Its been a year since my families nightmare began, and I think the reality of it all is just now beginning to sink in. One day life was normal, and the next our world was turned upside down. There was no time to process what was happening. A week after Margo’s diagnosis she was having major surgery, and two weeks after that she was beginning chemo. It all happened so fast. There were days, and still are days, when I just didn’t think it can be true. I kept waiting to wake up from this nightmare, but unfortunately I never did and I never will.
The pattern seemed to repeat itself. Anytime we received any form of news things happened so quickly. We knew from the beginning that Margo had a rare and aggressive form of cancer, but I don’t think any of us ever expected it to end so soon. How could we? I can attempt to explain to you what its like, but unless you’ve lived through it you will never fully understand. To wake up one morning and be told that your 24 year old sister has cancer is not something anyone is prepared for. There is no manual on how to handle these situations. All we can do is handle it to the best of our ability and learn as we go. For me, the most difficult part was accepting this reality. Instead I tried to run from it. I figured if I could avoid it all and distract myself I could push it out of my mind. As long as I could stay busy maybe I could burry it. In the beginning I was forced to face it all. While most families were busy celebrating the holidays mine was in a hospital busy concentrating on my sister. The doctors gave Margo time to recover after surgery and enjoy Christmas and New Years with all of us, but it was difficult to ignore the elephant in the room. The material things about the holidays suddenly didn’t mean so much. You could open present after present but what was in the box was never what you wanted. None of us could give my sister the gift of life. The future was unknown and it was a scary thing for us all.
When I returned to school I tried to push it out of my mind. My mom and Margo always invited me to spend some time with them while Margo received treatment around the corner, but the thought of it terrified me. I didn’t want to watch my sister go through that. I handle things very different than most people. I don’t ever like to let people see me upset. My sisters know this better than anyone. I was afraid if I got upset in front of her I would only add to her fear. Cancer was never something I could talk to Margo in person about, instead I had to find my own ways of showing my support and letting her know how much I care. As much as I hate to show my soft side I do really have one and those who i care most about always seem to bring it out. I sent Margo funny pictures on the mornings she had chemo hoping I could make her laugh and put a smile on her face, and I sent her the following email before she began her first chemotherapy treatment.
‘Whether you are rich or poor in life is determined by smiles around you, friends you make, people you are with, ideas you have, dreams you chase, and the love you spread”
If there is one thing your diagnosis has taught you it is that you are an extremely rich person. It’s impossible to count the number of smiles you have painted on faces. You have found friends in even the most unlikely individuals. The people you are with are better than you could have ever hoped for. Your creativity is endless. Your dreams are always within reach and will with time be yours. And the love you have spread? Your family, your fiancé, your friends have all been lucky enough to experience it.
This past month has revealed a side of you I never knew existed. A side of you that kind of reminds me of myself. The strength and determination you have showed is admirable. You have your mind set on beating this disease and nothing is going to get in your way. For me, the mountains I have climbed have been small. I credit my determination and unwillingness to EVER accept failure for the things I have been able to accomplish. Every time I step on the field I rely on my strength and determination to get me to the top. So far, those two ingredients have never failed me, and I truly believe they won’t fail you either. They are the two most important things you will need during this fight. The mountain you are climbing is daunting, but with time you will make it to the top, and I can only imagine how beautiful the view from there will be. You will look back on this horrible experience and be able to smile. You will be a survivor. You will be an inspiration for those still climbing the mountain. The rest of your life will be on the horizon and waiting for you to start living it. Nothing can stop you from having everything you ever wanted unless you let it. For some reason ever since you were diagnosed this picture keeps popping into my head of you walking down the aisle beaming; for that day means even more than you ever imagined. I know its hard to think about that day now, but I know it will come and you will be more beautiful than ever. You and Ambler have both proven that some day you will make amazing parents to a few extremely lucky kids. You will have the family you always dreamed of, and your children will adore the two of you in the way that Garret, Jax, and Wes do. So when you’re tired, sick, or feel like giving up just think about getting to the top. Think about the view, and know that today you are one step closer to reaching it. You are a Mallory. You are stronger and braver than you ever knew, and you WILL make it to the top. I love you and consider myself extremely lucky to have you as a sister.
I wish I had been right about what I said in this email.
About a month after she began chemo Margo lost her hair completely. For weeks I hid because I didn’t know how I would react. Seeing her this way was going to make it all real. It was just a constant reminder that something wasn’t right. In February we took a day trip to NY to go wedding dress shopping and film Margo’s episode of Say Yes to the Dress (which will air this January!!). Margo’s main reason for doing the show was to prove to the world that beauty is skin deep. It is not about your appearance. As we sat in Kleinfelds I remember the stares. Everyone was looking at my sister sitting there in her hat. I can’t even begin to describe how angry this made me. Sometimes we get so caught up in appearance and forget what really matters. Whether or not my sister had hair did not determine if she was beautiful or not. Margo wanted the world to know this. She had told us all that she would film the show without her hat. As she went back to try on the first dress my mom told her she didn’t have to do this if she wasn’t comfortable with it. Margo once again showed incredible strength as she came out in front of the store and on national television sporting her wedding dress and bald head. This was the first time I had ever seen my sister bald. It was hard not to get emotional. I tried so hard to hold it together. I never thought my reaction would be on film. I didn’t want the world to see me cry. I had run from reality, but here I was in front of a camera being forced to face it.
