Choices and Changes

May 16th

The boys and I are just returning from a trip to my Grammy’s house – a visit that will most likely be our last. She has advanced lung cancer. I have mixed feelings about Grammy’s particular cancer.

Unlike breast cancer and most others, it is a disease of her own making. A bad choice made by a 12-year-old girl in a time when smoking was cool (and maybe even good for your health), that became a lifetime habit and, eventually, a death sentence. I regret her choice, and my Mother’s after her, even if they don’t. On the other hand, there is virtually no monies spent on curing the lung cancer of a smoker. There is really no hope once diagnosed. And the ticket bought with a 12 year old’s pocket money 68 years ago was for a humiliating, frightening and painful ride.

The very first symptom of Grammy’s lung cancer was a loss of balance. Did you know that? I always thought it would be coughing or shortness of breath. Not so. First she lost her equilibrium so that she was falling all the time. Then she began losing weight. Lots of weight. Her normal 160 lbs dropped to a mere 110 in weeks! She began using a walker, then a wheelchair with help, until she is now lifted into her wheelchair and back to her bed like so much dead weight.

Grammy did chemotherapy. She lost her hair. Then she lost her husband. Ultimately, she opted to have radiation on her brain to stave off the tumor-forming enzymes that would take up residence there. That treatment has now taken her memory and her very being.

Grammy now has dementia. Her short-term memory has been shot for a while now. She thankfully still remembers most people most of the time.

I was writing this post on my iPhone on the train ride home and wasn’t able to finish.  Here are more thoughts on the subject…

Not even two weeks after our visit with Grammy she is on the verge of being confined to bed.  Mere days after we left she didn’t know who my Mom was.  My Mom.  Her oldest daughter.  The one who lives with her and cares for her on a daily basis.  Sure, the lapse was only momentary but the pain of it will last forever.  This is how my Mom tells it…

Mom said something to Grammy that led with a “Mom, …...”, to which Grammy asked, “Why do you always call me ‘Mom’?”

Mom:  “Well… I call you ‘Mom’ because you ARE my mom.”

Grammy (with a semblance of clarity returning to her face):  “Ooooh, that’s right.  You’re my little girl.”

And she cries.

Such a small exchange yet so telling.  And crushing.

While we were visiting, Grammy momentarily forgot that my Grandpa Jess, her beloved husband, had passed several months before.  The next morning she asked if her twin brother was still “with us”.  She cried after each revelation.  What a horrible irony that before the blessing of eternal forgetfulness she must bear the loss of her loved ones over and over again.  Scabs ripped off.  Fresh wounds healing.  Scabs scraped away once again.

Grammy is so afraid she will be forgotten.  She’s worried we will only remember the end.  The cancer.  The forgetfulness.  The frailness and dependence.  As if.  In truth, it’s hard to remember that stuff.  When I look at her I still see my Grammy of old.  The woman who gave me the gift of writing.  My forever champion!  The loving, feisty, belching matriarch that introduced me to playing Hell.

These last months of being infirmed and bald are but a blip on the radar screen of her life.  I could never forget my Grammy.  As if.  But I pray daily that my boys always remember the consequences of the choices she made as a girl.


8 Responses

  1. So well written, Stella. Not the mechanics, but the emotion.

    Stupid cancer.

  2. You are such a beautiful writer, Stella. I am glad to see you back in this space, though sorry it is with such a sad post. Blessings to your family.

  3. Final Goodbye
    Death is such a difficult thing
    and so hard to comprehend.
    So many broken hearts
    that do not quickly mend.
    I just don’t understand
    why people have to die.
    It grieves my heart so badly
    to see my family cry.
    I know that death is better
    than living here on earth,
    for our treasure is in heaven
    after that miraculous rebirth.
    The pain I feel right now
    will slowly fade away,
    but the memories I have of you grandma –
    they are here to stay

  4. This is wonderfully written, Stella. The exchange between your Mom and Grammy is particularly beautiful. Made me think of the strength of a mother’s love and the power of a daughter’s love. Also made me think of my own dad, who is battling out Stage IV lung cancer. He told me recently, “I know this is just as hard on you all as it is on me.” Not even in the slightest. You and I have been through a lot of hard stuff with breast cancer, but what I’m seeing my dad go through is something altogether different.

    Love to you (and welcome back),


    • (Damn it. I’m out of my pills so I’m weeping like a baby. Hate that.)

      How right you are, Jill. The difference between suffering an illness first hand and bearing witness to that suffering in someone we love is immeasurable. There really is no comparison.

  5. Stella, hi I just wanted to say that I am so very sorry to read about your Grammy. My love to you and your family.

    I have wanted to write for a while – firstly to stay that I think your writing is beautiful and I love to visit your site. But also, because I am struck by the similarities in our bc diagnosis – I have had tnbc, positive lymph nodes and brca 2+. My mother had IBC. I wondered if it would be OK to email you at some point – when convenient of course. I am in the UK and I am on your subscription list – my name is Karen Dubbins.

    Its been quite here for a while, so do hope all is well in your life.

  6. Hello,
    I have a question about your blog. Please email me!

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