A Different Kind of Hero

When someone says the word 'hero', what comes to mind? A parent, maybe, or a firefighter or a soldier. Perhaps you envision a knight in shining armor. How about a superhero, who can fly around and saves everyone from horrible fates like speeding trains and falling pianos (okay, so maybe that's a little far-fetched, but you get my point, right?)

My personal hero is a little different. He wasn't super strong and didn't save anyone from a burning building, but he's my hero all the same. I'm talking about my brother, Brett. He would be nine now. But let's go back about four years. I was eight, he was five.

Even then he was a cool younger sibling. He wasn't one of those little bratty ones that demand all the attention or steal your stuff or anything. He just liked to be superman. He would run around the house with his red sheet (that Mom cut down to be cape sized) tied around his neck and one fist out. He said he was 'flying'. Now don't get me wrong, I got annoyed with him sometimes, like when the 'whoosh' got a little too loud and interrupted my coloring or reading, in which case I would either tattle or simply yell at him myself. But the anger never lasted long. He would just look at me with his big blue eyes and say he was sorry and give me a hug. You couldn't say no to those eyes.

That spring, we started noticing a change in him. He seemed to have lost all his energy. He got really sick. Finally, Mom took him to the doctor (just in case you're wondering why I haven't mentioned my dad, it's because he was not a part of our life. He was always away at his big fancy job. We were lucky if he'd come home on the weekends. That's why we think Brett liked Superman so much- because that was his father-figure. Once he even woke me up at one in the morning just to ask me if Daddy was Superman. That one took a while to explain.) The doctor said he needed more tests, but that it didn't look so great. We took Brett to the hospital the next week. I remember asking him if he was scared (I was.)

"No," he answered, holding tight to his cape, "maybe they'll find out that I'm from a different planet and I'm allergic to human things, like school. Maybe they'll tell me that I can't go ever and that I have to stay home with Mommy forever and ever." That was the way with Brett. He was a kid with an endless imagination and a terrible fear of school. He did not want to go to first grade when he was six that fall. He was always coming up with excuses of why not to go. Some of them were very creative (like having to protect Mommy from the evil villains who were plotting to kidnap her and put her in front of a speeding train until she gave up the gold. However, the only gold she wore was her grandmother's cross and her engagement and wedding rings, so that didn't really get very far.)

When the doctor came out after the test, he didn't look happy. I pretended to read my Highlights magazine, but I was really watching my mother's ever saddening face and trying to figure out what was being said. She signed a lot of papers and talked to the man for a long time before he finally walked away. At last, I asked straight out.

"Mommy, what's wrong with Brett?"

"Well honey," she said, holding my hand, "your brother is very sick. He has a special disease called Leukemia. It's a disease in his blood." There were tears in her eyes. I know now that if it weren't for me right there, she would have been crying hysterically. But that's the kind of woman my mother is; a strong one, who is brave for her loved ones. She explained what she knew about the malady, which wasn't very much. Brett had to stay at the hospital for more tests, like Flow cytometry (to find out what kind of leukemia it was) and some others, whose name's I forget.

Mom let me skip school the next day. The doctor's told her that it was Pre-B ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia.) He would need chemotherapy. Since the cancer was discovered late, they wanted to start treatment as soon as possible.

They tried to explain the whole thing to Brett, but he really wasn't interested (what five year old would be?) Mom and I then told him that Dad was flying here from Chicago. That made his eyes light up and he turned to me, saying, "Daddy can fly! I'm gonna ask him to teach me when he comes." And so he did. My dad started to say, "I'm busy, maybe later," (which was his usual response) but he stopped in mid sentence, and said, "Of course, Brett. I'll teach you how to fly, just as soon as you get better."

And so, my brother soon started the treatment that we hoped would save his life. He had to go back twice a month for another dose.

Brett always kept up good spirits, though. Even though he was tired a lot and often had flu-like symptoms. When he started to lose his hair, I remember him grinning at me and saying, "That's okay. I don't like curls, anyway. Now you can't call me a hobbit, anymore." And he stuck his tongue out at me. (Okay, so maybe I did call him names. But he did look like a hobbit; he was short, with curly brown hair and bright blue eyes and big ears that he hadn't grown into yet.) He didn't like being sick all that time, but he just kept saying that is was making him better and then he could fly.

How did my mom do through all this? Well, like I said before, she was strong for us. Often times I saw her just watching Brett, her eyes all shiny with unshed tears. At night she would sit by his bed and rub his back or hold his hand. She joined a prayer group. That meeting, just one day a week, for two hours, was the only time she was away from Brett.

Dad stayed home a lot more. He played with Brett and I all that summer (when Brett was feeling well enough to.) And before bedtime, he would read Superman books. Brett had already memorized them, but he didn't care; now Daddy was reading them. As soon as the story was done, my brother would open his eyes and say, "And when I'm better, I can fly like that. Zoom…zoom…zoom." It was so great to have Dad home with us. He was always apologizing, though, for not having spent time with us sooner. Mom would just say she was glad he was home now.

That fall, I started fifth grade. Mom ordered some school books online, because she decided to home school Brett. He was so happy. He even asked if I could stay too, but Mom said I should keep going to regular school. Sure, I was jealous sometimes, but at least I got to see my friends every day. And my teacher, Mrs. Goldsmith, was the best in the world. She started every class by checking if the sky was blue. Seeing that it was, she would inform us that it was going to be a 'fabulous day'. But I'm off topic.

The week after Brett's sixth birthday, we made another trip to the hospital. The doctors wanted to check his progress. Unfortunately, they found that he had developed a second leukemia. It was called AML (acute myeloid leukemia.) That was bad. Now he would have to come back once a week for treatment. Mom was very upset. No, that's an understatement, but I don't suppose there is a word to capture the emotions of a mother who has just discovered her child, her baby, is dying.

Maybe it's because he didn't understand, or maybe it was just Brett's personality, but he never let his cancer discourage him. At the hospital, they let him write one of those letters to Make-A-Wish foundation. Actually, one of the nurses wrote it for him. It said: I wish that I could fly, like Superman. He is my hero and I want to be like him when I grow up. I think the nurse had tears in her eyes when she wrote it.

But Make-A-Wish gets a lot of letters, and they can't make them all come true at once. Brett got progressively worse. He got very thin, as he could not keep any food down. I remember giving him a hug, and being extra gentle, afraid that I might crush him. It's hard to describe how the next six months went. It was filled with prayers, tears, and trips to the hospital. Eventually, he had to stay there.

It was a warm spring day. The sky was perfectly blue, the color of Brett's eyes, with not a cloud in sight. Dad, Mom, and I were all sitting around his bed. He looked out the window and said, "I'm gonna fly up there." And then he fell asleep. My mom was holding his hand.

Brett, my brother, would never wake up again. The cancer had taken over his small, six-year-old body. The day of his funeral, the sky was that same bright blue. And I know, for a fact, he was flying there, looking down on us.

So that is the story of my hero, Brett. Although his life was short, he taught me many things. He brought my family together. He showed us courage and taught me never to give up. His life is one to encourage people to pursue their dreams.