For brothers and sisters

Ellen Zimmerman discusses the impact that her cancer had on her siblings.

(Reprinted with permission from Candlelighters Youth Newsletter, Summer 1994, Vol.

I am the first of four children and the only girl. When I was diagnosed with ALL at the age of 14, it affected all our lives. My brother Wes was 13, Matthew was 4, and Erik was 2. They and my parents were my support system.

When I was first diagnosed and in the hospital, Dr. Plunkett asked if I wanted anyone besides my parents present when he gave us the diagnosis. I told him I wanted Wes with me. Wes is only 14 months younger than I am, and we have always been very close. He took it all in, and we all decided that we would face this thing, and beat it, as a family. Then he and I sent our parents off so we could have some private time together

Wes was my support at school and at home. He stuck up for me and kept an eye on me. I lost some of my "friends" after I was diagnosed because of my illness and their fear of it. Wes was always there for me. That's not to say we didn't have our fights. Poor Wes—I could hit him, but he couldn't hurt me physically because of my low blood counts. Sometimes I took advantage of that.

Matt and Erik were also a great source of comfort and support. They would accompany my mom and me to treatments and hold my hand when I got stuck. If one of them wasn't with me when I went in, the nurses would ask me where they were. These little boys made it easier for me to be brave.

I hope my brothers know how much I appreciate, too, the extra time they gave me with our parents during my illness. My parents were very good about splitting time between me and my brothers. If one was with me at treatment or the hospital, then the other was spending time with the boys. Family and friends were also a big help.

I've been out of treatment for ten years now. I teach second grade and spend a week of my summer as a counselor at a camp for kids with cancer I am the proud sister of three Eagle Scouts. Wes is married now and lives in another state. I realize how much he meant to me during that trying time and how much he means to me now.

If you are a sibling to someone with cancer and wonder if you make a difference to your sick brother or sister, I would like to tell you that you make a very big difference.

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