The “C” Word

My Grandmother was a really interesting and dynamic woman. Exceptionally talented and active in our community, wit as quick as a whip and our family matriarch. For a good portion of my youth she lived either next door or relatively close by, so I was lucky to have a healthy and close relationship with her.

But then the “C” word came up. I’m at an age where while I was still young, it was whispered about behind closed doors. Auntie so and so has “Cancer”.

It wasn’t that long ago that it was considered an almost a sure death sentence, and was a major cause of anxiety and grief. But, now with so many medical advancements, we have come to a point where many cancers, provided they are detected early enough, are manageable or better yet, can be reversed into remission indefinitely.

In my early teens something happened, my Mom and Grandma began to act funny and whisper a lot. They were hiding something from my brother and myself. This in itself was frightening and upsetting, as my family has always been open and honest about the goings on in our lives.

And then one day, my mom and I stopped next door to my Grandma’s house, somehow instinctively I knew something was very wrong. Most of the conversation is a blur, but, they sat me down, and told me that Grandma had breast cancer. That terrible “C” word.

There were medical terms and explanations, and questions, and breast removal and all kinds of things that you don’t wish on your worst enemy let alone your Grandma. I know I cried, I cried a lot.

It was a long go of it, but she survived, missing lymph nodes and a breast, but, survived nonetheless. She changed as a person, taking life less for granted and becoming a little less conservative. Remission is expensive time to buy, and for many people it’s worth every painful step.

Five or so years later, I was in my twenties, the “C” word was dropped again for Grandma. Not saying there weren’t other people in our lives that had gotten diagnoses, but Grandma was the closest and most visceral. This time, Colon Cancer. the survival rate at that time, was about twenty percent.

I went into immediate denial with this round. Twenty percent couldn’t be a death sentence, because they didn’t say that it was terminal. It took until just before the surgery that it sunk in that even if Grandma survived the surgery, that the prognosis was bleak.

But, once again, my awesomely cool Grandma fought and survived it. There were complications and infections and ups and downs, but, that magic word came out…

Remission… more time bought. Not without a heavy price.

The stupid thing about youth, is that young people don’t understand the power of time, and especially time with their loved ones. They go off and try to make their lives, and don’t spend the time that they should be. They don’t learn soon enough that time is a thief, and when they figure out what a bastard time is, they learn regret.

Fast forward fifteen years, and through an ultrasound looking at a hernia (from previous surgery) they found something inside Gramma. There were tests, and by this point the family at large knew the routine. The surgeon and oncologist decided to work together the oncologist to inspect and remove the mass for biopsy, and the surgeon to fix the hernia.

After the surgery, I went to the hospital to visit Gramma. The sparkling strong woman that helped rear me, was in rough shape. And her sparkle was greatly diminished. I asked her how she was. She looked at me, and took my hand… and took a deep breath. She told me that it was ovarian cancer, and they took everything out.

More blur. Lots more blur. After the biopsy, we were told it was really aggressive. There was no prognosis, just treatment to buy time. At this point, the rest of my life was falling apart, and it was all I could do to keep the wolves at bay. Those wolves were the minions of time. They stole time from me and time that I could have spent with her.

I did my best, juggling life and living. And we took back what we could, but she couldn’t take the chemo. It almost killed her a couple of times. She refused radiation, it was too spread out. Her philosophy all through was, “It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality.”

With those words, she made the decision to stop treatment. The cancer spread so quickly, that it was less than three months after.

I don’t want to get into the details, but I do want to say this. My Grandma, went on her own terms, she went with dignity, laughter, and love. She was surrounded by all those that she touched in life, and the last time I saw her… the last conversation I had with her I would like to share.

I walked into her room in the hospice, and she was sleeping. Her white hair, curly like a cherub. She was wearing an almost white night gown and her sheets were white. She heard me come in, and stirred awake.

She smiled her amazing smile, and whispered, “Hi!”

I whispered back, “Gramma, you look like an Angel”

Her eyes sparkled, “Thank you…”

“How about I let you go back to sleep?”

She replied with “Yes please…. Love you..” with that smile and her green eyes sparkling.

“Love you too Gramma”

At the funeral I refused to look at the body. I didn’t want to ruin my last moment with her.

She was 77 years old, and lived life until the end.

I realized this morning that through all that, there were so many lessons learned, and gifts given.. some of which haven’t been opened yet.


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