Fighting cancer as a family

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If you don’t personally know me, you may know someone like me.

That someone might have been introduced as the funny one, the one with the incredible jokes or the loud one that you can hear from the opposite side of the room.

Or maybe the one that is friends with everyone and can make someone smile with a simple hello.

But behind that big smile and loud laugh could be someone like me, a fragile boy who had to grow up much faster than the average 11-year-old kid.

When I step off the platform at Lawrence West subway station, I put on my shield.

As I make my way to Gould Street, my face of fear and sadness becomes a smile and all of a sudden I become my alter ego.

In the confines of my own home, I am simply Michael. I am the middle child of a typical Italian family.

I live in the north of the city, in a middle-class immigrant home with two loving parents and two siblings who I would do anything for.

Some may question: why I would want to write an article about my life? How interesting can a person be, especially a normal guy like me?

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(Michael Sist/Ryersonian Staff)

But I have a bigger question. What is a life with a mom that you can’t remember ever not being sick? Well, I don’t have the answers, but I have my story.

It’s hard to see someone you love experience pain and suffering. But try living with that person for 10 years.

Doctors’ appointments and frequent trips to the emergency room have become a typical Friday night adventure for my household.

Let me start in 2006. That’s when my mother was diagnosed with lymphoma.

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system and generally develops in the lymph nodes. It is quite confusing and, after 10 years, I am still not quite sure what it is.

Recently, the battle has immensely intensified. She has switched from solely battling cancer to now dealing with a deteriorating liver, hernias forming throughout the lower part of her body and fluid buildup throughout her internal organs, which has ultimately ended up in her lungs.

But the tragedy doesn’t stop within the flesh of my mother. There are five people that are directly involved in this: my dad, my siblings and myself.

From crying in the stalls of my all-boys high school to endless nights spent praying to someone in the higher hemispheres to guide my family onto a path of strength, these past 10 years have been a constant battle.

It was hard not being the kid who got pushed on the swing by his mom, or the kid whose mom took him shopping to start the school year with a new wardrobe.

Instead, I was the kid who had to be home straight after school to heat up dinner. I was the kid who had to make sure his younger sister finished her math homework and was tucked in bed by nine o’clock.

It becomes a new way of life when your part-time job as a cashier at the local grocery store becomes your sanity.

It gives me five hours of the day to see different faces and have the ability to laugh and talk about things that don’t relate to doctors’ appointments or chemotherapy.

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(Michael Sist/Ryersonian Staff)

I am that happy guy who laughs and smiles on the outside. I am the Michael who doesn’t complain or ask for anything in return. But on the inside, I am the Michael who is deteriorating from fear and heartache.

I am constantly wondering when the next phone call will be, or when the next family meeting around our basement table will take place, the one where mom will start crying and dad will start his speech by saying, “Well kids, we have some bad news.”

Holding her hand while the hairdresser buzzed off clumps of hair after her first chemo treatment and holding her head as she violently vomited in the toilet — these are the memories that bind us together.

It has become a social norm within my family to recognize that nothing can break the bond between us.

This has allowed me to realize that through struggle, families have the ability to conduct themselves in two very opposite manners.

They can act in sadness and neglect each other, causing friction within the family. Or they can bind together and become each other’s support system, using the pain to lean on one another when they need to the most.

With every adventure, battle or circumstance, there is always something you can grab onto and keep to further learn from it.

I have been able to take this torturous experience and see what a fighter, a believer, compassion and strength looks like, just by looking in the face of someone I get to proudly call my mother.

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