By Sue Botos
When Max Barrow saw his brother Sam getting bullied at school, it made him angry.
“When I’m angry, I let it be known,” the 2012 Rocky River High School graduate said during an interview. Even though Max often felt slighted throughout Sam’s battle with brain cancer, he knew this was the time to channel that anger, and defend his brother, younger by three years.
“Sam looks fine, but socially, he has had a rough go,” recalled their mother, Sandy. “He was bullied at school, and this was when a light bulb went off for Max. They had one year together at the high school, and Max was there for him.”
Putting his thoughts and experiences into words, Max was recently awarded a $1,000 scholarship from Jeremy Cares, an Avon Lake-based nonprofit organization established in 2009 with a mission of “creating moments of joy” for families going through a pediatric medical crisis. The organization is named for Avon Lake student Jeremy George, who was diagnosed with cancer during his senior year. Putting off college for three years for treatment, he is now studying at Kent State University and expected to graduate in May.
Applicants for the scholarships, which will amount to $9,000 for 14 Northeast Ohio recipients, are or have been patients or siblings of patients at University Hospitals or the Cleveland Clinic.
“We don’t use the word ‘cured,’” stated Sandy Barrow, referring to Sam as a “13-year survivor,” having been diagnosed at age 3 1/2.
“There’s an increased chance of secondary illnesses. and he will have lifelong effects from the treatments,” she explained, adding that there is little data on childhood cancer survivors. “About 25 years ago, these kids didn’t survive.”
Sam, who recently turned 17, attends Rocky River High School’s technology program, spending half of his day at Lakewood High School. His mom noted that Sam once wrote a school essay about perseverance. “He definitely marches to his own drum,” she stated.
“They are closer now,” Sandy said of her sons’ relationship. “Some years, there was a lot of resentment and anger. Max suffered a lot of fallout. But now at (age) 20, he knows what’s important.”
Patience and acceptance of others’ differences are two qualities Max says Sam has brought out in him. “He’s definitely taught me a lot of patience and to look at things objectively. I had to live with how people abused Sam (and) I learned not to judge people for being different.”
“There’s a line that has to be drawn, and even if he wasn’t my brother, I would stick up for him,” Max added.
Sam, whom Sandy calls “a man of few words,” stated, “It’s very nice he’s willing to support me.” He said he wasn’t quite sure of his post-high school plans yet. Now a sophomore at Kent State University, Max said he keeps in touch with Sam by texts and online games.
But it was Sam who inspired Max to study psychology. “I feel like I’ve gotten a better sense of when someone’s hurting or feeling bad. I can always tell when Sam’s hurting even though he doesn’t always show emotion. Sometimes I have to pry it out of him. I have a talent for that,” he revealed.
In fact, Max carries Sam’s inspiration wherever he goes. In his Jeremy Cares essay, he wrote, “As my favorite band, The Color Morale, says in their song ‘Walkers,’ ‘Hope Never Loses Us.’ Those words are forever inscribed on my skin over a gold ribbon, for childhood cancer, and my brother’s initials underneath it so that I may never forget …”