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30 DAYS/30 STORIES® 2023

September 17th


My name is Owen, and I am the brother of Ella Grace, who lost her battle to cancer in February of 2013. Ella was diagnosed with a form of childhood cancer called Neuroblastoma when she was just two years old. She passed away right before her fifth birthday. I still remember the day we found out, watching my mom break down in tears while I had no idea what was going on. I found myself feeling alone a lot during that time. My mom and sister were always at the hospital getting treatments. My entire family’s life got flipped upside down in a matter of hours. All the plans and dreams that we had made seemed to be nothing but mere fantasy now. I remember watching Ella’s hair slowly fall out as she began her chemotherapy. I felt awful because she always wanted to braid her hair like my mom did. Even after her hair fell out, she still always had her hairbrush and would have my mom put pretty bows wherever she could. I remember there were countless nights where I would wake up, and Ella and my mom would be gone. My mom had to make sure she always had bags packed so if Ella needed to go to the hospital in the middle of the night, they were ready. Ella was very sensitive to germs so when she wasn’t at the hospital, we were at home. I remember we had to have fake Christmas trees to protect her. That may not seem like a big deal to some, but it was just a reminder to me that life as we know it was gone. We had to have constantly clean hands, and even masks at some points. Just finding a way to get groceries had to be planned out.


All children within PCFLV are called warriors, and that name is well deserved. Ella was a warrior. Many people believe that being brave is the absence of fear when facing a challenge. However, bravery is the opposite. Bravery is feeling fear and moving forward anyways. Some days Ella was amazing and things seemed to be getting better. Those were only some days. Then came the day I had been dreading. My mom took me into a room at Lehigh Valley Hospital by myself. She explained to me that Ella wasn’t doing well and that she was dying. This moment can’t be put into words. Feelings and thoughts flooded my brain, I felt numb. My eyes teared up and my hands started shaking, it didn’t feel real. It felt as if I was just floating in an endless moment. I felt like I was in a room with no walls, standing alone while everyone kept talking around me. I woke up from what felt like an eternity and started breaking down.


After that day, Ella stayed at home with us. She wasn’t in the hospital anymore. My mom, my brother and I spent every moment possible with each other during Ella’s last months. Ella wasn’t able to move easily so she always stayed on the couch. Every night when it was time for bed, my brother and I went upstairs, but my mom made sure she always slept next to her. One day I came home from school and was reading a book next to my sister when she asked me to read it to her. From that day on, every time I came home from school, I made sure to open a book and read to her. I had accepted the fact that my sister wasn’t going to be here with us much longer. Then it came. I was halfway through my school day when I was called down to the office. In the waiting room, I saw my sister's favorite nurse Anne Marie. It was obvious to me that she had been crying but I didn’t question it. She took me home and when I walked inside, I was greeted by a room full of people. At first, I was confused, but once I looked at my mom, I knew. Everyone took their turns saying goodbye to her until it was my turn. I got down next to her, told her I loved her, and gave her the most meaningful hug I had ever given. My mom came over with my brother and together we said our final goodbyes. Having to look at someone you love knowing you won’t see them again in this life is difficult. Looking at Ella for the last time and walking away was the most devastating feeling I have ever felt. I was at my grandmother’s house when they got a call from my mom around 10:30. I knew what it was, and I sobbed into my pillow for the rest of the night alone.


Since my sister died, life still isn’t “normal”. Nothing ever really went back to the way it used to be. Some days the pain is as real as if it happened yesterday. It’s crazy to think that it’s been a decade since I've seen Ella. I’ve never been good at opening up about my emotions, let alone putting them into the correct words. After my sister died, I don’t think I dealt with my emotions the right way. I bottled them up and locked them away. I went to therapy after Ella’s passing but I never found it to be any help. I pretended as if this part of my life had never happened. For some reason, the younger version of me didn’t want people to know about what happened. I always hated the “I’m so sorry for your loss” comments. Those words were anything but comforting. Those words didn't bring my sister back. Those words didn't take away the grief and pain my family had been dealing with. Those words reminded me that everything was real. It wasn’t a dream where I could wake up and eat breakfast with my sister again. This was my life. I felt bitter. Bitter towards the world, friends, family, teachers, and God himself. I let this bitterness and unconscious emotion transfer into my current life. It affected relationships I had with family, friends, and other loved ones.


As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that there is no one to blame for what happened. There is no reason to hold anger or resentment in your heart because in the end, the only person those emotions affect are yourself. I am using what happened earlier in my life to make myself into a better person. Perhaps the hardest part of this healing was watching my mother grieve. I would find her alone in her room late at night crying. Knowing there was nothing I could do hurt me to my core. However, as soon as she left her room, she was fine. She put on a poker face so that my brother and I didn’t worry about her. She never stopped being a mother. Even right after my sister’s death she continued to raise us into the young men we are today. She helped heal my wound and she is one of the main reasons I am where I am today. I would like to thank PCFLV for everything they have done for my family. Whether it was while my sister was sick or up to this very moment, my family wouldn’t be here without them. They were with us every step of the way, supporting us through the challenges we faced. They continue to give us a familiar place we can feel safe.  As a final thought, I find it important for people in my shoes who can relate to my story in some way or another to find happiness in the world around you. Do not let what happened to you turn you bitter, instead use it to make yourself a better person. Use your past as extra motivation and when it gets hard do as my sister would say, “JUST KEEP SWIMMING!”


Written by Ella’s brother, Owen

Please consider helping children with cancer and others in our community by scheduling a blood donation at Miller-Keystone Blood Center:

If you would like to donate in Ella’s honor.

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