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Does holding on tighter make it any less real? Does never letting go mean everything is okay? Does smiling mean we’ll get through?

When my grandma was diagnosed with intestinal and pancreatic cancer in 2012, everyone experienced a destructive emotion; denial. The one person you never expect to watch suffer is someone who does everything out of the goodness of their heart without a second thought for themselves. When that one person gets sick, you question everything. I stopped believing that everything happens for a reason because I just could not see the reason for putting my gram through a fight for her life.

As much as I told people we were getting through it and that she’d be okay, my heart and faith were shattered. The hospital became a familiar place to all of us, we watched one round, two rounds…ten rounds of flowers come through and eventually die. One roommate after another, my gram stayed in her bed in her room. Being unable to eat, she was put on a permanent feed and was closely monitored. Any privacy she had was robbed from her and she had no choice but to accept the help she was given. Watching her become incapable of the smallest things were just reminders of how sick she really was. We did everything we could to keep her comfortable and happy, or as happy as she could be.

Eventually, a day for surgery was scheduled. A procedure known as a Whipple, the removal of half of her pancreas, a third of her stomach and a section of her small intestine, was to be accomplished by a credited surgeon. Whipple procedures have a 5% survival rate with endless complications. Watching her agree to something so bleak only further affirmed the severity of her illness.

The day of surgery was by far the most emotional day of my life. I promised myself I would not cry, I refused to let the last thing she saw before going under was me sobbing. We stayed with her through all pre-surgery preparation and I held her hand whenever she offered it to me. I smiled at her and made jokes now and then to help her through. As much as I told myself she was the one about to undergo a 12 hour procedure, I was the one who had to let go of her hand when it came time. We were told it was time to let them finish up the last preparations, but my heart refused to let go. As we bent over to kiss her and give her a hug as best as we could without the fear that her frail body would crumble in the embrace, I broke my promise. I began sobbing and the denial came back again. I told myself she was fine and that this wasn’t happening. I turned and looked at her one last time as I ran out and I could see how much it hurt her that I was hurting too.

Recovery was long and another big feat of hers. Unable to eat for another eight months, she remained on a feed tube. She watched us eat and guilt filled me. I wished to switch positions, to take her pains for a day so she could feel something she hadn’t in forever; relief. Relief came for each of us in May, when we heard that she’d been eating enough to be freed from her tube soon. Freedom would be granted to the woman who’d been trapped behind the bars of suffering for over half a year. Perseverance, faith and love got my role model through, no doubt, the toughest time of her life. I’ve learned to cherish every moment I get with her and make her realize the happiness she brings to each of her grandchildren. I refuse to ever let her lose her fight. I will be there to hold her hand, no matter how fragile it and my heart may be, to come out knowing that she won in the end.




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