My name is Emma Cochran and I am 19. I have lived in the Bay Area my entire life, about 45 minutes outside of San Francisco in a town called Alamo. I am the youngest sibling and grew up looking up to my older siblings Nick (28) and Grace (25). My two wonderful parents raised us to be our own individuals, but I have no doubt that who I am today is due to the fact that I had such inspiring, hardworking, and passionate family members to look up to. We grew up surrounded by animals with a family ranch, adventuring outdoors across California, and overall, so much love.
In October of 2019, Nick got a ‘lump’ on his back, tested. We thought the painless tumor was just fatty tissue, something my dad got often when he was Nick’s age. When they sent the biopsy to Harvard medicine, the pit in my stomach got a whole lot bigger. I remember exactly where I was when I got the news that it was Ewing Sarcoma. The world seemed to stop when I got that call. Nothing else mattered. If you know me, you would know how much I absolutely adored my high school experience. Whether it was being ASB President, running clubs on campus, or the relationships with faculty - I was truly looking forward to soaking up my final year at one of my favorite places. When I got that news, I was challenged. Balancing being with my brother in the hospital and being present in my Senior year of high school. Truly, it was challenging applying to colleges and taking my final SAT’s knowing that my head was in a completely different place.
In that year, Nick endured 17 rounds of IE-VAC chemotherapy- switching between 5 and 3 days around the clock in the hospital. The beginning chemo rounds were packed with high school, college, and family friends, sibling sleepovers, and of course simple distraction. In December of 2019, they removed the tumor with a 7-hour surgery. When COVID-19 hit, that is when the whole process got even more painful. Words cannot touch on how hard it is to watch your brother receive chemotherapy for 5 days straight, alone in the hospital, and you cannot even hold his hand. There were happy moments in that year too. Although the ‘Senior’ moments did not go as planned, I still got to celebrate so many with my family right by my side. I got into my dream school, the University of Washington:). I graduated high school and left my mark on a school that helped me become who I am today. Leaving home for college was tough. I found myself feeling like I had one foot in and one foot out. In October of 2020, Nick finished his 17th round of chemotherapy. It was an indescribable moment, filled with so many happy tears. I remember that moment like it was yesterday. Watching Nick walk out of the hospital to our family and friends, actively ringing that bell with his doctors walking behind him - it was so very special. About two weeks after that moment, Nick got his final scans. Unfortunately, it was not the news that was expected. They found the Ewing Sarcoma cells on his ribs and he was rushed into emergency surgery at UCSF. The 12-hour procedure consisted of removing the tumor, multiple ribs, a large amount of muscle tissue from his flank and back, intraoperative radiation therapy, and finally placing a mesh cage where his ribs were removed. Once again, this surgery was thought to be a complete success. During this time, Nick was able to switch insurance coverage in order to ensure he could continue treatment at UCSF. In the weeks following the procedure, Nick began experiencing fluid build-up between his lung and chest wall (pleural effusion). He was admitted back into UCSF on February 13, 2021, after a second pleural effusion was discovered. While at UCSF, Nick received more unwanted news after another PET Scan was performed. Cancer was now detected on his lungs, pleural cavity, spine, and left hip…Yet another hurdle. Nick most recently began chemotherapy treatments again on February 16th, 2021. Finding out your brother was declared cancer-free and then diagnosed all within a week was one of the hardest emotional rollercoasters I have ever been on. Why us? Why me? Why him? Currently, Nick and our amazing team of doctors at UCSF are experimenting with several types of chemotherapy and finding the best course of action. With the grace of online school, I have been able to fly home for weeks at a time to hold my brother’s hand in the hospital and be present with my family. I consistently ask the “why” questions, we all do. However, in this process, I have been surrounded by an exponential amount of love and support from so many people in our community.
When life takes an unexpected turn for the worse, you really see who is there for you. Throughout this process, I have felt so much love. Like I stated before, I was raised in a family that I could not go through this without. We hold each other up when the other is weak and charge through the pain and hard times together. I was raised from a young age to hold onto hope and to be resilient. Together, we do exactly that. In addition, my dearest friends have been by my side through it all. Whether it is flying back to the Bay Area with me, taking hard phone calls by my side, and being there around the clock when I am low - I couldn’t do it without them.
Watching someone you have looked up to your entire life, go through so much pain is indescribable. As obvious as it was, I wish I knew how hard it was going to be. How hard the tears would fall and the whirlwind of emotions this journey would bring. You truly do not understand it fully until you go through it firsthand. In second grade, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time in my life, I was so young that news was sugar coated. This time around, the news is intense, overwhelming, and it seems like an impossible pill to swallow that this is real life.
In the first 17 rounds, Nick’s body adapted very well to the chemo. Does not mean it was not tough, but it was definitely less reactive with his body. However, the chemo drug he is receiving with his outpatient chemo right now is very very different. Now he is super nauseous and extremely ill.
If there’s on thing I can share to others who are in a similar position its: Be present. There is not an explanation as to why Nick was diagnosed with the least-scientifically studied cancer. I truly wish I had answers or an explanation as to why this challenge was given to my family or my brother. However, I can hold onto hope and be present in today. That is all I can control.
It is really tough to watch someone you love get a drug so toxic pumped into their body. It isn’t easy to process. However, what I have learned is that I have to adapt to this ‘low’ and move forward. Helping extra around the house or picking up his space before he comes home. When Nick started each chemo round I would write him a letter - all with a different theme. For me, it was a way to process and say the words on my heart especially when COVID didn’t allow me to be right next to him. It is a way for us to have a little thing that stays constant in all of the chaos.