When the message came we all felt sorry. The room was quiet. I tried to catch my dad’s eyes. What was he thinking right know? Was he sad? Was he surprised? Or did he somehow expect the message? Do you ever expect cancer? You might fear it. But does one ever really expect it? Then my dad cleared his throat. The sound of his thin cough was the only thing filling the room besides us and one big scary word stealing all oxygen: C-A-N-C-E-R. The letters danced in front of my eyes, throwing me 16 years back in time to that crucial moment when I was the center of a comparable conversation from hell. Luckily, it wasn’t about me this time. And suddenly I felt sorry again, because if it wasn’t about me, it was about someone else – and I didn’t want that to happen to others either.
“She has lived a long and good life,” my dad said and looked down as if his next sentence was to be found in the table edge. “And we don’t know much about the diagnosis yet, so let’s not jump to conclusions. The doctors will tell us more come next week, when results from the next checkups will get in.”
I nodded. What else was there to do?
“How is she? Can I call her?” I wanted to know. Dad looked at me. Finally.
“Her voice is still hoarse. A letter might be better. But from auntie’s message it sounded like grandma was okay.”
No Complains, Just Gratefulness
That night it took me forever to fall asleep. I kept thinking about grandma. 94 years old. So beautiful. So positive. I don’t think I have ever heard her complain about anything. Not even when she was mugged in the street. I guy came running and took her purse. My grandma, being in her 80’s at the time, shouted “NO! Call the police!” and someone did, but too late. Her wallet was gone. But she didn’t complain. She got a new purse and an extra lock on the door at home, and started walking around with less money in the pocket. But complains weren’t a part of her repertoire. Neither did I hear her complaining, when her youngest daughter, one of my aunts, died from a poor health. Grandma was in great grief, but complaining? No. Not even when she lost her husband, my beloved granddad, and became a widow after more than 60 years of marriage, did we hear her complain. Again, she allowed grief to be a part of her, but she quickly started focusing on all the good memories. And that quickly tuned her mindset in to gratefulness instead.
But that night when we heard about her cancer, I couldn’t help but thinking: Will this take grandma down?
We all know what will happen if you lose your positive mindset. If that goes, your inner strength will also disappear. And without that you’re just a body with a head on top – in grandma’s case a 94 years old cancer body. That’s not defined by age, that’s just the way it is. I know. I have been there. I have gone through so much chemo myself that the only thing left to hear was my body screaming ‘NO!’ But my mind kept saying ‘yes, let’s do this and get back to the sunny side of life again.’
And so, we did. My mind didn’t save me from cancer. Chemo did. But I owe it to my mind that I got through the chemo.
Everyone in the family was holding his or her breath, looking at grandma and waiting for her to make a move that would somehow indicate in which direction this would go. And boy, did grandma make a move!
At first, she didn’t believe the diagnosis.
“I don’t have cancer – I just lost my voice,” she said refusing to accept the doctor’s judgment until, as she said, another doctor had looked at her and agreed. Being 94 and all, she insisted on a male doctor. Under any other circumstance I would be angry and insulted on my genders behalf. My inner feminist would definitely say something! But in this case, I just smiled. It was grandma. This was a clear sign of her still being her.
Then she insisted, that my dad should join forces with the new doctor. “To be on the safe side,” as she put it.
My dad is not a doctor. He’s a veterinarian. But according to my grandma there is God, and right after him my dad comes.
And then she asked my mom to book a flight ticket – not for my mom, but for grandma herself. Four months from now we will be celebrating my niece and nephew’s baptism in another country. (My brother, his wife and their kids recently moved to Belgium, approximately one and a half hours flight away). I don’t think grandma has been in an airplane since their honeymoon to France in 1950-something.
You Get What You Wish For
Grandma’s voice is gone which is a clear sign; the first doctor was right. It is cancer. And it’s probably located in her neck, lungs and other places as well. In this very moment, she is at the hospital going through some more tests. My dad is there with her as requested, but as support. Although I think grandma succeeded in getting a new male doctor. Way to go, grandma. You get what you wish for. And that’s also why it’s so damn important that you keep wanting to live – despite what these new tests will show. Hold on to your desire. It might not cure you, but it can bring you further than you can imagine – e.g. to a baptism in Belgium come May.
This blog goes out to all of you who know how much inner strength means. To all of you, who know what a shitty situation feels like, but who have gotten out of it – because you wanted to. And because your desire to get back to the sunny side of life was bigger than your willingness to give up. Many of us call those shitty situations ‘cancer’, but to me you can call it whatever you want. It’s not a competition between crisis and ‘who’s shit is the worst’. It’s just shit. But let’s give it up for all who beats their shit! And give it up big time for all who can’t physically beat the shit, but who still insist of squeezing every sunny moment out of life as long as it may last. Let’s give it up for grandma. Here she is with her eight great grandson – my Erik <3