Michael, then.

In introductions on March 1, 2012 at 8:52 pm


I drank two cups of coffee in the biggest mug I own before starting to write this one. Here goes nothin’. 

I also don’t have any mascara on yet, because I cry shockingly easily these days. Especially when it comes to my family, and especially when it comes to my big brother Michael. And, while I’m on the subject, I’ll tell you that I’m not one of those pretty, delicate, sniffy criers–more one of those runny-nosed, hiccup-y, loud, make-up smeared criers. So just count yourself blessed that you only have to read this and not see the writer behind it. Lucky you!

My oldest brother, Michael Logan Hestead, was born on October 29, 1984 in Illinois. My father was getting his Masters of Divinity at the time, and though my mom hated Illinois, she finally got her first baby boy. I can’t imagine having a child while being in grad school, so far from home, but the image of my parents struggling through it and loving each other and their first baby is a pretty wonderful one.

happy baby, pretty mama

When Michael was two, my mom had my sister Katie. When Michael was four, she had my brother Kyle. After seminary, my dad got a job at the church here in Washington where he works now, and they moved. When they were young, I’m told that Michael and Katie were best friends–exploring and playing together, Michael watching after Katie.

Michael and Katie.

I was born when Michael was six years old, and he called me his Christmas present (I came home from the hospital on Christmas). He loved to sing, draw, and was a very smart child–he was tested with a genius IQ and had taught himself multiplication by the end of kindergarten. He liked Disney moves (he can still quote from most of the classics, and refuses to even watch any modern sequels or remakes), camping, church, and playing with his cousins. He had a vivid imagination, loved to memorize or make-up stories to tell, and loved helping with the babies my mom watched in her home daycare.

 A few months after I was born, Michael started having strange symptoms: his eye began to turn, and his vision started becoming blurry. He told my mom that he was worried he would have to get glasses, because what if his classmates made fun of him? A valid worry for a six year old and for his mother. Unfortunately, this worry did come true, but only indirectly–Michael was diagnosed with a brain tumor. How such an ugly thing can grow in such a beautiful young boy is utterly beyond my comprehension, but it was there, and had to be taken care of. There was chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery to remove the tumor.

Can you imagine this, brain surgery on a six year old? Imagine it from the surgeon’s point of view, from my parents’, from the young minds of Katie and Kyle, and from my big brother Michael’s.  I try to grasp it and find it impossible. Children are supposed to be healthy and playful and carefree, but so many have to endure things that make them grow up far too soon. It breaks me to imagine.

In a living room conversation over coffee last year, my mom told me about the moment where she said goodbye to Michael as he was wheeled away for surgery. He turned to her and said “Can’t I just get glasses?” How do you respond to this, and how do you let go of your baby’s hand and let the doctors take it? I suppose this is life: you do what you must.

It was May 1991 when Michael was diagnosed. My parents went back and forth from Port Orchard to Seattle for chemo and radiation. I was still nursing, so I usually went with my mom to the hospital–Michael and I took naps together in his hospital bed. I was born with a full head of hair (I still have far too much), and my mom says that the patients in Pediatric Oncology loved to look at my infant blonde curls, as many of them were losing or had lost their hair. My sister Katie lived in Seattle with my aunt for part of the time. The Ronald McDonald House took good care of my parents when they had to stay overnight in Seattle, and they are still doing great things now.

Michael, after losing his hair from treatment. Still pretty damn cute.

My parents were young, my dad was a pastor. Needless to say, money was tight. The most amazing thing about my brother’s cancer is how my home church came together to help. Now, I grew up in a church, and I can be first to testify about how “church people” can really suck sometimes. I mean, I’m being honest here: they can suck. But, those same church people have the most loving hearts in emergencies. People babysat the rest of us kids, made countless meals, took care of our yard, and kept a change jar in the lobby of the church every week to pay for the gas money to go back and forth to Seattle. They even put together packs of snacks for us to eat in the car on the way to the hospital. That’s pretty amazing, and I will always have a deep love for those people that gave to my family in that year.

a school photo, after kicking cancer's ass.

Michael always liked to draw, and one my favorite stories he tells now is how, in the hospital, he used to draw pictures of dinosaurs chasing after his nurses and show the drawings to them. I’m not sure the nurses appreciated this, but it still kills me. Whatta kid.

After the long treatment process, Michael was declared cancer-free (holla! this is where I stop crying). The Make a Wish Foundation sent our family to Disney World, and life pushed forward. My sister Hillary was born, and Michael loved on her just as he did the rest of us.

Now, cancer changed a lot of things in my brother’s life and in our family’s life, but let me be clear: it did not, and does not, define it. Cancer is one of the purest forms of evil I can think of that exists in this world, and we’ve all been touched by it in some way. Cancer sucks, but sometimes life wins. I’ll go more into depth on how cancer changed Michael in my next post: Michael, now. For now, another mug of coffee in celebration of 20 years cancer-free.  

  1. 20 years! That’s amazing!
    I was crying reading this, partially because you’re an amazing writer and partially because I picture my nephews going through that and it just tears me up.
    He sounds like a really tough kid.

  2. My mom was diagnosed with lung cancer last May. I don’t know if I can remember ever feeling that afraid. She’s thankfully cancer-free now 🙂 But at some point we expect our parents to get sick and age. It’s still tragic, but it’s, you know, part of life. I can never imagine having a kid with cancer though…I don’t know how I would cope with that. Your parents are truly amazing people 🙂

  3. Well, now you’ve got me crying! Your story and the pictures together create a strong, layered narrative that has such impact. I think one of the hardest things to write about is illness (in ourselves or others; believe me, I see A LOT of this kind of writing as an editor at the Bellingham Review) and the key is to keep the writing specific, to have another focus that keeps it from becoming too much. I think you accomplished this with the placement of the pictures and the stories about the church family.

  4. […] very personal, as no family has a shortage of hardships, but Charity doesn’t shy away from the difficult subjects. As a family blogger myself, I can do nothing but admire her skill and the presentation of her blog […]

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