Kara, sister of Krista who was diagnosed at 7, AML

Kara’s older sister was a very sweet little girl, only 7 years old, when she got sick with leukemia Seven years later, she is still fighting for her life. Leukemia is a train track; it keeps going and going and going.

Editor’s note: Kara is an award-winning essay writer who lives in Houston. At her teacher’s suggestion, Kara used a class assignment to describe what it’s like to have a sibling with cancer. 

In addition to sharing her feelings in this essay, Kara’s advice to other kids with a sick brother or sister is to “be a fighter, don’t give up hope, and try to understand what she’s going through.” Kara and Krista’s mother SuAnn says, “Your other children need attention too, and I think parents sometimes forget that when one child is so sick. The older siblings especially need time to get their feelings out.”

My Sister
by Kara

(2002) – Other people don’t understand. Hardly anybody knows about the deadly disease called leukemia, a cancer of the blood that affects children. Unless, you have known somebody that had leukemia.

I know somebody and that somebody is my sister. My older sister was a very sweet little girl, only 7 years old, when she got sick with leukemia in November 1994. She is still fighting the effects of it to this day. She is now 14 years old.

Leukemia is a train track; it keeps going and going and going. After relapsing in November 1999 she had to get a bone marrow transplant, because the leukemia had returned. During the days of the bone marrow transplant I hated that my mom always paid more attention to my sister, and I hated that I was not a match for her bone marrow transplant.

When I was growing up, all I could understand was that my sister was really sick and needed to take medicine to get better. We could not have friends inside the house, because if they were a little sick it could make her really sick. Now that I am older I understand that every time she is admitted into the hospital she could die, especially during the time of her bone marrow transplant.

To go into her room and see her so helpless was pretty scary. I always tried to get her something special with my money. The first thing I bought her was a glass bead bracelet. The white stood for strength, and I knew she would need strength to help fight the battle inside her body.

One other time when I went to the mall to get something for my sister, we went by Gifts Galore. I saw this beautiful white-as-snow Ty® cat; one with the pink ribbon tied in a bow. I was hooked. I had to by one, or should I say two (yes I got one too)? Later that night when we went to the hospital I took her cat to her. When she got it she gave me this its-so-pretty-I-love-it grin. Ever since I gave the cat to her she has taken it to every check up, and I sleep with mine every night.

This has brought my sister and I closer together. Until now we had always taken each other for granted. It has taught us both how precious life is and how quickly it can be taken away. I haven’t gone through what my sister has physically, but it has been so stressful being a sibling to someone so sick. Now maybe other people will understand how hard it is for me to be me.

My sister thought she was going back to school in August of 2000. As the time got closer to go back to school, her doctor told her that her immune system was not strong enough to be around very many people.

We were both upset and another time it seemed that she was the lucky one. Getting to stay at home, sleep late, and better yet, have your very own teacher come to the house. Then I had to get up early to hear my mom say, “Please don’t be so loud. Your sister is sleeping.” Deep down I wanted her to wake up. I missed getting to do things with her and talk with her in the mornings.

My sister couldn’t go out to eat for 100 days after the bone marrow transplant. Now even food is centered around my sister. I missed getting to go out to eat at fast food restaurants, and I know my sister did also. I went to school and ate WHATEVER! while my sister could eat anything she wanted whenever she got hungry. Often I would be in class as hungry as a lion and my stomach would start growling. I was ready to eat lunch, but had to wait on a dumb bell.

Finally, I was able to come home to find my sister asleep again. I asked my mom “Is that all she does?” My sister woke up to hear me complaining. She told me she would gladly trade places with me. At first I said “ALL RIGHT”! Then my sister said I would have to go get shots, have my blood drawn, and go through the rest of the spinal taps, and bone marrow checks. I said that you can stop right there. That was enough for me to change my mind, about where I would rather be.

Of course I hate shots and saw one of her spinal taps in the emergency room. It wasn’t easy to watch and I am sure it isn’t fun to have done. I wasn’t trying to be mean; and then I just wanted to get things back to NORMAL.

We are slowly – and I repeat slowly – getting there. The doctor told my sister that she would get information about her donor one year after the transplant. It has been a little more than a year now. My sister found out that her donor was a woman named Melissa out of Denver, Colo. She has a son the same age as my sister. My mom talked to her on the phone and Melissa writes to my sister on the Internet. Melissa has invited our family to come visit. I would love that because I have never seen snow. Maybe that will happen. I hope so anyway.

I went to the clinic with my sister during my Christmas break. I sat with her while they came in to draw her blood. Tube after tube — enough to make anyone sick. I don’t think I could do that every three weeks. Later the doctor came in to check my sister. During that time she asked if she could go back to school in January 2001.

Dr. Krance said, “I think you can but you will have to take it easy.” We both looked at each other with the biggest grin. We were both so excited. Yes, it’s getting closer to being NORMAL.

I worry about my sister even at school. When I see her she looks really tired. But she wanted what I wanted – for everything to get back to NORMAL. I still worry when she leaves school to go for a checkup. But I know Mom will call if there is a problem.
The best thing is that her new bone marrow is working, so you might say the transplant recharged her battery of life. My sister is back at school, and my family is together once again.

Recently, my sister’s eyesight began to fail her. I know she was afraid of another relapse. So she didn’t say anything right away. The print in the textbooks was so small someone had to read her homework assignments to her.

Life just isn’t too fair. She has done nothing wrong, and she’s been fighting to stay alive half of her lifetime. My sister is a fighter, not a quitter, and I have learned so much about life from her.