For a writing contest about life lessons and when I first felt like a grownup.
| As a 20 year old college student, I have many life lessons still ahead of me. I have not started my career, been married, or had a child. In many ways, my life is just beginning. There are so many things left for me to learn and experience. There is, however, one experience in my short life that has shaped me as a person more than any other. When I was 15 years old, my grandma was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. When I think back to when I found out, I am surprised by my own naivety. I remember thinking, “Well that’s ok. They’ll remove the mass and then she’ll be fine”. Soon it became clear to me that it was much more than that. She had a mastectomy, but the cancer had already spread elsewhere. From then on, I tried to help my mom and aunts take care of her as much as I could. When she got back home after her surgery, I spent the next few nights at her house doing whatever she needed. Sometimes I helped her change her bandages, and every time I did, she cried. She was upset because she didn’t want me to have to see her that way. And it was hard to see her that way, but I put a smile on my face and convinced her that it was no big deal. Soon I was driving her to doctor’s appointments, hospital visits, and chemotherapy sessions. Years later, I still can’t help crying when I think of these times we spent together. Every time the going got rough, she tried to be strong for my sake while I was trying so hard to be strong for her sake. Her illness definitely made us closer. Through it all, I just felt such a strong bond with her.
She was so brave and fought the cancer so hard. Just before my 16th birthday she found out that she was in remission. She was so happy. Everyone was. A few months later, the cancer was back. The day she found out, I went to spend the night with her, not because she couldn’t take care of herself, but in hopes of cheering her up. When I got to her house, we cried together for a long time, but I told her she had already gotten rid of the cancer once and she would do it again. Then we went out to eat, at Chili’s, of course. I can’t even count how many times she and I went there together. She ended up cheering me up at least as much as I did her. Two years in a row, my family went on a cruise in December. My grandma came with us both times and she and I shared a room both times. Through her whole illness, she never lost her spunk. We covered every inch of that ship. She was all about going to all the shows, the formal dinners, and the midnight chocolate buffets. One day when we were exploring the ship, we decided to stop at an art auction. We sat there for quite a while, acting like we were fancy enough to bid for artwork on a cruise ship. Then, out of the blue, she looked at me and said, “You are so beautiful. Inside and out”.
During my second semester of my senior year of high school, she started getting sicker. She had to be hospitalized a few times, and the cancer had spread to several parts of her body, including her liver. On one of my last days of high school, she got the results of her latest scan. I told my mom to let me know how it went, but never heard from her. She wanted to wait until I got home to tell me so I wouldn’t be upset at school. Finally I called her from the office. I knew before she even said it that the cancer had spread to Grandma’s brain. Even though that was the outcome I had expected, I couldn’t help bursting into tears. It made me sick to think that the cancer had invaded her brain. I didn’t want her to lose any mental capacity. She was hospitalized again, but after a few days she told the doctor that she had to get out of there because she had a graduation to attend. My Grandma was there to see me walk across the stage, and that’s something I’m very grateful for.
When I think of the next two months after I graduated from high school, I know that is the first time I really felt like a grown-up, culminating with the end of her battle in July. Seeing someone die definitely makes a person grow up. And when I say seeing someone die, I don’t mean just that moment, or just that day. It’s the whole process. It’s never wanting to leave that person’s side because you don’t know how much time they have left. It’s wanting to say goodbye, but not knowing the right time to do so. It’s wanting to comfort everyone else while you are heartbroken yourself. During my Grandma’s last week, she was in and out of consciousness. One day, the air conditioner in her home broke. It was a very hot day, and she was so sick that moving her wasn’t an option. We were all frantic, trying to keep her cool, trying to get the air conditioner fixed. Eventually we got the air conditioning back on, and when she finally was able to speak, the first thing she said to me was, “You look beautiful”. I was a complete mess. But for some reason, when she looked at me she still saw a beautiful person. That was one of the last things she ever said to me. Losing my Grandma was the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with. In a few days it will have been two years since she died. It’s still so hard. I’ve been crying since the second I started writing this, but it also feels really good to talk about her. I love thinking about her and what an amazing person she was. I learned so many lessons from my Grandma and watching her deal with her illness. I learned the importance of optimism and having a good attitude. I learned that anyone can make a difference in people’s lives; it doesn’t require extraordinary talents or funds. I learned that adversity can bring people closer together. And I learned how to be a stronger person. Now, whenever I am down, or start to doubt myself, I try to see myself through my Grandma’s eyes. Because looking at myself through her eyes, there is nothing I’m not capable of.