When my sister was a kid, she excelled at everything: sports, grades, social life.
It never occurred to me that the things I grew jealous of would be pulled from under her like a rug. When I was ten years old, my sister was finally diagnosed with a rare spinal tumor after months of debilitating pain and multiple “second opinions” from perplexed doctors. With cancer comes radiation, chemo, and surgery. Simple actions like lifting a backpack, getting a glass of water when she was thirsty, or even something as natural as bending her toes became impossible. I soon realized that she would need family, doctors, and physical therapists to help her with the luxuries in life that an able-bodied person would consider trivial.
When she underwent her first three surgeries, she had to learn how to walk again
during all three occasions. My parents and I were right next to her as she took her first steps, again and again. Her life fluctuated from manageable to extremely taxing, like when she went through chemo and proton beam radiation. During the time she went through aggressive treatment, my sister and my mom lived in the Ronald McDonald house by MD Anderson in Houston while my father and I continued our lives in Austin, traveling back and forth every weekend. Living without them was difficult because my sister was essentially my right hand, but residing in the Ronald McDonald house allowed her to connect with people that are going through similar—if not even more difficult—situations, and overcoming obstacles to reach their goals, even if the goal is to simply survive another day. It made me realize that there is no reason why my sister should have to limit herself and her goals in life, even when in the face of adversity it seems impossible.
For years, I grew weary about her disease. It became a part of our lives, so normal that I don’t really remember the years she wasn’t sick. However, it all changed this summer when I was doing the simple act of scrolling through Instagram—and then I see it. It was a post from Alayna Enos the day she started her ride, showing just her legs to the camera. Alayna has been one of my sister’s friends since before her diagnosis, and has stuck with her ever since. She wrote down everyone she was riding for on her leg. I knew from my many years of knowing her that she has had many close family members affected by cancer, but the last thing I expected when I saw that post is with a fat sharpie, she wrote my sister’s name right in the middle of her front quad in Farsi, which is our native tongue. My jaw dropped and I immediately ran to my sister’s room to show her the post, and even she was shocked. She didn’t expect her name to be right next to Alayna’s grandmother’s, who was an incredibly important figure in Alayna’s life. It completely changed my perspective on cancer. I never did anything about my sister’s condition and I just took it as what life afforded me, but Alayna chose to do something about it and take charge against this disease that has affected us both. Alayna joining Texas 4000 was the action that pushed me to the edge and is making me take this leap.
My story will not have a happy ending, unfortunately. For me, it isn’t a matter of if, but when. I will never be able to say the word “remission” when it comes to my sister’s cancer, only “stable”. However, I find solace in the fact that despite her hardships, she was able to transfer to Texas A&M in the spring of 2019 to pursue her passion for policy-making at the Bush School of Government. She lives with debilitating pain every day, and yet, she is seeking a degree, studying hard to overcome the perpetual effects of “chemo brain”, and hoping to work with organizations like the UN and NGO to protect and advocate for people with disabilities such as herself.
The team drives me to push forward despite my hopelessness and jaded attitude towards cancer because Texas 4000 has had an invisible hand in every course of action my family has taken regarding my sister’s treatments. With T4K’s generous donations to MD Anderson, my family got to reap those rewards during a time when we desperately needed it. I ride so that I can open up to the world about the most important part of my life that I have hidden from almost everyone. I ride for my sister, my mom and dad, and myself.