A Brother’s Story

by Lance Ekum on · 32 comments

Today's special guest is a regular visitor around here, and someone who has a lot of fun in life and in his writing.  When he's not saving lives or out for a long run, you can find him as a regular contributor over at the CalorieLab website.  Please help me welcome Dr. J, as he shares a very special story about his sister, and what her presence has meant in his life.

A little bit about Dr. J, in his own words:
I am a Florida surgeon and fitness freak with a black belt in karate.  I run 50 miles a week and fly a Cherokee Arrow 200.  Of course it wasn’t always like this. I once had a carefree life, riding my bike, playing with my dog, but then school educated me and there was no turning back.

Eventually I had more letters after my name than in my name, a mortgage and a job at a major university with a lizard as its mascot and known better for it’s football team than most any other accomplishment. In my spare time I have added some skills which are both useful and fun, became a runner and found the Internet. Thanks to CalorieLab, I have been lucky enough to have been writing the Dr. J will see you now column for almost two and a half years. This has allowed me to go beyond the surgical arena and offer my irreverent, slightly irrelevant, but possibly useful opinions on life, health, and fitness.

A Brother's Story


Hochklettern Dy 47
Creative Commons License photo credit: Arwen Abendstern

“Obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” ~ Michael Jordan

I don’t think anything can ever surpass the joy parents feel with the birth of a child! I know it was a special day for my parents when the J-Sister was born. My mom had several miscarriages prior to that blessed day as my folks wanted a girl to complete and balance their family vision, already having two driving-them-crazy growing young boys! Mom however was not able to conceive again. Because of this situation, there was a difference with this child, because unlike the random chance of my brother and I, the J-Sister was a chosen child.

Yes, she was adopted, although for all of us, this is merely a description, not an emotion. She was a lovely child, and unlike with my brother and I, those first few years were an effortless voyage for my happy parents. Then small differences began to arise. She was not talking as soon as my brother and I had, but then we were very early talkers. She was not responding as quickly to external stimuli as my brother and I had, but then we were boys. She was not the same as my brother and I, but then she was adopted and we were not. Eventually, however, the differences became too great, and the rationalizations became less comforting and answers needed to be found.

When my sister was four years old she underwent a very comprehensive evaluation of her situation and the result of this was that she was deemed mentally retarded, hopeless, and the recommendation was made to be prepared to institutionalize her for life because of her deficiencies and inability of be a normal person.

Whether retarded, or handicapped, or developmentally delayed, or any other politically or non-politically termed phrase is used, I can’t imagine it being any less devastating to a parent to hear that their child will never be normal.

I’m sure for my parents, that moment felt like a car going full speed and suddenly running into the side of a mountain! The thing was, my parents, with dreams shattered, faced this moment with a courage almost beyond what I can imagine. Rather than sit feeling sorry for themselves in that car wreck and settle for this diagnosis of hopelessness, they decided that it was their chosen mission to raise this child. My parents began at that moment, using every skill and facility that they could summon to aid in this unimaginable endeavor, to dig a tunnel through that mountain, though there was no light in sight in that slow moving burrow, yet they persisted with a consistent strong determination to get to that other side, that imagined better place.

So the process began, one vowel and consonant at a time, one button and button hole at a time, one shoe lace and one grommet at a time. I’m sure when Velcro came along my parents felt it was one of the greatest of humankind’s inventions!

With this magnificent effort, my sister began to show progress, albeit very slowly, but it was enough of a reward to help keep the process going.

As my sister's abilities grew, she ventured out onto the street where we lived. I can sadly recall her running home, tears on her cheeks yelling with her limited vocabulary, “Yeve me ayone” to the neighborhood children who had noticed her difference, and she was different, as they picked on her without mercy. My brother and I had probably contributed previously, as any older brothers might, though not with cruelty, to her practice with that useful defensive phrase.

My parents stayed steady with that mission, spending every available moment working with my sister, finding schools and outreach programs that specialized for children with these obstacles. She eventually attended a special high school established by the Kennedy family in Hyannisport, Massachusetts, and went on to be married in Salinas, California, after meeting a young man in Oakland while attending a special program there. My wedding present for the happy couple was a honeymoon in Carmel, which I chaperoned for them. (very discretely I might add)

Today my sister is a completely self sufficient, fully employed, socially exceptional individual with numerous friends and accomplishments. Yes, she is still different, that can not be hidden, but it does not deter her. On a family vacation not that long ago, I personally witnessed her walk into a room with fifty people, and within 15 minutes every one of them knew her, and liked her!  She has not let her differences keep her from being all the person she could be. When we talk, I may mention some challenge or difficulty I am facing and it is not uncommon for her to say, “You can do it, J!” This coming from someone who certainly knows what it is to do it when only a select few believed in her.

