My brother Travis has always been well put together. He always has the right words to say and he’s well liked by all –honestly, the list goes on. I may not have realized just how much I looked up to and admired him while I was growing up – but I certainly realize it now.
Last fall, I was on my way to a friend’s house when I received the call from my sister-in-law, Julie, telling me that Travis was in the hospital and that he had a brain tumor. My heart sunk. I felt unsure of what I should say or even think. Actually, my first thought was to call Travis and see what he would say or how he would advise me to handle this, but quickly remembered that this was about Travis and he couldn’t help me. I had to pull myself together. I said “Okay, what do you need me to do?” She said please call your parents and let them know. So I did.
In the weeks after, there were updates. Then the date of the surgery was finally set and I made the trip to Rochester, NY. That was a long trip. Not just by time and distance, but it was very taxing mentally. I was unsure about how he would be or if I would not be able to handle seeing him this way.
Seeing Travis for the first time in along time, I felt guilty. Why I felt that way, I’ll get to in a moment. Physically he looked the same, he still had his same goofy smile. He still sounded the same when he spoke, he just couldn’t get all the words out. We went to dinner with my parents, and Julie and Travis. He couldn’t find the words for different things on the menu and it was hard for me to see him like this. He would tell Julie and she would figure out what he wanted and then order it. That just wasn’t him. I fought back tears and, as I was fighting back tears, the guilt really kicked in. How could I let days, weeks, months and, yes, even years go by without talking to him? My heart grew heavier.
That night I went back to my hotel room and thought about us as kids and the fun and amazing summers we would have at our grandparents’ house. I thought about the times that we were “treated” to cheesesteaks and I would do something that would upset him and he would eat all but the end of my cheesesteak. The countless fights, the countless talks. The joy in his voice when I told him he was going to be an uncle. And, of course, about why we had even stopped talking in the first place.
The following day we visited Niagara Falls, it was nice to spend some time with him and take some family photos together. The day after that, Travis had brain surgery. Following the surgery, he experienced all of the complications that less than 5 percent of folks get; from a bleed, to excessive swelling, to having seizure activity as well. He ended up having three surgeries within that first couple of weeks.
I had to return home before Travis was ready to leave the hospital, which meant leaving him lying in the Neuro ICU hospital bed and hoping I would see him again, but not really knowing for sure. The whole way home I thought about the treatments he would have to endure. The amount of strength he would have to have, both mentally and physically was unspeakable. On that long drive, I decided to do something that would give me a daily remember the fight he was just starting with cancer. I decided to get a tattoo.
I spoke with Julie several times over the next few weeks about Travis and his progress. When a loved one has a serious cancer, conversations about final wishes are unavoidable and, ultimately, my tattoo was inspired by something Travis said he might want to have done with his ashes. Travis has always loved the outdoors. He was a Boy Scout growing up and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. He has always loved camping and hiking. His choice of a career in the forest service was no surprise, since it would lead him to something to do with the outdoors, and it also made sense to hear that he has expressed an interest in placing his ashes with nature – specifically, to have his ashes mixed with Bear Oak Tree seeds and planted. I took that information and ran with it.
I called my tattoo artist, Steve, and told him what I thinking and why. He was moved by my thoughts behind this piece of art and the appointment was set. I am not a fan of pain or needles – tattoos, of course, have both – but throughout the time Steve was tattooing me, I reminded myself that I can deal with this pain if it shows my support and love I have for my brother. The tattoo was finished and I was super-happy with it. My work schedule has not allowed me to show Travis the tattoo in person, but he has seen pictures and loves it as much as I do!
I continue to show my support for his fight by helping to fund raise and will proudly walk next to him in Boston in September for the Jimmy Fund Walk. He is not only my brother and the uncle to my kids — but he is my hero and inspiration. I’m proud to wear this symbol to show it.
Keep fighting Travis – kick cancer’s A$$!