A cancer sibling's new purpose
The following is a Q&A with Breanna Yang, whose brother and built-in best friend Bryson passed away from cancer when she was 15 years old.
1. Describe your relationship with your brother before he was diagnosed.
My brother, Bryson, and I have always been extremely close. We consider ourselves partners in crime, often pulling pranks on our parents or watching movies together. No matter what we argued over, we made up within the hour and were back to being the best of friends in no time. My brother was my only sibling, so he was the one I turned to whenever I needed to talk, vent, or simply hangout.
2. Tell me about the day your brother was diagnosed.
The day my brother was diagnosed, my mom received a phone call from the oncologist. Coincidentally, it had been the same day he was returning from his 6th grade camp at Arrowhead. As soon as my parents picked him up from the field trip, they took him to the hospital directly, so the oncologist could run tests. Both my parents and I were trapped in a daze and in disbelief. What started as leg pain had turned into a devastating diagnosis.
3. How did your relationship with your brother change after his diagnosis?
After my brother's diagnosis, he spent the majority of the time inpatient. As a result, it was more difficult to see him on a daily basis since I had just started high school and was unable to go to the hospital everyday. Despite having less time with Bryson, our relationship remained just as close. We would text constantly, sending funny selfies or jokes and FaceTiming at night. When I was at the hospital with him, it would be no different than if we were at home, watching television and talking together.
4. Did your relationship with your parents change at all after he was diagnosed?
My relationship with my parents stayed much of the same. I did see them less, since they had to stressfully balance going to work and spending nights at the hospital with my brother when he was inpatient. They also expected me to be more independent, especially on the days where they had to stay at the hospital or meet with doctors. Despite this, our family remained just as close and tight knit as before.
5. How did your brother’s outlook on life change during his battle with cancer?
To be completely honest, Bryson's outlook on life remained optimistic during his battle with cancer. He did get frustrated at times, especially when certain chemotherapies were not working or when he could not graft to his bone marrow transplant. However, he was always able to overcome whatever difficulties he experienced and remained hopeful that everything would work out in the end. My brother also took an extremely selfless outlook on his diagnosis, believing that his diagnosis allowed another child to live cancer-free. This is something I continue to admire about my brother to this day.
6. Describe the support or lack of support you received at school during this time.
During my brother's battle with cancer, I did not bring much attention to what I was going through, so I am unsure of whether my teachers and the school staff were aware of it. However, after my brother passed away, my grade level counselor was supportive and offered a listening ear. Other than that, 1-2 teachers offered me their condolences.
7. How did your family dynamic change after your brother’s passing?
It felt like there was an empty piece missing from the family and it still does feel that way. My brother had been a part of our family for 12 years, and for him to suddenly be gone, it felt both uncomfortable and saddening. I definitely had to adjust from having an unwavering confidante at home with me at all times to being an "only child." My parents experienced similar grief, losing their only son. Even today, we continue to adjust, often going to the restaurant and accidentally saying "Family of 4" as if he were still with us.
8. Describe your current work to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancer.
When my brother was diagnosed, I started a club at my school called Sunshine which is a mission to brighten the lives of pediatric cancer patients while raising childhood cancer awareness. I wanted to educate my peers about childhood cancer, a topic I had been unfamiliar with myself prior to my brother's diagnosis. We fundraised through used book sales and were able to host multiple holiday events at the hospital. In September 2019, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we were able to host a walk-a-thon based event with South Pointe Middle School, which my brother had been attending. Not only was this featured on ABC News, we were able to take the donations from this event, along with proceeds from other fundraisers throughout the month, and donate over $7,000 to St. Jude Children's Hospital. This past month, we were able to host another annual walk for St. Jude virtually, raising over $4,000. Due to the success my club has faced over the past year or so, I actually decided to start a 501(c)(3) nonprofit of my own called Bryson's Sunshine. This decision was partially motivated by the fact that I am now a senior in high school and will be moving on to college next year. With this new nonprofit, we have started several recent projects, including creating a tutoring program for pediatric oncology patients all across America and starting affiliated branches at two local high schools.
9. How has this work helped you grieve?
My brother has always been and still is the most compassionate person I know. He never failed to put others before himself, even going as far as saying that his diagnosis would allow another kid to live cancer-free. Even during his treatment, as I started up my club, he had wanted to contribute, and it was our hope that he would be able to take over once he reached high school. I know, undoubtedly, that he would have been the biggest supporter of all the work I put in towards the nonprofit and raising awareness. As a result, everything I do carries on his name and continues his legacy. Seeing all the patients we have impacted and benefited, it comforts me that I am able to continue on what my brother would have done himself.
10.What is your favorite memory with your brother?
I truly cannot pinpoint one single moment that was my absolute favorite. My favorite memory is just all the inside jokes we had, our secret handshakes, and times where we could just simply enjoy each other's company. I think those are the moments we take for granted, and the ones we end up missing the most when they are gone.
Learn more about Breanna's work to raise awareness & funds for pediatric cancer in honor of her brother - click here to support the cause!