So if you are thinking that, perhaps with your weight and fitness, or any other challenge that is in your path, that this mountain in front of you is insurmountable, think of that mountain that my sister climbed, and is still successfully climbing, and if you feel that you just can’t, remember her words to me, “You can do it,” because you know, like her, you really can!

Lance writes stories from his heart, aiming to inspire and motivate, as you align more fully with YOUR true peak. When he's not here, you can find him hanging out with his family, riding a bike, or just generally acting goofy.   Sign up for the Thoughts from the Treehouse newsletter and get additional inspiration in your email inbox!
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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

scheng1 April 13, 2010 at 8:57 am

So glad to hear that your sister turns out all right. She must be the joy of the family. I cannot imagine the tears your parents had shed over her. Truly remarkable family.
.-= scheng1´s Last Fabulous Post ..5 steps to a successful life =-.


Chania Girl April 13, 2010 at 9:16 am

This was a beautiful post, Dr. J, and one that gave me the shift in perspective I needed today. Thank you for the reminder and the encouragement.
.-= Chania Girl´s Last Fabulous Post ..What Makes a Hero =-.


Lynn April 13, 2010 at 9:57 am

What a lovely story and you are right, so motivating. You are a great brother, too!
.-= Lynn´s Last Fabulous Post ..Peeking out, hooky and basking =-.


J.D. Meier April 13, 2010 at 11:40 am

> She has not let her differences keep her from being all the person she could be
That says it all right there.

Beautiful story and I especially like the fact it’s from a slice of real life.
.-= J.D. Meier´s Last Fabulous Post ..Don’t Regret the Path Not Taken =-.


Mindful Mimi April 13, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Hi Dr J,
This story really touches me. I had cousin who was different. He sat in a wheelchair all his life and recently passed away at the age of 40. I think these special people come into our lives for special reason and everyone should know such a person. They add so much to ones life. I am glad to have known my cousin. He changed my view on what it means to be different.
Thank you for sharing.
.-= Mindful Mimi´s Last Fabulous Post ..Sunday laugh =-.


Kristie Ryan April 13, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Hello Dr. J,

What a inspiring story! It is amazing to think that because your sister was surrounded by a great support group of those who loved her she was able to become the person she is today. Your parent’s dedication really made such a difference in her life. Congrats to her and them and you!



Jody - Fit at 52 April 13, 2010 at 6:29 pm

I love my Dr. J! Amazing!


Tim April 13, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Hi Dr. J.:

Thank you for sharing that incredible story, it was very uplifting and motivating. It is a great example of how, if we stick to something important, we can truly get to where we want or need to be. I also loved the Michael Jordon quote which makes me realize that just because he made it look easy doesn’t mean he didn’t work hard to get there. Thanks Lance for formally introducing us to someone with a great story!
.-= Tim´s Last Fabulous Post ..Applying Improv to Everyday Life =-.


Lori (JaneBeNimble) April 13, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Dr. J,

You’ve crafted an uplifting story — I appreciate you.

One of my best friends in grad school was Tim, the kid on the bus I took to school every day. He was ‘developmentally challenged’ and worked at the local McDonald’s, but made me laugh with joy every ride to school. I loved him. I actually saw him while shopping for supplies once, and he ran toward me and gave me the biggest bear hug I’ve ever received.

Your story is touching and I am so glad you’re here at Lance’s site. Thank you to both Lance and Dr. J.

.-= Lori (JaneBeNimble)´s Last Fabulous Post ..Front Porch: Bhangra, a Dingo, and a Beach – with John Anyasor =-.


Miguel de Luis April 13, 2010 at 11:59 pm

You know something? I feel disabled whenever I try some long project in English. It’s a pain to deal with writing a book, or even a blog, in a foreign language, especially if you aren’t living in any English speaking country.

And yet, whenever I stop writing, the “disability” is gone. This experience has let me appreciate the effort of those who have disabilities all the time, whatever they do, whatever their choices.
.-= Miguel de Luis´s Last Fabulous Post ..La ley del columpio =-.


