Growing up seems so monotonous.
You go from elementary school, to middle school, you get your first kiss, go to high school. Your classes. Your grades. Your sports. Your friends. The people you meet. All different components to shape you into the person you are in this very moment. All major life events, that seem to blur into one. The actions that you partake in every single day have an effect on your entire persona.
Growing up seems so monotonous.
You wake up every day, wash your face, brush your teeth. You say “I love you mom, I love you dad” like its nothing, like it is evident that the day will continue as normal and tomorrow will be the same thing. It’s almost like when the best events of your life are occurring, when you feel unstoppable and confident, life puts you to the test. November 26th, Thanksgiving Day, 2015, seems like too significant of a day for me when thinking about the roller coaster that my family was about to get thrown on with an infinite amount of ups and downs.
“My retainer! It popped”,
Weston screamed, as we enjoyed our usual Thanksgiving dinner at my Aunt and Uncle’s home in Los Angeles. I can still vividly remember those words that my brother proclaimed on what seemed to be just another recurrent Thanksgiving.
I tend to compare him to a dolphin; calm, sweet, energetic-and cannot keep him out of the water. He is my 16, at the time 15, year old brother, who gets mistaken for being my older brother daily. 6’4 isn’t what you call a typical height for a 16 year old boy! Weston is a nationally ranked swimmer, who spends 6 days in the pool, some days in which he practices twice a day. His smile is contagious, like no other. He can make anyone laugh to the point where they are crying. He is one of a kind. As much as we are siblings, we can fight like no other, but love like no other. He is someone I would do anything in the world for knowing that that action would be reversed in a heartbeat. He’s my best friend. His personality traits seemed very evident to me, but became even more clear when Christmas came around.
“I can’t feel my chin”,
Weston stated in an unsettling tone on the morning of November 27th. Naturally, our family assumed that this was an occurrence of his sharp retainer popping. “We will set up an appointment with the orthodontist”, uttered my mom, “it is probably because your retainer popped yesterday so we can ask them to remove it, or fix it.” Our days went on and the appointment was set. We believed that the appointment would be a cure to what seemed to be Weston’s minor problem. The following weekend, Weston and my mom were set to head to Austin, Texas, where Weston would be set to swim in Nationals, in which he had been training for all year. This meet was not like any other. It was a young swimmers dream, and Weston had qualified for 5 events. Excitement was an overwhelming emotion that he was taken over by. The week following Thanksgiving, Weston got a bad cold. Being the week prior to the weekend of Nationals, we all were under the assumption it was stress, nerves, and lots of training deteriorating his immune system, and prayed he would rid this cold before his first event.
Thursday came, and Weston and my mom took off to Nationals in Texas for Weston to swim his wide array of events. Weston still was not feeling his best self, but was hoping a leap in that refreshing water would cure any stress that was causing this uneasy feeling. Events began piling up, one after another. During the landing in Austin, Weston experienced a “headache like no other” and a “sharp twisting pain” in his brain. When arriving at the hotel, he complained of exhaustion, and went to bed for 5 hours. The following morning would be his first event, the 200 IM, in which he could not breathe the last 100 yards. My mom and dad conversed, and immediately knew something was up.
Weston rarely gets sick, and whether it be the flu, mono, or stress, my mom got the next flight home to get Weston’s sickness evaluated and get him healthy again, because this was so unlike Weston. For the next 2 weeks, Weston was evaluated at countless doctors appointments. Constant fatigue, no energy to even walk downstairs, and flu like systems invaded his body. Nobody could exactly pin-point what was going on with Weston. Via my naive searches, I was convinced that he had a form of mono, but all of the tests for mono were coming back negative. The worst case possibility doesn’t even begin to cross your mind, and at the time, I hadn’t even began to think of the the most horrific thing that this sickness could be. December 23rd seemed to be like any other day. Weston was still ill, bedridden, and had no feeling in his chin. This week, my parents had explored a new doctor, who took blood tests, yet again. Except this time, the doctor ordered my parents to go to Mission Hospital for further investigation. Weston’s blood counts had gotten worse, and whatever was taking over his body, needed to get solved.
One of my best friends, Emma, had been home for winter break and we had planned to have a pre-Christmas breakfast at a local cafe. I so vividly remember these moments, it tends to give me the chills. My dad had sent me a text while we were at breakfast saying “Please no friends over today, Weston is not feeling well at all”. I was content with that text, but still baffled at what was going on with Weston.
It’s like when you’re watching a recorded show on DVR, say, my favorite, Bachelorette. The commercials seem so tedious and continuous, that you need to get through them as quickly as possible. You click the forward button once, twice, even three times. Once you see the show back on, you try to click play but the fast forward is going so quickly its hard to accurately click play at the correct time. So it begins a series of rewinding and fast forwarding to get back to the proper part you were looking to watch. These moments, from December 23rd until April 19th seemed to be in fast forward, which at times, I was thankful for, and at times, wanted to slow down so I could grasp what the hell was going on in my family’s life.
