Sometime in high school, I remember laying in bed with my then eight or nine-year-old sister lamenting about petty drama. I was complaining about something insignificant, yet my sister’s response in that moment wasn’t to poke fun at my feelings. At eight years old, Michelle had offered a really grown up response, actually. What those specific words were, I can’t recall, but what I can remember from this tiny blip from our childhood is the way she made me feel: heard, but challenged. She had posed a question offering a different perspective, and my first thought was, “Sorry, aren’t you like, eight?” followed by, “Actually, I hadn’t thought about it like that.”
Another memorable exchange I hold fondly from our upbringing is me randomly exclaiming, “I love sleep! Don’t you?” to which my eleven? or twelve-year-old sister responded, “Yeah, but it makes me feel so disconnected from the world.”
Suffice to say, my sister has always been an incredibly mature person. Those are just two vigenettes from our childhood, but I really had the chance to witness that maturity last February, when Michelle was diagnosed with stage 1A ovarian cancer at sixteen years old. How does one begin to navigate how this devastating diagnosis impacts her own life in addition to the ripple effect it has on her loved ones?
When you’re the eldest child in any family I think there’s an unspoken obligation to be a pillar of strength, but my baby sister shared that burden with me and my wife Lexi during a period of our lives when she especially did not need to. The three of us tag-teamed managing our parents’ emotions and came out of that hellish timeframe a lot closer, more honest, and more vulnerable with each other. I think this health scare tested all of us, but no one came out of it stronger than my sister.
As this nightmarish winter turned into spring, days became brighter in more ways than one. My sister finished her junior year of high school and could now focus on closing out this formative chapter of her life. Among quintessential events like Battle of the Classes and prom, college applications also occupied her mind. Having the opportunity to offer guidance on how to navigate the process and, more importantly, workshop her personal statements with her was special because just six months prior, my line of sight did not and could not go beyond the surgery date set to remove the mass occupying her abdomen. And here we were, making a list of her safety schools, dream schools, and reach schools.
What a privilege.
In December ‘21, San Diego State University (SDSU) offered Michelle early admission because of her stellar academic record. By March ‘22, she was rolling—and I mean rolling—in acceptances from San Jose State University (SJSU), the University of San Diego (USD), the University of San Francisco (USF), CSU Long Beach, Cal Poly SLO, UC Riverside, UC Davis, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and UCLA.
My. Baby. Sister.
My incredibly hard-working, kind, thoughtful, gentle, hilarious, and sharp baby sister, who has officially committed to being a Bruin for the next four years! UCLA is so lucky to have her work ethic, attitude, and resilience grace their campus. Michelle makes being a big sister one of my favorite "jobs" in the world, and I can't wait to see what she accomplishes in this next chapter of her life!