A Piece of Forever

June 2, 2008
Cancer. It scared me. It scared everybody. It had once been just a word. Like the pink ribbons and bald heads and the loss. I saw them on car bumpers and read about the fundraising walks in the newspaper. Something I was never connected to. Suddenly those pink ribbons meant the world to me and the bald heads had me questioning every second: does she have breast cancer too?

I visited my great-grandma every week with my mom and grandma. She would sit on the couch and talk and watch TV while we made sure everything was okay. She smoked a pack of Marlboros a day and insisted she didn’t. She made me laugh with her stories from the forties and she told me about the war and her family. This old woman had once been a family member that I saw only on holidays and at family functions. Now she was growing closer to my heart as we took her to chemotherapy sessions and radiation. We went out to eat after and stayed with her through the day. I couldn’t wait to get out of school because it meant a drive to Jennings to see her.

But it was hard. I saw the strain on my mom and her own mother as they talked with doctors about options and surgeries and the spreading in her lymph nodes. But I only saw her cry once. When my sister refused to go see her because she didn’t want to see the cancer. She cried for her grandmother and I understood a little better what cancer was. I didn’t know how much it hurt and why radiation made her hair fall out. But it wasn’t just a disease. Yes it spread in the body, but it spread to the family. It made them fear and look away. Act differently. Cancer made people realize a little more that life is not forever.

Six months into her breast cancer, my great-grandmother went to her last chemotherapy session after the surgery that removed the infected lymph nodes and one of her breasts. She held my hand as she waited and I felt the anticipation. I looked to her and watched her. Soft, wrinkled skin from more than forty years of smoking, blue eyes she shared with my mother, the wig that covered her head, her nose that I realized mine resembled. She was my great-grandmother and she was here with me. She squeezed my hand and smiled. I smiled back at her. My great-grandmother, a piece of the family that held something special. Happiness, pain, remembrance; a little piece of forever.

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