I am happy to have my daughter, Allison, as my first guest blogger on Still Thankful. These are her thoughts on growing up as the sibling of a transplant/cancer kid…
My whole life, Trenton and I never really got along. We fought quite a bit and would never be able to sit next to each other for too long. My mom blamed it on the fact that we are "too close in age" therefore we are "too similar" which makes sense, because trust me, there is only enough room in this world for one of me.
In the movies, to set up a good heartbreak story you have to first start with an abundance of love. If the audience can feel the love and the passion radiating from the big screen, you know you've done your job. This is because the bigger the affection, the bigger the heartbreak, and the bigger the let down when everything comes crashing down. But hey, that stuff only happens in the movies.
I am sure that many of you have also experienced the feeling of, "I hate them, but I love them." I usually hear people say this when they are talking about their family members, and this also applies to me. While Trenton may get on my nerves, he's my brother, a part of me that, if absent, I would not be me. And as much as I would like to deny it, he has had a big impact on my life and who I am today. At the time he obviously didn't even realize it, but he was impacting my life before I was even born.
Believe it or not, I sometimes wish I could have been there for the first transplant. Some people might say, "Allison, that's so crazy why would you want to experience your 11 month old brother go through ANOTHER heart transplant?" Trust me, the second one wasn't easy for anyone. It was a traumatic experience and I would never wish it on anyone. But seeing how my parents and everyone handled it, I only wish I could have been there for them during the first one. Not to add to the kid pool and make them even more stressed because they have one more mouth to feed or person to come home to at night, but to just be a supporter for them during the lowest point in their lives.
At four years old, I started in gymnastics and loved it so much, I did it for seven years. After retiring from gymnastics, I still wanted to be active, so I cheered competitively for six years, loving every second. For thirteen of my eighteen years, I’ve realized and been told that, when learning new skills, the first one is always the scariest. Sometimes you just have to go for it, hoping and praying that everything goes your way. And with the right people surrounding you, and the right amount of support, you can come out victorious. When I see someone trying a new skill, I will, to this day, tell them that the first one is always the scariest, so the best thing to do is just go for it. Hold nothing back and believe with your whole heart that everything will work out.
If you haven't already put the dots together as to why I decided to talk about my gymnastics and cheer life, let me explain. I wish I could have been there for my parents and brothers during Trent's first transplant because I would have told them the same thing I tell everyone in cheer: the first ones always the scariest, the hardest, and you will get through it. In our case, Trent had the right people surrounding him and the right amount of support and prayers going his way. And don't get me wrong, you will still go through hell stressing and wondering and crying and hoping and praying. I am not saying that if you believe everything will be okay, your whole mindset will do a 180 and stress and heartbreak will be lifted from your shoulders, but you will have hope. And sometimes, for some people, just having a little hope is enough to make it through any horrific experience.
As I said before, I was born into this life, where my brother has already had a heart transplant and would eventually need one again. So, back in 2014, when I heard his heart had started to fail and he would need another transplant, my first thought was that he had been through this before and everything turned out okay then, right? He's done this before, he's got it. But before I knew he needed a transplant, I got a text. It was from my mom and basically said that Trenton had started chasing after a friends dog that ran into the street. Being the dog-lover he is, Trenton ran to catch the dog, eventually collapsing only to get as far as the sidewalk. His friend called for an ambulance which took Trent to Children's hospital where my parents met him. Later, realizing that he had experienced a minor heart attack, the text opened up reality to me, because while I have always known that he needed another transplant, I never thought about when. It was just this distant thought. Nothing REALLY tragic ever happened to him, at least nothing that I was ever worried enough to think he wouldn't get through, but this was real.
During his time at the hospital, we were fortunate to have many families supporting us and bringing meals to the house. I remember holding the refrigerator door open and looking at my dad while he tried to fit another giant tin of food in. It was humorous and flattering the amount of food we received. People had signed up to bring something nearly every night when Dad and I were the only people eating. This leads to my next topic: independence. Most nights, I would wait for my dad to come home after work and visiting the hospital, so that we could have at least one meal together. Since Mom was with Trenton at the hospital, and Austin was in college, I spent much of the time by myself. Don't get me wrong, I think of myself as pretty independent, and I like spending time by myself. But I felt badly for my parents because I knew they felt badly for me. They tried so hard to spend as much time as they could with me, but obviously they couldn't just "hang out" with me for a whole day, because they had another kid, lying in a hospital bed, they had to get back to. They were apologizing to me for being absent. Can you believe that? They felt badly for ME because I was alone a majority of the time. This just made me love them even more.
But I wasn't there for the first one. I wasn't there to support my family or tell them everything would be okay. Instead, I heard stories about it my entire life. When I tell people those stories, they feel badly for me, and take pity on me. Yet, when I tell them not to feel pity, that I'm used to it, and was born into it, they don't seem to understand. The thing is that I have never lived a life where my brother doesn't have to take like 20 pills day and night, doesn't have annual heart caths, can drink alcohol, and doesn't have a foot long scar running down his chest. I bet my family uses more paper towels than your family. I bet our meds drawers are bigger than yours. It's what I've grown up with and what I deal with as a sibling of a transplant recipient. And when I read that last sentence to myself, it almost seems selfish to say. I am not the one who has the foot long scar down my chest, has to take all those pills, or go to annual checkups. For anyone in the same position that I've been in my whole life, here is what I've gone through and experienced. I’m not giving advice on how to deal with the similar things you’re going through, but rather sharing my experiences so that you can understand what it's like being the sibling of a transplant recipient. For me, it’s about being independent and understanding.