words can't describe how much I love my brother and how grateful I am to all the doctors and nurses who helped my brother throughout his journey. We as people take for granted what we have until it is threatened to be taken away. One thing that I’ve learned from this experience is to love everyone in my life unconditionally and to hold them close. My family's life changed with one phone call. It only takes a second.
Written by Antonio’s sister, Tanaya
Please consider helping children with cancer and others in our community by scheduling a blood donation at Miller-Keystone Blood Center: https://donor.giveapint.org/donor/schedules/zip