My Sister, Who Refuses to Fail

Cerebral palsy, cancer and heartbreak haven’t stopped her yet

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This is the story of my older sister. For those of you that have a sister, you know that things are not always perfect. You stole stuff from each other, you fought, but in the end, you are good friends. Well that's me and Steph.

Stephanie's life has not been easy. She has cerebral palsy. Although she has all of her cognitive functions, Steph has limited use of her legs. She uses a wheelchair mostly, but does use crutches as well.

Growing up, I definitely felt like I was my sister's keeper. Every morning I had to wake up early to help her put on her orthotics, get dressed, make sure any zippers were zipped and that she had everything ready for her day. Although I was younger, I felt responsible for her.

This is going to sound terrible, but back then I was jealous of Stephanie. She was getting all the attention and got to do some cool stuff. She was an editor of a teen magazine, a children's model, and a toy tester for Toys R Us. I thought it was so cool -- and unfair. But the thing that made me the most jealous was that Stephanie got to go to camp.

Although we have an older brother and Steph is actually a twin, Steph was the first to go to Camp Chipinaw. And this was not a camp for children with special needs -- this was an average go-away-for-eight-weeks camp. I heard all about the fun she had horseback riding, making new friends, swimming -- my sister did it all. One time we got the craziest phone call from camp that Stephanie went to the activity circus. With a little help, she flew on the high-flying trapeze. My family and I were shocked, not only because Stephanie is afraid of heights, but how did this girl with limited movement climb 30 feet in the air to then swing from a bar?

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But as we got older, things started to take a turn. Normal life stuff got in the way. Our parents got divorced, we had to move schools twice, and Stephanie was becoming a stubborn teenager who didn't want to wear her orthotics and look different or waste time going to physical therapy. She just wanted to be normal.

Her sense of normality came the day she met Scotty. Scotty was Stephanie's first boyfriend, a nice guy who despite having no arms and being in a wheelchair was still one of the best basketball players you had ever seen. He lived life with the mentality that "failure is not an option" and it really rubbed off on my sister. Scotty was great for Steph, and Steph would tell me how much she liked being with him.

And then we got the call that broke her heart. This young man who had brought so much light into my sister's world had passed away. Out of nowhere, Scotty had a brain aneurism. At the age of 16, it is hard to lose a friend, but this was the one thing that made Stephanie feel normal.

Stephanie was crushed, but instead of letting it bring her all the way down, she lifted herself up using Scotty's motto -- "failure is not an option." Steph took on this saying as her own, and attributed her new attitude of independence to the legacy of Scotty.

Eventually, Steph graduated high school and went off to college at Lynn University in Florida, a small school where her large personality really thrived. She was considered the "Mayor of Lynn." I visited her once and there wasn't one person who didn't come up and say hello. It was then I realized that my sister didn't need me to be her keeper anymore.

I am the baby of the family and at that point all my siblings were away at college. At home, I felt so lonely and I resented them, especially Steph, for not coming home and visiting me more often. We started to drift apart because I felt that she was not grateful for how much I cared for and about her. So the years went on. Stephanie and I would see each other once or twice a year for family stuff and barely spoke. She was in her world and I was in mine.

After college graduation and after lots of hard work, Stephanie became an athlete. She hand-cycled a marathon, swam three times a week, and then caught the CrossFit bug. Yes, that CrossFit. She decided to take the exam to become a CrossFit coach. Although she was never the best test-taker, remember that "failure was not an option." She studied and studied and took the test a few times. But she did it -- she passed. And now my sister, the girl with cerebral palsy, is a CrossFit coach. At the time, my siblings made fun of her because we thought it was a fad, but looking back, I am so proud of her. Like I said, we were drifting apart.

The drifting ended out of necessity. In April 2016, Steph called me to tell me she wasn't feeling well. She couldn't describe exactly what was wrong, but she was tired and her simplest of workouts were leaving her exhausted. I told her it would all be okay and that she was just exaggerating. Well, I could not have been more wrong.

After lots of doctor's visits and tests, we learned that Stephanie had been diagnosed with Stage 3B Hodgkin's lymphoma. I hated myself for not believing her. I hated myself even more for wasting so much time being mad at her. When you find out your 26-year-old sister has cancer -- that her life must be put on hold, that she's going to lose all of her hair, that she may not be okay -- it's the biggest wake up call to put everything aside and just be there for her.

My entire family did this. Even my mom and dad, divorced for 15 years at that point, put aside everything for Stephanie. Steph was in an aggressive treatment plan. I called her almost every day. It was almost like I was making up for all the phone calls I had missed over the years. But nothing was more difficult than visiting her. The thin, pale girl with no hair really didn't look like my sister. She was still my same stubborn Stephanie though, namely not wanting to put on any make-up or a wig to look any different.

During this time, I recalled growing up and being my sister's keeper and I remembered that I had to be strong for her. Although I was younger, I could be the protective one again.

By November, Stephanie was cancer free. And while my family went back to its old ways, I made sure I didn't make that mistake again. I don't call my sister every day, but I try to call or FaceTime her once a week. Our bond is stronger than ever. I recently got engaged and though I could never have imagined this when we were younger, I asked my sister to be my maid of honor.

Steph is now in North Carolina with a new man in her life. She still is a CrossFit coach with dreams of starting her own gym, and now she is a motivational speaker.

Like any normal sister, Steph annoys me, and she makes me angry, but I love her very much. Although I would never tell her this -- because it would boost her ego -- she is my biggest inspiration. She reminds me to never take for granted the small ability to wake up in the morning, put two feet on the ground, and get going. She reminds me to not waste time with hate and resentment. She reminds me to push myself, because if my sister can fly from a trapeze, overcome losing a friend at 16 and survive cancer, I can conquer anything too.

Most of all, Stephanie reminds me that failure is not an option.




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