Some of you know that a couple short weeks before I left the United States nearly two years ago, I met my brother for the first time since I had been thrown out of the house (for good) as a teenager. This made me homeless until the state stepped in and gave me a place to stay (nevermind that my "home" had bars on the windows; it was -- marginally -- better than being raped or murdered or being forced into prostitution. Lest you think I exaggerate, let me point out that quite a few of my teenaged colleagues from those times are no longer alive for these very reasons.)
Whilst working on my final preparations to emigrate with my parrots, my brother contacted me unexpectedly (not easy since I legally changed my name and relocated thousands of miles away from the parents!). He was asking if I'd like to meet since he would be visiting my beloved home to run in the NYC marathon for the first time.
Having grown up knowing only verbal and physical violence, fear and contempt from the parents, I was completely deprived of any feelings of belonging, of family, and of love. As a child, I often contemplated suicide as an escape from the parents' unending barrage of abuse, but because I was the focal point of the parents' hatred and violence, I decided that my continued existence and presence in the family had some purpose, even if only to protect my siblings -- particularly my brother who was closest to me in age -- from experiencing the same. After a lot of soul-searching, I made reservations at a restaurant near where marathon check-in would occur.
When my brother walked in to the restaurant (and after I had stopped panicking), I was stunned to see how old he looked -- far older than his years. It looked as though life had not been kind to him at all.
Whilst we dined, it broke my heart to learn that my beautiful, witty brother, whom I thought I was protecting by acting the target for the parents' rage, was likewise subjected to extreme violence and contempt (although fortunately, he was never thrown out of the house). I hadn't protected him at all!
After this and other revelations, I was tortured for many months by terrifying nightmares that started during my childhood, along with new nightmares. During my waking hours, I was exhausted and on an emotional knife's edge. It took many months to deal with the murderous rage I felt towards the parents -- a new, gigantic and frightening emotion for me. How DARE they -- or anyone -- harm my brother!
Complicating things, my brother was diagnosed with Stage IV Mantle Cell Lymphoma one month after he finished the NYC marathon. He almost died several times as doctors struggled to get him into remission. As he writes;
In 2010, my life changed dramatically. Often, my commute was not to the office, but to the hospital. Instead of running marathons, I was undergoing numerous tests, chemotherapy, and a stem cell transplant.
Being thousands of miles away, I felt helpless to assist him and his family. I ended up emailing or calling as much as possible, especially when he was receiving chemo, but I never felt this was good enough. But fortunately, other people were there for him, too:
A huge part of my cancer experience was seeing the support, love, and genuine care given by family, friends, and many people I don’t even know – it was an incredible blessing. Much of the cancer battle seemed to be something I fought in isolation – for example, when dealing with days and days of non-stop chemo treatments I was physically alone. However, there were times when my mind was clear enough to remember the kindness and generosity shown to me by others - and that made the days feel a little less lonely.
Even though I always think about him and his beautiful family and I check email first thing each morning hoping that he's had something to tell me, our email and telephone communications became infrequent during these past few months. I am certain that I am a painful reminder of a childhood that my brother would prefer to forget, and that realization causes me great pain, but it also made me feel (once again) that it was my duty to respect my brother's boundaries because in doing so, I was actually protecting him this time as he, his wife and his children work to rebuild their family and their lives.
However, this morning, I awoke to find an email from my brother, an email that gives me great joy and great sorrow (for the memories it evokes).
After going into remission, I decided that this November, I would run the New York City Marathon again. The 2009 and 2011 marathons seem to be nice bookends to my cancer diagnosis and treatment. But more importantly, running the New York City Marathon means that I am taking back part of my life again.
But more than simply running the marathon, my brother is doing what he's always done whilst "marathoning": he's raising money for a charity.
"This year, I am running the New York Marathon in support of Children’s Hospital, which gives me an opportunity to pass that same kindness and generosity to others who are facing the challenge of their life", he writes. "From personal experience, I know that a small act of kindness can go a very long way."
My brother is currently in remission. Thanks to the wonders of modern science and medicine, my brother's doctors have (hopefully) bought him a few years more to spend with his family and to get his affairs into order because his cancer is incurable.
Which makes me ask; if you knew you had only a few years of life remaining, how would you spend them? My brother has chosen to spend part of his energy and remaining time helping others -- people whom he's never met. My brother has re-dedicated himself to doing something that he is passionate about, running marathons. He's using that passion to help others by raising money for a worthy cause and also to serve as an example for those who are fighting a great (often secret) battle -- maybe the battle for their very lives. When this battle is cancer, we know that it is difficult for adults, but what about sick children?
Going through the my treatment was incredibly difficult as an adult. I cannot begin to imagine how a child must feel who is being treated for a terminal illness when that child doesn’t have the maturity to understand the procedures that he or she must endure. Running the New York Marathon in support of Children’s Hospital gives me an opportunity to pass along the kindness and generosity to others who are facing the challenges of their lives.
When the sickest kids need the best care in the world they come to Children's Hospital Boston. It's an amazing place where the doctors and nurses are compassionate, creative and committed to saving kid's lives. Children's has been nationally ranked as one of the best pediatric hospitals for almost two decades. They care for more than 500,000 patients every year - many with health problems no other hospital in the world can handle. Your donation gives sick kids a chance to get better!
If you would like to join me in supporting my brother's fundraising work to help very ill children, here's his fundraising page:
His goal is to raise $5000, which sounds like a lot, but he's already 1/5 of the way to that goal! Every little bit, yes, even a few dollars or euros or pounds, helps so very much.
Throughout my entire life, I've never had a hero -- until now. Even if he wasn't my brother, I would genuinely admire him because of all he's accomplished despite the many challenges he's had to overcome. I am so incredibly proud to know that my sweet funny brother has grown up to be such a compassionate and caring man -- particularly in view of the horrible childhood he was burdened with. He is not perfect (none of us are) but he is inspirational and he is always actively striving towards making himself a better, more socially-responsible person. His remaining time on earth is short, but his life is a shining example to us all for how to live -- and die -- with grace and dignity.