How My Sister Beat Cancer When She Was 5 Years Old

“Who is that boy you’re playing with?” My grandma asks me as we sit on the couch watching home videos.

She doesn’t remember "that boy" is my sister Danielle, who had cancer when she was five years old. Maybe my grandma chooses not to remember.

The only thing I remember about those years is riding up and down on Danielle’s hospital bed, frequent trips to the movies with my Aunt and Uncle when my parents were too busy, and a kitchen counter full of needles.

My big sister was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when we were both too young to understand the word “cancer.” It never crossed my mind that I may have had to live my life without her bossing people around to give me back my beach shovel or to let me get next turn on the swing.

My Mom says it was a miracle.

If you know anything about chemotherapy, you know that your immune system essentially becomes defenseless against infections. That's why, when there was a chicken pox outbreak in our hometown, my parents took us away to an isolated “cancer camp.”  We were assured Danielle would be safe here.

A week after the camp ended, the doctors called my parents into the hospital. A child at the camp had been found with the chicken pox. Not only that, but a few days later the bumps started to appear on me and my newborn baby sister. Needless to say, all my parents could do was pray.

Danielle miraculously survived (thank God) and I think the doctors are even afraid to say that they don’t know how.

But Danielle knows.

You see, in her five-year old mind, cancer did not exist. She took the medicine because it was part of her daily routine. She let my Dad cut-off her long hair because soon it would all fall out anyway and grow back new and beautiful. She let me color alongside her on the hospital bed because she could still have fun with me.

Danielle lived life without fear and worry and doubt. She kept smiling, she kept being a sister, and she kept coloring. She wore a turban on her head when it was cold and sometimes let me try on her wig and we’d laugh together in the mirror. She still had my back on the playground.

Isn’t that what is beautiful about children? They see life as it is without worrying about what society says or thinks and without accepting silly statistics as universal truths. They run and play and fall down—but get back up much faster than us adults when we fall, huh?

My sister is a big activist of cancer prevention and she has been a huge inspiration to my life. 

Lymphoma was never in her vocabulary and so she always had the outlook of a survivor. She continues with that same attitude that she had as a kid-cancer-fighter: using everything you got, being the best you and having fun along the way.

Danielle is a perfect example of this quote from Marianne Williamson:

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? ... Your playing small does not serve the world." 

And she is my reminder, on a daily basis, that we can do anything we put our mind to.

When times become hard, she reminds me to see the world through the eyes of a child, and suddenly things become much easier.


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