When you’re a kid, life seems never ending and full of excitement — whether it is a family road trip, or a sunny day or an endless summer. We are put on this earth, really with no clue why or how, but we go about our days not thinking of a future or even our pasts. One of the most beautiful things about being a kid is the ability to focus on the present, and not comprehend the fact that everything does, unfortunately, come to an end.
My sister Chelsea was a junior in high school, just turned 16, when she was on her way to class and her leg broke. In the emergency room at Maine Medical, she was told that she had osteosarcoma, bone cancer in her femur bone.
I was only two years old- so visits to Boston Children’s Hospital became part of the routine and were not out of the ordinary for me. Her sickness was almost just as part of my life as any other thing. I didn’t really know her without the cancer. I just knew her as a fun, older sister that I wanted to be exactly like. She would have me stand on the rack that held her chemo bag and give me rides around the hospital floor. At home, I wanted a cast on my leg just like hers, so I took my brother’s shin guards and walked side by side with her. I remember her fixing my hair and putting makeup on me, her funny voices and accents, and the skits we would perform for our family.
I remember the day that she died like it was yesterday. It was right before Christmas, and we went to pick up my brother from his 8th grade basketball game. I was only 9 years old at the time. He asked if he could go to a friend’s house, and my mom looked at him and quietly shook her head no. He must have known something, and in a weird way, as young as I was, I had an idea of what my mom was about to tell us as well.
At such a young age, I don’t think I really understood the concept of death like my brother did. He was aware that she wouldn’t be around to see us go to college or get married, give us advice or experience life with us. I knew that she was gone, but I don’t think I realized what that meant until I got older.
She was 23 when she died, the same age I am now. I have an insatiable thirst to hear stories about her. That she was a brat sometimes, that she could be lazy and didn’t get the best grades in school. That she loved shopping and makeup and movies and travel, that she had a sassy side and loved a little gossip. The greatest compliment is being told I remind my family of her. She had dreams of being a makeup artist in Hollywood, I only wish she could have made it there. As I keep getting older, I miss her more. I constantly find myself going through phases of life that she did, and wondering how she did it while battling this horrible disease.
Losing her has made me realize the importance of the little things of life; and to not take them for granted. When I find myself feeling negative, I try to become more aware and appreciative of this beautiful life I was given and do my best to enjoy the entire experience because she wasn’t able to.
As heartbreaking as this loss was and still is to our family, we keep Chelsea alive through telling stories about her, having a good cry every once in a while, and my brother and I even got tattoos to symbolize what she means to us.
No one can replace Chelsea but in Angela, I have found another sister. We met in the student center at Kimball Union Academy when we were 16 years old. We instantly clicked and developed a beautiful friendship. We are constantly on the same wave length; always laughing about something new, or going on 4 hour drives talking about life.
When I got the call from Angela that she was diagnosed with cancer, my mind went to the worst. I had seen this story before; I had lived it. I tried to be strong on the phone with her because I didn’t want to scare her or make her feel worse about the tragedy that had just struck her life. When she hung up, I immediately called my mom and started uncontrollably crying.
Selfishly, my first thought was “I can’t lose her. I’ve already lost a sister.” I think it was hard for me to imagine someone so strong, so emotionally intelligent, and full of life, to be going through something so terrifying. I was scared for her life, but I didn’t want her to know that. I think everyone who knows Angela, or someone who goes through a life-threatening illness, can relate to that feeling.
I have learned so much from Angela but never so much as in this last year. It is okay to be scared for people. It is okay to feel helpless when trying to console another human that is going through something so awful. It is okay to laugh and make jokes, it was her new normal and it became mine.
When people get cancer, their loved ones want to do anything they can for them but sometimes, you can’t be there with them. Sometimes, a person with cancer just needs to talk to someone who has been there, who has gone down the same road. Angela’s Army makes that possible.
One of the reasons why I love this organization so much is because it brings attention and awareness to the various different lives that are affected by Cancer. It builds a community. It helps others who have gone through similar situations, losses, experiences, etc. to feel like they are not alone. Angela is one of the strongest people I know, and I am in awe of her every day.
Mostly everyone has experienced the tragedy of Cancer in one way or another. I hope my story can remind everyone that its okay to not be okay, and its okay to be scared. Loss is not easy, whether it be big or small, but it is something that we all go through in this life time. I am so incredibly proud to have Angela in my life; and I will forever be thankful for the sisterhood she has given me.
Chelsea Mae Sewall (1982-2005)