I have been avoiding the blog lately, because my heart is heavy with the recent loss of my grandmother. It seems so wrong to write posts about lively events and creations without stopping to tell you about my amazing grandmother.
About the time that many folks begin to think of retirement planning and living the good life without parental responsibilities, my grandmother and grandfather committed to caring for me. My parents divorced when I was young and my mother was unable to care for us on her own, so my grandmother and grandfather pushed their retirement dreams aside and took me in. They never once complained or made me feel like I was a burden on them. Instead, they lavished all the goodness they could afford on me and spoiled me properly.
My first memory is of waking up and wandering into the kitchen where I was greeted by my grandmother with a hug and kiss before she prepared a bowl of cereal for me. My grandmother is the strongest woman I know. I don’t remember tears or whining from her. Instead, she was a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of lady. She was stubborn, hard-headed and set in her ways, but she was also a delight with a quick, clever wit that I dearly miss. She was a woman of great faith and despite any hardship that came her way, her faith never wavered.
Last Christmas, at 84 years of age, my grandmother drove nonstop, halfway across the country to spend the holidays with me in my new house. We had a lovely time, but I never dreamed that we would receive such devastating news in just two short months.
In February, I called to chat with her and became very concerned when I heard her talking. Her speech was very slurred. I told her to go to the emergency room because I was concerned that she had experienced a stroke. She became very argumentative and refused to go unless I agreed to pay the hospital bill because she was sure nothing was wrong with her. (Did I mention she was hard-headed and stubborn?) I agreed and the next day my mother took her to the emergency room. She was admitted with what physicians thought might be a stroke. Tests were run and the surprising verdict was delivered. My grandmother had Stage IV lung cancer that had spread to her brain.
I grabbed the next plane out to be with her as we learned about her treatment options. I studied research reports and scoured academic libraries and the internet to find a cure for her condition only to learn that her condition was terminal.
Being the woman of faith she was, she refused to believe that she would die of this disease. She started a prescription of steroids and underwent radiation for the brain tumor. Her speech was restored to normal. Then she underwent radiation for the tumor in her lung to prevent it from breaking her ribs or creating problems with aspiration. She never really recovered from radiation treatments. Each one left her a little weaker and a bit more confused.
She never wanted to go on Hospice because she thought it was wrong to just sit and watch someone die. In her opinion, life was precious and every effort should be made to preserve life in all forms. In the end, we had little choice but to turn to hospice for support and assistance. Ultimately, my grandmother experienced a phenomenon called terminal agitation and she was admitted to a residential hospice facility where she passed away with my mother and I in attendance.
From diagnosis to death in just four short months. It was and still is shocking. My grandmother smoked for a bit when she was young, but she hasn’t smoked a cigarette in over 40 years. Lung cancer is supposed to only touch people in their 40s who smoke 10 packs of cigarettes a day, right? That is what I thought, but I’ve learned some very interesting things about lung cancer in the past four months. I hope you will indulge me in the future when I share a few tidbits with you about it and memories of my wonderful grandmother every now and then.
If you have a loved one suffering with Stage IV lung cancer, please know you are not alone. I’m happy to share more of my experience with you if you are seeking more information or support in caring for someone with this horrible disease.