Cancer creeps its way into my memories because cancer has permeated nearly my whole life. Over the past fifteen years I wholeheartedly supported and loved my brother Zachary through his valiant journey with cancer to his peaceful end on August 26, 2015. Throughout Zachary's life, he battled two types of cancer: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). He also encountered the following complications: three cardiac arrests and heart failure, a bone marrow transplant for AML, a heart transplant due to chemotherapy causing cognitive and organ degradation, End-Stage Renal Disease, and much more. As a young child I remember supporting my brother to reach remission for ALL and AML by building Legos, playing games, and providing bliss through love and laughter. Notably, during one of Zach’s radiation treatments, I remember offering support by holding his hand when he passed out from radiation’s draining effects. Then he woke up, saw me, and smiled. However, after I finished middle school, a nightmare began as a sucker punch of cancer’s side effects hit Zach which ruined my summer before high school.
On June 12, 2012, cancer’s complications started to ravage my brother’s health. From this day until July fifteenth, while in a coma, Zachary silently battled the following problems: influenza-B, brainstem edema, seizures, pancreatitis, and pleural effusion. The nerve-racking time spent depressingly wondering whether Zach would live or not caused me deep pain. Miraculously, Zach bounced back and escaped the hospital in early August, but in November 2013, pneumonia hit Zachary. Accordingly, Zach began to hibernate while his lungs and heart collected fluid, and his kidneys almost reached complete failure. To save Zach’s kidneys, he received dialysis and his blood counts improved. Nevertheless, he began to have trouble distinguishing family members and communicating properly, so I painfully watched Zach flirt with the brink of death again. From January 2014 to March 2014, hospice care supported our family by treating Zach with dialysis at their facility, but in March my parents implemented dialysis at home. Effectively, Zach perked up mentally and he was taken off hospice care. After March of 2014, Zach’s health remained stable for over a year, so I prized every second with him including a trip to Legoland-a dream together as brothers.
Although the school year of 2014-2015 proved uneventful, the summer of 2015 hit Zach and my family harder than ever before. On Tuesday July 22, 2015, I came home and was greeted by my father at the door explaining Zach spiked a high fever and almost went into cardiac arrest. I experienced the nightmare of Zach scared for his life as he cried and repeatedly said “I don’t want to die.” For the next two weeks Zach was hospitalized because he went into septic shock. During this time his mental condition deteriorated into a confused, dark state as he saw fake dangers and could not process basic aspects of life like facial recognition. Eventually, on August first a mentally numb and physically incapable Zach came home to receive hospice care. I went into shock and despair since I saw my brother, but he really wasn’t there. Surprisingly, through August, Zach sometimes showed mental stability, so he and I shared brotherly affection by once again building Legos together and playing board games. However, in the end, the cumulative toll of Zach's health problems overwhelmed him. On August 26, 2015, I watched Zachary taking in labored breaths, and finally, Zach's last breath slowly seeped out. From Zach’s peaceful passing, I have fully learned that when life gives me lemons, I can push through to make sweet lemonade out of life by loving and making the most of every moment.
Zach’s battle with cancer and passing has made me humbly realize life can change in an instant, so I try and savor every passing second.