Hilary April 14, 2010 at 1:45 am

Hi Dr J and Lance .. a touching story – and something as a doctor I guess you use as a ‘teaching story’ to so many others with similar challenges – they can be overcome – with love, hope and time.

Stories of hope – are wonderful .. and thank you for sharing this so much – appreciate these words .. I love learning – these stories teach me so much about others, which I have in my ‘arsenal’ of life and how perhaps at some stage I can help others with this knowledge .. It’s a realisation I’ve come to since my mother has been seriously ill .. I know and appreciate so much more -something I’d never have experienced had this not happened ..

Thanks for the story – have a good week – Hilary
.-= Hilary´s Last Fabulous Post ..Fancy a Cornish Cream Tea? In Cornwall, in Tokyo or at home? =-.


Debbie April 14, 2010 at 7:59 am

I had a pretty severe brain injury three years ago from a suicide attempt. So, I kinda think I can relate to your sister or anyone mentally challenged. I feel like I have been there. Even though some things were definitely much harder, it is not necessarily less…just different. Because some days all I could manage to do was empty the dishwasher…and that was an accomplishment, it forced me to find value in myself in a place other than what I achieved or owned and had me dig deep to find the courage and strength and determination I did not even know was there. Life was so much simpler, and I lived in the moment effortlessly because it was all I could do. Actually kind of nice. Sometimes I miss it.

I have made a remarkable recovery when the medical community did not give me much hope. The few precious people around me who did were invaluable. Like your sister, I developed a tenacious determination and positive out look because “the better it gets, the better it gets.” I realized that I had the power to make it better and to create my world. We all do.

Thank you for the reminder and such a touching and inspiring story.


Dr. J April 14, 2010 at 8:11 am

I can’t thank Lance enough for honoring me and my sister for his kindness in presenting her story!

She has been a treasure in our family and in many ways has achieved more than any of us! To this day, she continues to grow as an individual.

I really have enjoyed reading all the kind and thoughtful comments and intend to visit every web site.

Thanks again!

Dr. J
.-= Dr. J´s Last Fabulous Post ..Lab Notes: Premature Births Decline for Second Year in a Row; Liverpool Wants to Dump Word Obesity =-.


Pros Tenorio April 14, 2010 at 8:23 am

Continue to count your blessings. Proclaim your rarity . Go another mile. Use your power of choice wisely. And do everything with LOVE. Godspeed.


Laura Hegfield April 14, 2010 at 8:43 am

beautiful inspiring story
.-= Laura Hegfield´s Last Fabulous Post ..Simple Serenity: Earth & Sky in a Puddle =-.


Scenografia April 14, 2010 at 9:30 am

Thank you for that significant write-up! I should say also have a web log and i’m questioning, how can i acquire this kind of great theme similar to your own?


Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord April 14, 2010 at 9:34 am

That is an absolutely touching story… I’m so happy I read it today!

Lance, thank you for featuring another awesome guest author!
Dr. J., thank you for sharing your beautiful, moving story with us.


Robin Easton April 14, 2010 at 10:25 am

Dear Dr. J, This is one of the MOST beautiful astounding stories of love and courage I’ve EVER read. I sat here crying, and not from pity or sadness, but from LOVE. I felt enormous love for you and your whole family. WOW!! I felt wrapped in love, courage, “rightness”, safety, goodness and so much more that I don’t even have words for. This story reminds us of the power of human persistence, courage and love. In the presence of these things we are transformed and healed. We may still have any number of challenges to deal with, BUT inside we are in our right place of Love, Possibility, Confidence, Courage and that sense that Life is worth living. My life is made richer knowing that there are people like you and your family in the world. Thank you SO much. Robin
.-= Robin Easton´s Last Fabulous Post ..Are Your Maps Holding You Back? =-.


Audra Krell April 14, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Wonderful story Dr. J. I was so scared at the beginning of your story that something would happen to your beautiful sister. I have three boys and like to think that if we ever adopted a little girl, they would be just as kind and loving as you have been. Thank you for sharing.


suzen April 14, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Hi Lance! Exceptional guest!

Hi Dr. J.! Well you are singing my song “I can DO it!” Your story is an inspiration and wonderful example of just taking one day at a time, one step at a time, and having that can-do attitude all the while! Nobody promised us our lives would be easy, but with the right attitude I truly believe anything is possible! Bless your sister for showing that to everyone!


