When I was fifteen, I lost my younger sister. She lost her battle to cancer... leukemia, to be exact. Many people know that as a fact but I keep so many details of that year bottled up. Mainly for my sanity, to be honest. I was young and it was hard to cope with... Most days I still struggle with my emotions. I want to tell this story in hopes that it touches someone and helps them. Cancer affects almost everyone in one way or another and the loss from it can leave permanent scars. Please read this with an open mind and heart.
I'll begin with the day before Devin was diagnosed, August 4, 2009. My stepdad, Devin's father, had taken us (me, Devin, and Ryann) to the park to practice soccer. Devin had wanted to play for a while because her friends from school played in the AYSO soccer league. She needed the practice bad; the kid had never played any sports. She was a dancer. We get to the park and Devin starts running across the field. She runs for maybe thirty seconds MAX, then collapses to the ground and is holding her chest. We catch up to her to try to find out what is going on. Devin says she can't breathe. RED FLAG NUMBER ONE. Obviously, we go straight home after that because we were scared.
Fast forward to later on that night... Devin was running up the stairs and collapsed again. It was the same thing; she said she couldn't breathe. This time my mom was home and hopped into Momma Bear mode. My mom had just graduated nursing school, so she KNEW that something wasn't right. She grabbed her stethoscope to listen to Devin's heartbeat. My mom said that her heart was beating way too fast. RED FLAG NUMBER TWO.
Let me back track a bit to give a brief back story. That entire summer, Devin wasn't acting the same. She was sleeping so much more than she normally did. She would fall asleep early, and anyone who knew Devin knew that she was a night owl. Even though she would fall asleep early, somehow she would still sleep until after noon most days if me or my mom didn't wake her up. Devin was also bruising A LOT. Many random bruises started popping up all over her body and my mom saw them and thought it was from me or from Ryann. Nobody had any idea... If only we knew something at the time.
Getting back on track, after my mom was able to check Devin's heart rate, she and my stepdad decided that Devin needed to go to the doctor's. So the next day, August 5, 2009, Devin, my mom, and my stepdad go to the doctor's to get her looked at. The pediatrician (who knows little to nothing about oncology) told my mom that it looked like cancer but she couldn't say because she can't run the tests. My mom and stepdad decide to take Devin to the emergency room. The tests take forever so they had me and Ryann go stay with our grandma and grandpa. Later that night, she was diagnosed with A.L.L. (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia). WOW!
Devin started treatment maybe a week after being diagnosed. She started with chemo and that was a tough one to watch her go through. She was only nine years old, and she was so brave and optimistic. Devin was also very brave. She knew what she was facing and she showed no weakness. I spent so much of that month in the hospital with Devin that I almost forgot that school was starting up again soon.
While I was in school, Devin and I started writing letters to each other and she would call me from the hospital in between classes and on my breaks. Once Devin was sent home from the hospital, she was enrolled in a homeschool program so she wasn't able to call me as often but we still wrote to each other as much as we could. I don't think that Devin being sick really took a toll on my education or on my basketball season. It sucked that she couldn't go to any of my games or practices anymore, but she was still encouraging me to play and was excited to hear about my day and my games.
That year on Halloween, my family held a HUGE fundraiser to help fund Devin's upcoming bone marrow transplant (we'll discuss this in a bit). This fundraiser included selling plates of BBQ and even donating blood. This fundraiser was such a success that they kept having to make store trips to buy more meat to BBQ. Okay, back to Devin. That year for Halloween she dressed up as a doctor. I wore my costume to the fundraiser because she wanted me to. I was Strawberry Shortcake (last minute costume with limited options). After the fundraiser I left, but my grandma's husband took both Devin and Ryann trick or treating. I wish I would've stayed home to spend Halloween night with her...
Let's fast forward to our last Thanksgiving with Devin. It was a quiet dinner, but one that I will always remember. My mom cooked and our grandma came to eat Thanksgiving dinner with us. After we ate, we all decorated the Christmas tree together. Did I mention that we had to get a fake tree this year? Devin had a compromised immune system, so she couldn't be around living plants. Despite not having the Christmas tree aroma fill the house when we brought it in that night, there was something special about this Thanksgiving with Dev. She was so happy and that was all that mattered.
A couple weeks later Devin was sent to UCLA Westwood to have a bone marrow transplant procedure done. This was the beginning of the end, unfortunately. I stayed home from school that day to go with my family to take her. I believe she was admitted sometime between December 15 and December 18, but I can't remember the exact date. Honestly she had her own room, a big one at that, with great nurses. This hospital had great food so I know she ate good. They had more things for kids to do like activities plus she got to meet the Lakers and Barbie (I can't remember if she met other people) so she was happy there.
After Devin had her procedure done, things were looking up for a few days. This time passed so quickly, it felt like one minute everything was fine and the next minute my life as I knew it had been torn to pieces. Before we knew it, it was Christmas. My mom and stepdad celebrated Christmas with me and Ryann that morning but right after they went to the hospital to take Devin her presents and spend time with her. Ryann and I didn't get to go. This was hard. It was our last Christmas with Devin and although we didn't know it at the time, she would be gone a month later.
