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What’s It Like When Your Brother Has Cancer? Taking Care Of My Family

Norm Miozzi, age 16

When Vince got cancer, I didn’t really know what it meant other than it was this horrible illness that wrote characters off of TV shows. Cancer had no meaning in my life; it didn’t affect me personally. But after his diagnosis, I began to realize how dangerous cancer was— how it hurt Vince and changed our whole family.

My Brother Has Cancer

Vince was immediately sicker. Gone was the older brother I knew just weeks before. He no longer shared our room or teased me. He wasn’t around to do any of the things that we used to do together—no throwing the football, tossing the lax ball, no shooting hoops in the driveway, and staying up late to watch TV.

For over three years, Vince was gone, and my parents were gone all of the time, too. My dad went to work and stayed overnight at the hospital, and my mom only came home to sleep and get us ready for school in the morning. I was in charge in our house whenever they weren’t home.

As a 12-year-old seventh grader, I wasn’t very mature, but I didn’t have the option of irresponsibility. My three younger siblings needed me, especially with my parents gone and my brother near death. And, it wasn’t like babysitting while my mom went to the grocery store. The little kids were scared about Vince and missed my parents. I had to check homework, find pajamas, serve dinner, clean up, play a lot of Candy Land, watch endless episodes of Dora the Explorer, and tuck Luke and Eileen in bed.

I didn’t like this job. But it sure seemed better than what Vince was dealing with. I didn’t want to stress my parents and make them ask me to help. I wanted to just jump in and help, but I didn’t always know what that was. It wasn’t an easy time.

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Along with the responsibilities I wasn’t prepared for, I also had to face all of Vince’s friends. Vince and I went to the same school and every day I saw all of his friends, but he wasn’t with them anymore. They were all concerned with how he was doing, but they didn’t realize that every time I saw them or they brought up his name, I was reminded of how he wouldn’t be coming back home for a while and how sick he was.

Also, going to football practice after school was hard without Vince. The seventh and eighth grade football teams practiced on the same field, and his absence reminded me of his condition. It was hard knowing that I could still do the things Vince loved to do, lived to do—like play football—and may never do again. I felt like I had to play for both of us. And when I didn’t start, I felt as though I failed him. Even when I didn’t like football, I felt like I couldn’t quit because I would disappoint Vince and my parents.

Vince’s illness affected me greatly, especially emotionally. I did what I could to stay strong and help my siblings, who were also going through a rough time. I needed to support them, even though I wanted someone to take care of me while I was sad. So even though I didn’t show my feelings much on the outside, I was scared for Vince and all of us. I missed Vince every day, even when he was home and so sick he couldn’t interact much with us. I missed our family—the way we were before cancer.

Keeping my emotions to myself was how I handled things for three long years. Even now, it’s hard to talk about. I much prefer to focus on how healthy Vince is now and the times we are sharing together in high school.

Click here to read the rest of the Miozzi family’s perspectives.

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