This is an emotional post for me as one of my closest friends, Kelsey, shares the cancer journey of her brother Sean. Kelsey and her family have kept the mindset of finding purpose and peace through Christ even in the face of cancer. You will be moved by his story and impacted by the letter Kelsey writes to her 14-year-old self. She also gives incredible ideas on how to carry on the legacy of a loved one.
Kelsey, the stage is yours. I love you.
Sean’s Cancer Journey
As told by his sister, Kelsey
My name is Kelsey Flanagan and my older brother Sean is the most influential person in my life. Like many siblings, I always wanted to be with my brother and do everything he did, but he wasn’t as enthusiastic as I was. In June 2002, at the ages of 13 and 17, we became best friends. We were on a family vacation in Australia for 3 weeks and almost instantly, the normal sibling bickering stopped. We connected as siblings in a way that we hadn’t before. The best thing was that when we got home, it continued. From listening to music in his truck together to going out after youth group, hanging out with him became my new happy place.
December of 2002 was when our world got flipped upside down. Sean was diagnosed with stage 4 Ewing’s Sarcoma. He had a football size tumor in his pelvis and it had metastasized to his lungs. Our new reality was chemotherapy, surgeries, radiation and the unknowns in between. March of 2013 was the big surgery to remove the football-sized tumor from his pelvis followed quickly by another surgery amputating his right leg below the knee due to the loss of blood flow to his foot.
Throughout his yearlong treatment there were a lot of good days and a lot of bad ones. But one thing stayed the same: No matter the pain, no matter how tired he was or how sick he felt, he was always so incredibly positive and had faith that God had a plan. We found out his diagnoses was terminal, and there are no words to describe that feeling in his hospital room.
After a couple hours Sean said,
“Okay, no more tears, no more sadness. I want to live the rest of my life to the fullest. Everything happens for a reason.”
December of 2003 is when we got our miracle, but not the miracle we had hoped for. After a year of fighting, God called my brother home to be with Him. The miracle was Sean had beaten cancer. Most definitely not a traditional miracle, but he beat it. He was cancer free with both healthy legs, able to run into Jesus’ arms as He welcomed Sean home.
Faith in the Storm
Growing up, Sean and I were raised to love and trust Jesus. I have always followed Jesus and just like everyone else, I have struggled and have had my ups and the downs. It’s hard to have lost my sibling to cancer. I lost the most influential person in my life, when my life was just beginning. Now more than ever at the age of 29, I wish he was here to talk to about every day experiences and talk me through my tough times. But he isn’t. I have to remember his love for others and for Jesus and hold on to that.
Sean’s favorite verse is Isaiah 52:7 which reads,
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!”
Sean is my messenger, and I realized that this morning while sitting in church listening to a sermon on people/things getting in the way of their relationship with God. He had fought long and hard and if it was in God’s plan, he was ready. He showed incredible courage and faith which is why my brother was and will always be the person I look up to in my faith.
“Dear Younger Me”
“Hi Kels, it’s you at the age of 29 and, yes, 15 years has already gone by. I know you are only 14, scared and have no idea what the word cancer is and how it will change your life, but I am here to tell you, it is going to be okay.
I know your life is changing drastically: new daily routines, jumping from house to house, and spending time with family more than friends. Keep praying, don’t lose hope, don’t get discouraged. There are going to be days that are tough. Sometimes getting out of bed and drying your eyes is going to be your greatest challenge that day. Allow yourself to feel those emotions, but do not let them consume your life because with the tough days also comes great days!
As time goes on, those tough days will become less and less. They don’t go away, but the strength you breathe in from the love of Jesus is fuel to keep chasing after those great days. On the difficult days, read this quote: “When God pushes you to the edge of difficulty trust him fully. Because two things can happen. Either He’ll catch you when you fall, or He’ll teach you how to fly.”– Author Unknown.”
Carrying on Sean’s Legacy
During his treatment we met an amazing professional kayaker, Brad Ludden. Brad founded an outdoor program for young adults who have battled or currently battle cancer called First Descents (FD). As kayaking was one of his passions, Sean wanted nothing more than to get out of the hospital and volunteer as he wanted other survivors to experience the freedom he felt while on the river. After Sean passed away, my parents and I volunteered with FD helping in any way we could.
I also got connected with a camp as a support system for myself. Sky High Hope Camp is a camp for patients and their siblings. I attended for 2 years as a camper and after graduating high school I moved up into the volunteer world of Sky High. I have been volunteering for 11 years and selfishly I think I get more out of it than the kids do. I see their strength and love for life and it just fills me with joy.
Any chance I get, I love to share my brother’s spirit and love for life. This past March my family and I took a trip to Hawaii. Sean’s Make A Wish was to relax in Hawaii and enjoy God’s beautiful creation! I decided to bring my “Sean Bear” (a bear made out of his clothes) and fulfill his wish of relaxing in Hawaii! It is not what the trip is intended for but I wanted to make sure I got to experience my relaxing trip to Hawaii and my brother did too!
Dad, mom and I love and miss you so much Sean! Aloha!
Kelsey, thank you for sharing Sean’s story with us so lovingly and vulnerably. You are an inspiration and sparkle and shine so brightly. We love you and your family so very much.
Kelsey has so graciously invited anyone who would like to reach out to her to please do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you, or someone you know, is battling cancer as a teenager or has a sibling that is a teenager/young adult trying to cope with the changes and emotions cancer brings, please reach out to Kelsey or me as we would love to listen, talk with you, and/or pray with you.
God bless you!