My sister is the strongest person I know. On March 12, 2014, she was the victim of a head-on collision that should have sent her Pontiac’s engine into the cabin of her car and cut her in half. Instead, miraculously, it didn’t, and Kasandra is still here to laugh a little too loud and keep me in line. To say I love her is an understatement.

While Kasandra’s unbelievable survival is something my family celebrates every day, she suffered extensive injuries. Since the accident she’s had three invasive hip surgeries. The first two operations fixed her torn labrums — one in each hip socket — and the third, recent procedure was to re-open her right hip to remove a massive calcium deposit.

Each of these surgeries has left her homebound for weeks, unable to bathe and clothe herself without our mother’s help, and in an extreme amount of pain. Though I’m confident Kasandra will make a complete recovery to full mobility, there will still be setbacks. By the end of the ordeal, she’ll have been robbed of more than two years in her 20s due to surgeries and painful recovery because of the other driver’s carelessness. Even at the end of Kasandra’s recovery, she’ll never again be able to run and jump like she otherwise would have been able to.

Kasandra has an undying determination to continue to live beyond her current limitations and put both feet forward as best she can. She still dresses up and goes out, albeit with her hip brace attached over all her dresses. Kasandra needs help putting her right shoe on and someone to condition her hair in the kitchen sink. She always needs to find a table that can accommodate her wheelchair, an elevator to get to the train platform, a sidewalk even enough to get down the street. And though it would be so much easier to stay home and sulk, my sister doesn’t.

I have always drawn strength from my sister. I’m a believer in fate: I think destiny exists and there is a reason Kasandra is the older sibling. She has been the only person to unquestionably stay by my side through everything since I was born. Kasandra is both my role model and my best friend, and shows me every day — especially now — that strength is not inherent. No one is born strong. Instead, people are given the opportunity to be strong.

I can’t begin to imagine how much easier it would be to never leave the house. Getting ready for anything takes so much more effort for Kasandra than it used to, and honestly, if I were in her place, I don’t know that I would have the will to keep on going the way she has. Between the painful at-home hip exercises and powerful pain medications at the beginning of each recovery, I don’t know where she gets the stamina to do it all.

Even more amazing to me is her mental recovery during this period. After such a traumatic experience, I can’t fathom what it must have been like to get back in a car and drive through the spot where the other driver crossed into her lane.

Her persistence is a large part of the reason why I finally decided to come out this past summer. Though I don’t know how I would act if I were in my sister’s place, seeing her have the continued determination to live beyond the hand she was dealt gave me the courage to finally be honest with both myself and everyone I know. I realized that if Kasandra could wake up each day and face the world and all its challenges for her circumstances, so could I.

Kasandra has always shown me what it means to be a strong person. It isn’t easy, but I now know that it’s worth it. Every challenge she has faced, even before her accident, has made my sister the incredibly tenacious person she is today. It’s because she has met each obstacle with the courage to do right and the will to keep going that I know she will recover in both body and spirit. She is, in short, unstoppable.

That doesn’t mean, however, there haven’t been moments of struggle. I’ve seen her frustration with the accident, the three surgeries, the dependence she’s had on others and the enormity of everyday tasks for her. It’s so incredibly difficult to watch those you love suffer through pain for the hope of an easier future, but Kasandra has this fire in her that never ceases to burn. My sister is a force, a fierce woman and an individual. Needless to say, she isn’t usually one to ask for help unless she really needs it.

Watching my sister go through this ordeal has made me realize that strength does not always equate to independence. In fact, it often means the opposite. Being strong doesn’t mean standing alone and above everyone. It’s recognizing that you need help and asking for it. It’s being patient when it would be so easy to fall apart. It’s having the determination to keep living.

Through my whole life Kasandra has shown me how important it is to be independent, persistent and unapologetically individual. Not a single day goes by where I think of how horribly altered my life would have been if the car engine had entered the cabin and ended her life. In a lot of ways, it would have ended mine too. I would have lost my best friend, my only sibling, my greatest hero.

I’m so incredibly fortunate to still find her support and undying love. My sister gives me hope that there are people in this world filled with compassion and courage, determination and strong will, strength. And every day, she reminds me that I can be one of them.

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