My mom and stepdad kept this from me at the time, but Devin's health was declining. She had caught an infection and had to be placed in the ICU. The next time I saw Devin was New Years Day. On New Years Eve I went with my older sister and we stayed out the whole night. When we finally made it back to my grandma's house, they told me that my mom called and I needed to go home. I thought that I was in trouble or something. I got home and they told me that we were going up the hospital. I had no idea what I was walking into; my mom was so calm (or I was just extremely tired and didn't see the pain).
We get to the hospital (and mind you, I haven't seen Devin in about two weeks) and I'm still hopeful, thinking that she's okay. We get up to her room and I see that she's very swollen, eyes almost swollen shut, and she has a breathing tube in her mouth. Her stomach was also extremely bloated. I was SHOCKED! I can't even begin to describe the emotion I went through in that moment but typing this is bringing it all back. :( She's happy to see me and Ryann. Poor Ryann was too young to even understand what was going on. I feel like she thought everything was okay and she was excited to see Devin. Even though Devin could barely see, she had a clipboard to communicate since she couldn't talk. She wrote me a note that I remember PERFECTLY and it breaks my heart every time I think about it. She wrote, "Let's go play on the ..." I couldn't make out the last word she wrote... and that still hurts to this day. That was literally the very last thing she communicated to me and I don't even know what it was that she wanted to tell me.
That day, Devin coded. I was sleeping in the waiting room outside of the ICU. I woke up to my stepdad pacing back and forth and I could tell he had been crying. I was kept in the dark with most of the details, but on New Years Day she had to be placed in an induced coma. I was fifteen years old trying to figure out what that even meant and more importantly... trying to figure out what just happened. I mean, not even two hours prior to her code, she was trying to communicate with me!!!
I was able to visit Devin a few times before we lost her. One time in particular I went to the hospital with my mom and Ryann. Dev was still in a coma and she was also hooked up to a breathing machine. Since she was sleeping, I thought she wouldn't know who was there with her. I wasn't sure if she could hear us when we spoke to her. I grabbed her hand and she squeezed back. I don't think anyone would understand how happy this made me. It could have just been her muscle reaction but I believe that she tried to hold my hand.
January 25, 2010... the day before we lost Dev. On this day, Devin got her leg amputated. Her infection was very aggressive and it was risking her life at that point. The doctor recommended amputation. I don't even know if she was on antibiotics but if she was, either the infection was spreading too fast or it had become immune to the antibiotics (its a thing, I promise). I can only imagine how hard of a call that was for my mom and step dad to make. I mean, from that point on she would be disabled. She would never be able to dance again, she definitely wouldn't be able to play soccer like she wanted to, everything would change. How could anyone just say okay to that so easily?
My mom was at the hospital with her that night but the nurse told her to go home. The nurse told my mom that Devin was doing better. The nurse said it was okay... so my mom came home. Around 5 in the morning on January 26, 2010 I hear my mom crying and I know... She came into my room, she kissed me on the cheek, she was still crying and she started apologizing as if SHE did something wrong... yup! I knew exactly what was going to happen that day.
Around 7 that morning my aunt called me to see if I was up and told me to get Ryann dressed so she could pick us up and take us to the hospital. She seemed so calm (and my aunt is VERY emotional) so I was pretty confused on the drive up there. We saw a rainbow, which was weird because the sun was shining. There were no clouds in sight that morning.
When we get to the hospital, literally everyone is there. My mom, my stepdad, his mom, my nana and her husband, Dev's school principle, the pastor, our God Mom, and maybe even more people. When we got there everyone was in the waiting room just talking. We all went down to the cafeteria for breakfast. We came back upstairs and my cousin and I were joking around. I guess we pissed off my stepdad's mom, because at some point she checked us and said, "Devin might not make it home. Devin might die today"...and that broke me. Literally!
I guess when my mom and stepdad finally made the call to take her off of the breathing machine they were going to let us all be in the room with her. At first I said no, so my mom sat me down in the waiting room and told me she loved me. I changed my mind; obviously I NEEDED to be there. I stood right by her side, I held her right hand and laid my head on her chest, I was right there.
I can promise you... there is nothing more heartbreaking that the sound of a flatline. NOTHING! That was without a doubt the worst day of my life. I didn't want to leave her. How could I? I had to, though. Leaving the hospital, I got sick. I threw up everything that I ate that morning. Remember how I said there were no clouds in the sky that morning? It was pouring rain when we left. The song playing in the car was "Doesn't Mean Anything" by Alicia Keys... how ironic. When we went home I cried myself to sleep. Slept for a few hours, but was woken up because our pastor came over to pray for us. After that I went back to sleep... and that was that. I lost my best friend that day, my first younger sibling.
Grieving was hard! The pain was undeniably excruciating and the emotional whiplash that came with it was difficult to understand. I shut down, I lashed out, I said hurtful things to people I love... people who love me. I didn't know how to cope. I was still a child and I lost someone who I shared a room with for nine years, someone who I woke up to everyday. My life was shattered and I didn't know what to do with the pieces.
At fifteen, the only life that I knew was torn apart. There's not a day where I wish it was me instead. She didn't deserve it. Devin still had her entire life ahead of her. She said she wanted to be a doctor when she grew up. She would've been the best doctor. When she was younger she told my mom that she wanted ten kids. I wish she could've had the chance but even if she lived she wouldn't have been able to carry a child. She faced so much pain the bravery she had was beyond admirable. Devin will always be my hero. Until the day we meet again.
I love you Devin.