Gorga, Katie

Someone who can stand up to cancer, while others her age are concerned with their dance dates, and look into the eyes of fate and say “not yet,” epitomizes what it means to be truly brave. The person I know who embodies these traits is my youngest sister Elizabeth. When I learned about cancer growing up, I would always think: “That won’t happen to me.” I don’t know who I thought it would happen to, I suppose I figured since I didn’t know anyone with cancer, I wouldn’t get it. Well, I was right, it didn’t happen to me, it happened to my little sister at the young age of twelve. Being struck with such monstrous news such as “you have a brain tumor” while you are only in the seventh grade, can make you think about your life and others in so many different ways. Elizabeth took the news lightly, never letting it get her down and it became just something she had to fix. She would make light of every situation, such as giggling at the radiologists accent before radiation treatment or the oncologist’s tiny feet when he gave her chemo-therapy. When she would go in for brain surgery, before the doctor could explain what he was going to do, she would simply raise her hand and say “I don’t want to know just cut me open and get it over with.” It was an approach to the situation and to life that I so much admired.

My family did all of the research possible to help find the best treatments for her rare type of tumor. My father went to countless hospitals getting opinion after opinion from the best doctors around the country. When one treatment stopped working, it was never the end, it was always, “what’s next?” After chemotherapy, radiation and surgery were no longer options, we kept looking and kept searching for other ways to beat the cancer. Doctors would notify us of clinical trials that my sister was eligible for and would place us first on the list. Friends of our family were constantly doing research on the internet and giving us print outs of new treatments, home remedies and hope. One family friend from across the country mailed a large container of a rather pricey Black Seed Oil, because it was said to shrink tumors. We tried it even though it would make my sister put on a sour face, yet never complain, every time she took it.

Rhio clearly had the right approach of never giving up and continuously looking for help, sometimes, unfortunately, all you can do is research, and pray for the best.

But, like Rhio, my sister never gave up. She was only twelve years old and scared out of her mind when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I’m sure Rhio could relate to that moment when you find out that your whole life is going to change, and quite possibly end sooner than you thought. While it wasn’t me finding this information out about myself, it was my youngest sister, someone who I was close with my entire life, who I missed everyday when I went away to college and was so happy to see when I would come home. Rhio’s story is an inspiration, because it is a success story. Although Rhio passed away, the extra years that he was able to earn for himself, through research, and determination, were undoubtedly a joy for his family and friends. My sister and my family were all so willing to partake, like Rhio, in clinical trials despite the riskiness, because the reward of another year, another month, or even another day in our lives was worth the two hour drive to New Brunswick each day, or the weekend spent in Philadelphia talking with specialist. My family and my sister exhausted every single avenue we could in order to help my sister, and although she did not survive six years longer with mesothelioma like Rhio, she was awarded double the lifespan of a normal patient diagnosed with a brain tumor. That time was invaluable. She did not sit around and complain about her situation, asking “why me?” Instead, she would receive chemotherapy between sail boat races, have doctor’s appointments after school, but be done in time for basketball practice, and partake in a clinical trial that gave her just enough time in between treatments to go skiing in Canada for an unforgettable week, all while somehow managing to graduate from the eighth grade.

I can relate to Rhio’s story so well because unfortunately it was my family’s story for two years. I know what it is like firsthand to do what Rhio did, and know what it’s like to try so many different treatments, and if something works, have it mean everything. This is not an essay of hypotheticals for me, this is an essay about a tragic and yet admirable struggle with a vicious and unforgiving disease. Yet, the one condolence my family and I have is that thanks to clinical trials and my sister’s resilience and commitment to fighting onwards, my sister, like Rhio, beat back a cancer that was not meant to be pushed back. Where others had caved in, my sister, my family, and an overwhelming amount of communal support pushed outwards, and while cancer may have ultimately won the war, to win some key battles, and gain some invaluable time with my sister meant the world to both, my family, and I.

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