Father, husband, son, brother, uncle, friend, survivor. These are just a few of the words printed on my brother Chris’s Tibetan prayer flag. He’s also an attorney, a bookworm, a tennis player, a peacemaker, a word-nerd, a gourmand, a beach bum — and the list goes on.
Survivor is just one of many terms that describe Chris; it’s also the reason for this flag and our connection to Above + Beyond Cancer. Chris’s diagnosis of Acute Myeloid Leukemia, and the subsequent treatment for it, changed his life and the life of our family. Like many who have experienced cancer, my brother and our family have dealt with the complex paradox of this disease: It is devastating, but it can also result in powerful and positive outcomes. Chris’s cancer was awful, there’s no question about that. However, it also brought about positive changes for him and our family in that it helped all of us to prioritize what is meaningful in our lives. For Chris, spending time with his three little boys, Liam, Connor, and Nolan, will always come before his work as an attorney (don’t worry Chris, I won’t share this with your boss). His experience with cancer has made him that much more adamant about making fatherhood a day-to-day reality and not just something he wishes he could do. For our parents, Chris’s cancer inspired them to get involved with the Bone Marrow Registry and to make a concerted effort to raise the population of minority donors, particularly those of mixed race, in the registry, by organizing donor drives in communities around Chicago.
I spent a year helping my brother and his wife, Annie, while he was going through treatment. Watching what they went through, and having access to foundations like ACS and Leukemia and Lymphoma to help us negotiate that difficult year, motivated me to volunteer with Above + Beyond Cancer, a foundation that, among many things, inspires people in their survivorship. As a writer, I have helped A+B team members tell their stories of survivorship and transformation—stories that engender self-discovery and growth and that can be shared as an act of health advocacy. I know that I wouldn’t have reached out to A+B if it hadn’t been for Chris’s experience. There it is again, that tricky paradox of cancer—Chris’s illness was painful and extremely difficult to contend with, but it also informs what he values and prioritizes in his life, and it has encouraged his family members to engage in health advocacy.
Chris’s strength, positivity, and goodwill inspire his family, his friends, and pretty much everyone he knows. It is truly a privilege to carry this flag for him and his family on Above + Beyond’s trek to Machu Picchu.