My grandmother had a very foul tongue, or so the phrase goes, she had the mouth of a sailor. Not what you’d typically expect when you hear “my grandmother”. She had pale skin in the winter which would turn into an unimaginable golden tone in the summer. Her strawberry blonde hair and green to hazel eyes came from her Irish mother and her olive skin and high cheekbones came from her Native American father. She was the definition of beautiful; inside and out. Just like all grandmothers to their grandchildren she was very special to me and I to her. Though it was never stated aloud, out of her sixteen grandchildren, I was her favorite and we all knew. She was always there to pick me up when I was down and help lift me up when I deserved praise. She wiped almost every tear of mine completely away with the laughter she instilled in me. She was a true comedian at heart and could turn every negative situation into a funny pointless one. She even offered an ear for all of my daily venting from frustrating work days or arguments with the boy I was dating at the time. I remember she would call me in the mornings to ask If I ate breakfast; if I hadn’t she would have me stop by only to meet me in the driveway and hand me a warm egg sandwich. That sandwich made my commute to work less agonizing and my belly full.
My how I miss her. A beautiful, kind, and fierce woman who didn’t take shit from anyone except for cancer. I remember when she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and her body scan showed that her bones had holes in them like a sponge, it was as if she was deaf when the Cancer Specialist spoke about her results. We left the doctors office and she carried on as if it were any other day. I remember contemplating to myself that maybe she was in denial or she just didn’t care. Come to find out it was the ladder of the two. When we went to her second visit after a week of being diagnosed, she found out that she had about eight months to live, but still refused chemotherapy. She even told Dr. W. to stick the chemo up her ass. The Doctor was extremely calm and patient as if she was already expecting my grandma to lay down the law on what she would and would not do. I remember my mouth gaping when I saw the Doctors facial expression towards my grandmother. When she turned around to wash her hands I chuckled softly because little did Dr. W. know that my grandmother curses at everyone, including strangers. I always found my grandmothers rants quite amusing. I apologized to her and then turned to my grandmother to let her know that was uncalled for. My grandmother looked at me with a childish, guilty face and shrugged her shoulders. The Doctor turned back around and uttered that it was okay and asked my Grandmother to come back in if she changed her mine. I respected Doctor W. ever since that day and how she handled the situation of an irate cancer patient. When we got to the car my grandmother made me swear not to tell a single soul about the length of time Doctor W. put on her life. I remember receiving chills down my spine, goosebumps across my arms, and knots in my stomach, but I swallowed the spit that accumulated in my mouth and whispered okay.
My mom and her two sisters had a conniption when they heard from me that their own mother refused the medication that could possibly make her cancer free. There were weeks of continuous arguments between my grandmother and her 3 daughters but little did they know that they were just wasting their time. All the while I remained quiet wondering why she chose to let cancer win. Not my grandma. How could she not put up a fight? How could she just give up? Finally after a month my questions were answered when she called everyone to her house on a Sunday afternoon. She sat everyone down and talked as gently but firm as she could. I remember watching her as she spoke and she didn’t look terrified, angry, weak, or hurt. She looked like the strong grandmother I always knew. She informed us that she was given eight months to live and before my grandmother could speak another word the living room filled with painful cries and moans. I looked around the living room at my mom, aunts, cousins, second cousins, brothers and sisters and then back to my grandmother. My eyes began to well up with tears but when I looked at my grandmother she pierced at me with those hazel eyes of hers and shook her head slightly. I knew that meant not to let a single tear fall down my face. Next thing I knew I grit my teeth, inhaled a few deep breaths and stud up.
“Shut the hell up! Everyone! Don’t y’all know you’re just making things worse by acting like it’s the end of the damn world? Do any of you know how hard this is for a single person to stand up and face a room full of loved ones, to talk about their current health condition all the while maintaining a calm composure?” I paused to catch my breath and the suddenly the sound of moaning and screeching cries were replaced with nose blowing and sniffles. All eyes were on me, “Just listen to her goddammit before it’s too late!” I slammed myself back into my seat, my eyes were filled with tears of anger and my heart felt as though it was beating 200 beats a minute. I looked at my grandmother and she smiled at me causing the trembling in my hands to cease.
“When Dr. Weakland told me I only had eight months to live it made me think. I’ve seen people go through the chemotherapy treatments, including my dear friend Wanda, y’all are familiar with her. Well what you don’t know besides seeing her hairless and frail bodied is that she would vomit multiple times a day to the point where she didn’t want to eat anymore. She was miserable with migraines, vertigo, and the constant probing of needles. She told me, ‘Phyllis don’t you ever do this shit if you get cancer- I made a huge mistake.’ So I thought about my last months or days on this Earth and I want to eat and drink whatever the hell I want without worrying about how to keep it down. I want to style my hair and do my makeup instead of letting chemotherapy take my hair and my strength. I don’t want a new wardrobe once I lose weight from medication. I want to be able to drive myself to the store, laundry mat, or the gas station without having blurry vision from the headaches and dizziness. Lastly I don’t want you, my family, to remember me in the same state as Wanda before her passing. I want you to remember me as your mom, your grandmother, or your great aunt that didn’t take shit from anyone! Cancer may be a cocksucker and kill me but I refuse to subject myself to the side effects of treatment. I’ll go when it’s my time to go and I, nor you, nor the doctors can do anything to prevent that. So I am asking all of you to respect my decision and don’t treat me any differently then you did before we found out I had this health issue. Okay dammit?”
I remember smiling after hearing what my grandmother had to say. I looked around the living room of her small house and saw that my family members were smiling too. Some less than others but there was peace that day. It brings me back to how my grandmother was always able to make the best out of a sour situation. I felt bad for ever doubting my grandmother’s strength and thinking that she was letting cancer win. What I learned from her is that you have to face your fears with a straight face. Maintain your composure, maintain your attitude, and always know your self worth, because if you don’t do those things it’ll change who you are. What’s the point of living if your scared all the time? There’s no fun in life walking on eggshells constantly. I understand cancer may have taken her life from us and this Earth but cancer never changed who my grandmother was. She was diagnosed at the age of 56 and her 8 month battle with cancer was stretched out over the course of 8 years. So needless to say my grandmother went out with a fight.