In June we learned that the cancer had spread, and I think this was the first time I allowed myself to really think about what might happen. We had all remained so positive, but she wasn’t getting better. This tumor was worse than the first. In my heart I knew what this most likely meant. Through out the summer I watched my sisters health decline. Both her physical and mental strength just wasn’t the same. She spent most days in bed. Doing simple things like taking a shower took every bit of strength out of her. It was heartbreaking to say the least. Through out it all she remained focused on her goal. Be healthy enough to make the trip to Punta Cana and marry the love of her life. She knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but it was what she wanted. Easy it was not. The long day of traveling just to get there took everything out of her. When we arrived at the resort and saw Margo passed out on the couch I think we all worried that this was a bad idea. I hated seeing my sister this way. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Her wedding was something she dreamed about her entire life. We were surround by our closest friends and family she was supposed to be able to enjoy herself. I have an extremely difficult time seeing people I care about suffer. Its a feeling I don’t know how to handle so I tend to express it in all the wrong ways. For the majority of the trip I took my anger out on everyone else, especially on the person who had made major sacrifices to be there to not only support my sister, but to support me. I spent the wedding day angry about all the wrong things. Once again I was upset and expressing it through anger. What should have been a happy memorable time watching my sister put on her dress instead turned into a moment I will regret for the rest of my life. I think a big reason why I acted the way I did was because I was still running. I didn’t want to accept what was happening. As I watched my dad walk Margo down the aisle all that anger went away. I was reminded of what is really important in life. After the reception everyone went out to the bars and the casino to continue celebrating. I didn’t want to. Suddenly partying didn’t seem so important to me. I wanted to finally spend time with someone I cared about with all my heart and show how appreciative and happy I was to have him with me. To finally treat him the way he deserved. It was a night I will always cherish and I would give anything to go back to it.
Connor, Aunt Tish, PJ, and I left the Domincan the morning after the wedding while everyone else stayed another 3 days. I returned to school and soccer and went over a month without seeing Margo. When my mom texted me saying she back in the hospital I knew what I had to do. As much as I hated putting myself in those type of situations I had to realize that it wasn’t about me. Margo needed us all. I will never forget walking into her room. The person I saw laying in the bed was not the person I had seen a month ago. I couldn’t believe I had let so much time pass that I didn’t even recognize my sister. As I sat there holding back tears trying not to lose it in front of her she laid there as strong as ever. Her body was shutting down. The cancer was winning. It had taken nine months but at this moment I finally accepted my sisters fate.
Waiting so long to face reality cost me valuable time with my sister. It was too late. By the time I realized the severity of it all the cancer had already won. I should have gone to see her more often. I should have talked to her every day. Two days after finally coming to terms with it all my sister was gone and I was faced with a new reality. Life without her.
For two months I did what I do best. I ran. I kept myself busy with friends and soccer; never allowing myself to have the opportunity to think about what happened. Soccer ended and my life came to a halt. I suddenly have all this free time on my hands. All I’ve been able to do is think. The most difficult part of it all is that no one understands. Unless you’e ever had to say goodbye to your sister. To watch her take her lasts breath you never will understand. It just isn’t possible. People are so quick to judge you for the things you’ve said or done. To make you out to be someone you’re not. To think you just don’t care or you’re not appreciative. No one considers that maybe it wasn’t you. You see something like this affects your life in every aspect imaginable. You make decisions you never would have made. You say things you don’t mean. You become someone you’re not. It consumes you. For the past year I have been someone I’m not. I have said and did things that I cannot even explain and I beat myself up over them every single day. Cancer took over Margo’s life, but it also took over everyone else’s. I am finally beginning to come to terms with what happened and trying to be the person I used to be. I’m beginning to accept the reality of life without her, and it is far from easy. There are times where I don’t know what to do; when I’m so desperate for someone to understand. While life has moved on for everyone else it hasn’t for all of us. Not to say that anyone has forgotten about Margo or cares any less, but the wound is still so fresh for those of us closest to her. The pain is still real. Its still a part of our every day life and I think this is something that a lot of people don’t realize. We are all still trying to find our way back onto the beaten path. Since September I have been forced to live my life without two people I loved; two people that played huge roles in my life. It has been far from easy. There are still sleepless nights and just getting out of bed some days is a real struggle. The tears haven’t stopped and probably won’t for a while, but I am confident one day I will come to terms with reality.