One of the most beautiful days of my life was Thursday March 7, 2013. The weather was awful, it was sleeting and the roads were icy, but there I was driving to Boston with my younger brothers and parents. A week earlier we received a letter from the Bruins left wing, number 63, Brad Marchand. He sent us tickets to the game we were on our way to, inviting my youngest brother Mikey to be his guest of honor.
This was a dream come true for Mikey; ever since he learned how to skate all he ever talked about was becoming one of the Bruins Greats. Unfortunately the odds of this ever happening were heavily stacked against him. In February of 2007, when Mikey was just three years old, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer of the nervous system. He wasn’t expected to live for another month; but six years later he was still fighting after rounds of harsh chemotherapy, grueling radiation treatments, exhausting surgeries, multiple stem cell transplants, and countless blood transfusions and hospital admissions. After years of every available treatment in constant, high doses, it is only luck that will keep a body going. Mikey’s body was shutting down and his cancer was unfazed, thriving even. At this point the cancer had taken his legs from him, leaving him wheelchair bound and in constant pain, but he bounced with excitement the entire drive to Boston.
Every second of that night felt like seeing magic for the first time. From the strangers sitting around us to the usher to Blades, the Bruins mascot, everyone smiled and offered Mikey anything and everything that would make him smile or more comfortable. Halfway through the game a man with a large camera came to see us; he told us Brad Marchand wanted to introduce us to the Garden and everyone watching the game at home. We were asked to just smile and wave at the camera, but Mikey couldn’t help himself. He looked right past the camera at the megatron where our picture was projected and just burst out with the happiest bout of giggles. Only then did he look at the camera and imitate Rene Rancourt’s signature fist pump. Sticks were clapping against the ice and both teams were looking up at the megatron cheering and waving back at our picture, then the whole Garden erupted. I don’t think Mikey’s eyes ever glowed like that before.
After the game had ended we were escorted down to a conference room where Brad Marchand met us. Mikey sat and talked with him, they laughed together and almost out of nowhere he asked Marchand if the Bruins were going to win the Stanley Cup this year. Marchand laughed, “Of course we are!” Mikey got very serious then, “Promise me you will, because I don’t know if I’ll be here for the games.” “I promise,” Marchand looked straight at him. “I will play like you’re right there on the bench yelling at me.” And it was in that moment that we realized that Mikey knew he was dying.
I wish more than anything I could say that we found a miracle drug that saved Mikey’s life. The reality is that 12 days later my brother was dead. I found myself standing in a funeral home, shaking his little body while I cried, begging him to wake up. Childhood cancer killed him and for months I couldn’t help but put blame on myself. My brother died because there are no promising treatments for the cancer he had and there are no treatments because childhood cancers do not receive proper awareness or funding. I am able to rationalize this now, but for a long time I wasn’t able to.
When Mikey first got sick, I promised him he would get better. To myself I promised that I would find a way if no one else could. There wasn’t a single moment throughout his entire fight against cancer that I thought he wouldn’t make it. Accepting myself that as a big sister I wouldn’t be able to hold to the biggest promise I’ve made lead me to question the choices I made because of it. I chose my college and path of study with the mindset that I was doing this for my brother, now I need to make choices for myself.
Through Mikey’s treatment I have seen numerous sides of the medical field. From his nurses and doctors, social workers and pharmacists; I have seen a part of the health sciences that I want to be involved with. We formed strong relationships, even friendships, with so many of the medical staff we met along this battle; these connections are still important and inspiring today. What these individuals gave us I want to be able to return to another family who, like ours, truly need it. Right now I’m not sure which path into the medical field I want to take, but I am reaching out for a new opportunity to try a different path and I will find where I belong.
My brother met every day with a smile. There were moments that he would vocalize his frustration with his illness, but he never let it stop him from doing the things that were important to him. He always told us how much he loved us, he always made us laugh, and he taught us to chase our dreams constantly. I’m ready to start chasing mine again.