Lance April 14, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Dr. J,
Thank you for sharing this story here. As I think about your sister, and really the light that she shine out into the world – I am quickly reminded that each of us, really, are different in some way – from everyone else. And maybe it’s not as noticeable – so it doesn’t stand out. And it can be all too easy to treat “different” as different. Or to go along with the crowd. Or whatever. And the truth is – it is our own insecurities that can cause this. When we can move beyond them – we see the humanity in everyone…and the gifts that each has to share.

What a gift your sister is! And that shines through so brightly here! And what a great brother she has in YOU!!


Lance April 14, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Thanks so much for the comments. As I read this, I am moved by the power of love, and what it IS capable of! And that’s something I feel very much in all of these words you have all shared. What a beautiful gift you all are!


LisaNewton April 14, 2010 at 10:02 pm

As usual, I’m late, but thank you for the inspirational story, Dr. J. Lessons learned and processed. Every child is special, in their own unique way, and your sister is an example of this thought. She brings her own unique light into the world. I feel grateful to have read her story.

Thank you!!
.-= LisaNewton´s Last Fabulous Post ..Los Angeles’ Newest Historic-Cultural Monuments =-.


Patricia April 14, 2010 at 10:31 pm

I truly love this story and the lovely way it was written and shared. My father worked with differently able children and adult – believing everyone had meaning and worth – he was slated to become Secretary of Education under President Kennedy when the assassination occurred. He profoundly changed the lives of so many children and their families – Brilliant and loving.

Our youngest child is adopted and has a cleft palate (repaired), lesion in the brain over long term memory and no ear tubes. She has just graduated from college and is making her way, when so many said – Let her fail and teach her her place….She is a warm, loving person and I think the world will be her oyster…her Asian name means Pearl of Truth…..

Your sister certainly inspired you and keeps on inspiring – what a legacy! what a gift!


Joy April 14, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Thank you for sharing this most touching inspirational story. Exactly what I needed to read as this day draws to a close. Thank *you*:)


Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker April 15, 2010 at 12:13 am

What a beautiful story of love of a brother for his sister. Thank you so much for sharing this feel good story. The world needs more of this type of story in the news.
.-= Patricia – Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker´s Last Fabulous Post ..A New Chapter In Incest Recovery =-.


Wilma Ham April 15, 2010 at 12:32 am

This shows to me what LOVE can do. These days LOVE is getting more and more the credit it deserves, a powerful energy that creates miracles although LOVE will see this as normal.
It is so wonderful to hear these stories so lovingly shared, it is so important to know WHAT is important above all the materialistic things we think we cannot live happily without.
I thank your family, I thank you for sharing your love and showing us its power. xox Wilma
And Lance I love you too, 🙂


vikum April 15, 2010 at 2:30 am

Hi Dr. J,
What a story? Not only you have pumped some energy into our souls but also you’ve touched our hearts with love and warm humanity of your family that brought your sister to the life that she lives today.
Thanks much Dr. J . You are an awesome brother !
And thanks a lot Lance for bringing Dr. J in today !
.-= vikum´s Last Fabulous Post ..Lance Armstrong: Why he is on my wall? =-.


Farnoosh - Prolific Living April 15, 2010 at 4:34 am

Oh how touching. ….for reasons that I will leave undisclosed, there is a mountain just as high that my little brother had to climb and I know that God or the universe chooses these souls carefully because I could not have climbed it if I were in his shoes, so thank you for a beautiful reminder on a courageous set of souls, your sister and your parents…..!!!


G-Bro April 15, 2010 at 10:54 pm

My sister is such a giving person. In her 50’s …my sister Marla told me ,” She is a Stepping stone not a Stumbling block.”


Jannie Funster April 17, 2010 at 8:30 pm

What a lucky sister to have you, Dr. J!

And your parents sound amazing.

There is no end to what love and determination can accomplish. And yes, velcro is a major blessing! I was glad for me too when it went mainstream on shoes. 🙂

.-= Jannie Funster´s Last Fabulous Post ..Texas Miracle Roses (a blog post in only 343 words — and 5 photos!) =-.


Brenda (betaphi) April 17, 2010 at 9:13 pm

I love reading stories like this one. All of us have stories of love that we could and should share with others. Thank you Lance and Dr. J for sharing this brother’s story about an amazing sister, whose name I wish I knew and whose essence I sense.


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