While at breakfast with Emma, I began receiving a series of different texts that I was so confused about. The first one, from my Mom and Dad saying not to worry, but they were taking Weston to Mission Emergency Room to get Weston the proper medication to get him healed. Regardless of the initial statement “not to worry”, I was overtaken in immediate fear. Selfishly, because I hate hospitals. I think that is a natural feeling for most people due to the negativity that is attached to hospitals, unfortunately. Secondly, I was nervous and panicky at the fact that my baby brother was going to be in the hospital.Weston’s one request when “settled” into the ER was,
I then packed my things, including my bunny that I had since I was a baby, and anything else I believed would momentarily calm my brother’s nerves, and headed to Mission Hospital. Things kept going down hill. The moment I arrived at the hospital, I walked into the room where Weston was at, to a Doctor sitting aside Weston and my mom discussing how he was getting transferred to the Hematology Unit at CHOC for a Bone Marrow Biopsy to continue the investigation of why Weston was feeling so terrible and why his blood counts were so off.
Christmas is typically filled with love, joy, laughter, and family. We had lots of love and family, however, the joy and laughter seemed to slip short this year. Christmas day was the day we were to receive Weston’s results of his Bone Marrow Biopsy.
“I wonder what I have, it’s probably just a weird strain of the flu,”
Weston stated to me calmly. I was still racking my brain, as were my parents. The Doctors ended up telling my parents the results first so they could discuss how to tell the news to my brother. We all sat around the bed, held hands, and my dad proceeded to tell us the news. There is no easy way of telling someone the horrific news Weston was about to hear. Nobody is expecting it, and for my brother and I, we were fortunate to not be very familiar with the disease.
Weston had been diagnosed with a rare form of Cancer called Stage 4 Burkitts Lymphoma, which means the cancer cells had spread to his brain. All of the symptoms, his numb chin, flu like symptoms, fatigue- had led to this diagnosis. Tears began streaming down all of our faces, as we were so unsure of the months to come and what was going to occur.
“Am I going to be able to meet Kobe?”,
Weston asked after hearing what he had just been diagnosed with. This is the moment I knew Weston was going to beat this monster, no matter what. The fact that Weston could see such light, and positivity in a moment of fear and devastation immediately made me realize that this was our call to duty, and we had to stick together as a family in order for Weston to get through this. Christmas continued on, to an extent, and we made the best of the situation. We laughed, we cried, and took in that moment and acknowledged that our strength, love, and hope had to be more powerful than ever during these upcoming months.
Weston’s cancer was unlike most, and as you learn while meeting different kids in the hospital, every child’s treatment is so unlike the others. Weston’s cancer was a cancer that grew rapidly, even over night, which led to in just a few weeks, it growing from Stage 1 to Stage 4. In the upcoming months, Weston began enduring bouts of the most intense, strong chemo that there was. His treatments may have lasted 8-10 days at a time at least, but Weston would have to recover in the hospital which took very long due to the chemo knocking out all of the good and bad cells in his body. From December 25th to May 29th, Weston spent only 2-3 weeks at home. While at the hospital, he had to undergo 8 rounds of vicious chemotherapy, and 20 lumbar puncture procedures where they would inject chemotherapy treatments directly into his spine to try to attack any of the cancer that was in his brain.
During these months, Weston went through few ups, and many lows. For a national swimmer, Weston not being able to swim for these months was a nightmare he never thought he would have to live. Weston could not attend school, and was so ill he could not even complete school work in the hospital. While visitors were allowed at times, from December until March was deemed flu season, and only family members were allowed at the hospital. The hospital truly became a home for Weston. Weston was unable to see many of his friends in these upcoming months, and during this time his new “friends” became the many nurses, doctors, and child life specialists that so greatly touched all of our lives during this horrifying time in our lives.
Physically, Weston was in scale 8-10 illness and pain throughout every single day. Weston went days without being able to keep anything down, not even water. His body weight dropped by 40 pounds. He was hit with many different illnesses due to his immune system being so compromised during these months that it was almost impossible to keep him out of the hospital. He had to be put in isolation for a matter of 2 weeks. When he was home, home merely involved watching TV, or maybe a walk down the street if his energy allowed him.
Cancer is such a terrifying thing. Regardless of the stage or the length of treatment, cancer connotes with death so often, that being a teenager and hearing that there is a potential of your life being taken from you is the worst possible nightmare. However, Weston never allowed the negative thoughts to overcome him. He consistently was looking through the treatment and to the “light at the end of the tunnel”. Weston would watch motivational swimming videos and began focusing on what was important to him after his treatment, instead of dwelling on “why him”.
On Weston’s 16th birthday, it was such a significant day to say the least. At 5 in the morning, Weston went in for his final PET scan that denounced him officially cancer free. Waiting on pins and needles all day, Weston was surrounded by family and friends when we received the phone calls that brought tears, relief, and joy. Our boy had overcome 6 months of hell, Stage 4 cancer!
This event did not only change Weston’s life, but our families forever. Throughout the summer, Weston completed all the school work that he had missed to maintain his 4.0 GPA. After his final chemo on May 29th, Weston was already in the mindset of what he could do to get back in his best possible shape to do what he loves most- swimming.
Riding the bike in the garage and running the beach trail became Weston’s favorite hobbies until the doctor allowed him to be in the pool. These activities just further prepared him for his swim training to come. Nobody truly knows what Weston went through, or what he feels like, unless you are Weston. The feelings of sadness, anxiousness, helplessness, or confusion I assume were among the many thoughts dwindling in his head during this horrific time in his life. Weston refuses to take life for granted now. He is now training back in the pool with his team, aspiring to be in the best shape of his life. He one day aspires to swim at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Weston consistently states,“You never know how much your life, and everything in it means to you until you are fighting for it”.
Growing up seems so monotonous…
Until life throws something at you, like cancer, that you have no choice but to fight with every ounce of your being. And Weston did exactly that.