I Was Inspired to Travel Because My Brother Had Cancer

May 11, 2016

The first time I ever got on a plane was because my brother had cancer. Sure, we used to travel to the Jersey Shore every summer as kids, but this time, it involved a plane, it felt more real.

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We found out at a soccer game, Ryan’s team had just shot the winning goal and he lifted his shirt up in a heat releasing victory dance. My mom was the one who saw it, all the way across the field, a lump sticking out from his abdomen. He was 9.

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People told her that she was being paranoid, it was probably nothing and that she worried too much. I was 15 and too preoccupied with my high school boyfriend to try and understand. She took him to the doctor, he pressed on the lump and told my mom that she was too quick to come to conclusions. It was nothing, he was fine.

 

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She wouldn’t settle, she knew her baby, she knew his body and doctor or not, she didn’t believe him. A visit to a different physician and another one after that confirmed what she realized that moment on the field. That was that, he had a tumor in his kidney, close to the length of a football.

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Cancer– I really didn’t understand what it was to be honest, but I knew it was serious when the mailbox started filling up with encouraging cards and neighbors started bringing home cooked dinners over. Some days after school, I had to travel to the city with my family so Ryan could get his Chemo and Radiation treatments. He was starting to lose his hair. I remember him throwing up a lot and crying about the catheter to my mom.

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When his condition was more stabilized, we were informed of a program that he was eligible to take part in. The Make a Wish Foundation; they offered “wishes” to young cancer patients, essentially to provide them with something to look forward to during treatment and a chance to do something they’ve always wanted.

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The offer extended to the entire family and really wasn’t limited. Ryan chose Disney World, such a popular choice for children that the Make a Wish Foundation had opened up their own resort down in Orlando, Florida, catering just to sick children and their families.

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A limo picked us up from our house that morning, taking us to the airport for our flight to Florida. My mom packed chewing gum to help our ears pop and the way the plane felt when it was nearly vertical in the air was truly something new. We were escorted to our Make a Wish Resort on arrival, a house in what seemed like a residential neighborhood, a gated community for sick kids.

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We had our own bedrooms and every morning, a cart would drive around the block with one of the employees offering free donuts and coffee. There were two pools for swimming and an ice cream parlor serving up complimentary cones all throughout the day. Disney characters often roamed the grounds and every night there was a movie playing for the kids. The in house restaurant was full of uplifting Disney paraphernalia and every meal was a buffet. It was a dream of a place and when we did manage to leave it, we headed to the Disney parks with passes that got us right to the front of the lines.

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The whole experience was well done and it took our minds off of Ryan’s condition and let them wander to other faraway places we might go one day. When faced with death, Ryan was given the chance to travel and have a new experience; seemingly a popular choice for those who might not live long enough to make the time, save the money and built the motivation to explore the world.

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A couple months of bed rest, needles and tubes later, he was on his way to surgery. We watched them take him away on a gurney, and we wondered if when it was all over, we would see him being rolled out on it or not. After removing his entire kidney, tumor and all, he continued Chemo treatments until he was later declared “Cancer Free.” Ryan’s brush with disease and death affected his life greatly but it also affected mine too.

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Seeing the fragility of life and how quickly everyday problems melted into nothing in the face of disease, was enough to change my mind about a few things. I started to think about my life and what was really important to me. Did I want to wait until I was faced with the end of my life to decide to see the world, go on adventures and really explore?

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If my brother’s experience had taught me anything, it was that no, I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to live my dreams while I still could even if it scared me. Because what really is more frightening– to live in the safety and comfort of never following your heart or to face death and realize that you never really lived?

I am in NO WAY sponsored or receiving any benefit from mentioning the Make a Wish Foundation in this article. My family’s experience with this program was amazing and I encourage anyone that wants to make a positive impact in the lives of children suffering with cancer to donate to this fantastic program.

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8 Comments

  • Reply Katarina May 12, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    I’m surprised this doesn’t have more comments on it! The idea of being able to travel the world kept me alive through my darkest times as an adolescent and now that those times are over, I can’t wait to see the world! Thank you for sharing this story.

    • Reply Livesabroad May 15, 2016 at 5:33 pm

      Thanks Katarina! Travel does seem to make life worth it sometimes!

  • Reply Tiffany May 12, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    Excellent story! I have been in the senior healthcare industry for 10 years and many but not all are unable to fully enjoy the fruits of their labour. I have also worked with cancer patients as well. Great point you make about not waiting to live and follow your dreams!

    • Reply Livesabroad May 15, 2016 at 5:32 pm

      That must be a difficult job to handle sometimes. I’m sure it can be depressing and somehow inspiring all at once.

  • Reply Tiffany May 15, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    Never depressing, but definitely makes me appreciate my own life health and freedom!

    • Reply Livesabroad May 16, 2016 at 7:00 pm

      I’m glad it could help you feel some appreciation for those two important aspects of life : )

  • Reply Barbara December 29, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    If you are not familiar with this poem, or poet, she has written a great deal on experiencing, and living life, outside of society’s boundaries. Decades ago, this particular poem served as a decision-maker for me, to step into the unknown and change the direction of my life completely. Many mistakes, and great experiences later, I can say that it has allowed me to shape an identity for, and of, myself. One that never would have happened without taking the risk.

    Risk
    ” And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful that the risk it took to blossom.”
    ~ Anais Nin

    • Reply Livesabroad January 9, 2017 at 8:51 pm

      Hey Barbara! Thank you for sharing this with me. I have actually only recently discovered Anais Nin, and only through some of her random quotes floating around the internet. I want to look more into her work! I have been feeling a bit down and confused about my direction today, so seeing this poem has really helped!

      Thanks again!

      -Shannon

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