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The Reality of Losing a Loved One to Cancer When You're Only 15

The word cancer stings.

I think people know enough about cancer to know it goes one way or the other, but they don’t know what the painful journey to the end includes unless they have experienced it.

Those in my life comforted me as I tried to deal with my loss, but no one asked what it was like to see a relative experience cancer — when the chance of survival was getting slimmer by the day.

I was 15. An age I will always be able to remember the details and facts of what happened. It will always be with me.

No matter how much you know, no matter how old you are, no amount of care taken can prepare you for the end.

My weekends would include visiting her in hospital. That meant painful walks down the corridors where I prepared myself to put on a fake smile, and pretended everything was OK for an hour or two.

Instead of sporting a sparkly dress on a Saturday evening, I would sit next to the hospital bed wearing a blue disposable apron and gloves that never adopted a “one size fits all” fit. It scared me because little me from the outside world could bring infections to her that could complicate everything even more.

I’d see tubes, bags full of an abundance of medications and machines, connected to her. I was frightened to ask why they were needed. Her body was trying to help her, but it was all getting too much.

Visiting was a choice. It was difficult being there, but it was the easiest decision I have ever made.

She’d tell me how when I’d walk into the room, it would bring so much happiness to her to see the smile on my face.

Sometimes, I think she tried to disguise her pain from me, because she was always looking out for everyone else’s better interests right until the end.

But I would have never turned down a chance to see her, as I treasured every second I got. Even the times where she’d fall asleep during visiting hours, I would rather stay, partially due to fear of that being the last time I would ever see her, and I don’t know how I would accept it within myself if I walked away.

Cancer isn’t just a solitary illness. Everyone feels its impact.

Perhaps it’s one of life’s biggest enemies. Just the word in itself is explanatory. “She had cancer.” No more questions needed.

Two-and-a-half years later, on the day that would have been her 49th birthday, I know I am getting there, day by day, even if dealing with grief is difficult.

I love so strongly, and I hate to lose those I am close to. I form bonds I treasure so strongly, and the impact of losing my best friend has hurt me in more ways than I can think of.

Sometimes, cancer doesn’t end in survival. But the grief I feel and the pain I witnessed will never take away those fifteen years of love, family and friendship.

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Thinkstock photo by carlacastagno