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Getting to the end

Guest TooTogged

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My Grandma is sixty-five and she’s dying of lung cancer. She’s been dying of lung cancer since 2004. When she was first diagnosed the cancer was pretty far along because, somehow, her doctor had missed it during her normal screenings even though she’d complained. In my family, we’re stoic to the point of stupid though, and we have a high tolerance for pain, so she might not have noticed for a while. Her initial diagnosis wasn’t a good one – she was given six months tops and put on chemo. Since I was home for the summer, I was the one who took her to treatments.

Grandma was a life-long smoker. Her house always smelled like cigarette smoke when I was a kid. She ran a bar and she’s a complete bad *ss for a granny. I remember how she always said “Hi, Hon”. She wasn’t able to speak by the time I started taking her to treatments because the cancer had spread to her throat. I don’t know how cancer spreads – to be honest, I’ve never looked into it because I don’t want to know. I took her to chemo. I’d pick her up and drive her there and sit with her while she went through it and then drive her home.

I don’t have many good things to say about the cancer center where she was treated. I don’t remember what she was being given exactly, but I know she got one shot and then was supposed to be given another shot after fifteen minutes, but before thirty minutes, as a counter to the pain caused by the first shot. The nurses would always sit around and talk about soap operas and eat their lunches instead of giving her that second shot. I looked all of sixteen years old at the time (I was twenty, I look younger than I am) and I could never convince them to do their damn jobs. Meanwhile, my grandma would be suffering and turning gray and not able to talk. I felt so guilty and ashamed that I couldn’t get them to do anything – one of them even had the gall to tell me that the treatment for the pain hadn’t even been proven so I should listen to the professionals – even though it was a doctor who prescribed all of this.

I saw her lose her hair and wear a bandana and then a wig. She used to throw up this yellow corruption into a small, pale pink plastic tub she’d hold in her lap. It looked like mucus, but had to be disposed of in a bag marked ‘Radioactive Material’. I went away for a few weeks for military training and by the time I was back they had removed her voice box and she had a tube in her throat. But her treatment had ended and, remarkably, the cancer went into remission. The family was ecstatic.

It came back less than a year later. Every time I’d go for training, my heart would stop when some unknown official would ask for me by name because I was convinced that This Was It. For Columbus Day Weekend 2006, I ended up driving home – sixteen hour trip one way – to see her because the family was talking like she was on her last legs. I didn’t tell anyone I was coming (it was one of those times where you get off the phone and you just know it’s time to go home) and she was really surprised to see me. I was sitting there talking to her, telling her how things were going, and she was crying silently. That was a little scary because she’s never been a crier. She never even cried during treatment.

I feel awkward talking because it’s so one-sided and I don’t know what to say. As this year has dragged on, the conversations get shorter because she doesn’t have the energy to interact any more. A tumor grows out of her neck – they thought it went necrotic until she suddenly lost ten pounds in a week. It’s eating her alive and last month the family finally put her on Hospice. This isn’t going to be like every other time where she managed to fight off cancer and Death through sheer force of will.

My Aunt is a nurse and she’s put forth super-human effort caring for her mother. My Dad spends a lot of time with his mother and my mom resents this. I get angry with my mom and brother because they seem totally indifferent to my grandma’s suffering. Right now the big fight is over ‘who gets grandma’s dog’ and my mom is so angry that she got the dog in the first place knowing she was going to die . . .doesn’t the woman deserve some companionship?

I saw her a month ago and she was so shrunken in her bed and barely able to move around. Throughout all of this she remained surprisingly active – like I said: bad *ss granny. But this is all finally coming to an end. And I feel lousy for feeling that I wish she had passed sooner so she wouldn’t be going through all this. The on and off chemo, the surgeries, the pain. I wish it had been quick for her, without any of the suffering. At the same time, I don’t want to lose my grandma. And I don’t want to see my family lose her. She’s been iconic. I feel so sorry for my younger cousins who don’t remember her when she was healthy but now visit with her then come and hug you and say ‘Death is really scary’.

Now that’s it’s really coming I feel numb, but then I’ll find myself crying at strange times. The oddest things will set me off. And I have difficulty talking about it to people because those who’ve known me will say “Hasn’t she been dying for, like, three years?” Which is true . . .but it’s true. If that makes sense. I don’t know if I’m in denial or not. Maybe if you hear the same refrain over and over, you stop believing it deep down and you don’t realize it until it’s too late.

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Well, you've been through a lot, and my sense is that you have a tremendous heart, which is a lot to say about anyone. You also have a gift for writing.

It doesn't matter if she's been ill for 3 years, your feelings now are legitimate, and you are going to have them in your own way, no matter what.

You keep being strong and loving, and it will all fall into place.

Bless you, and prayers for your Grandma.

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My heart truly goes out to you. And I think I'd like your grandma -- sounds like she's lived life on her own terms.

I was sitting there talking to her, telling her how things were going, and she was crying silently. That was a little scary because she’s never been a crier. She never even cried during treatment.

Those might have been tears of joy, brought on by seeing her wonderful granddaughter once again. You mention that you too seem to cry at the oddest times. I believe a lot of people here would say the same thing, that our emotions are very close to the surface and are triggered by things we'd never expect to cause that reaction. Though I've never been an emotional person, now my eyes well up easily -- but never from sadness, anger, or concern about my own condition. It's always a "happy" thought that does it, reading about someone's generous act, seeing everyday examples of selfless compassion, realizing how much unconditional support I've received over the past 15 months.

My best wishes and Aloha,


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Oh, Honey, your grandma and I would have been best friends.

and both of us would have sat around talking for hours or writing notes to each other about what an










her granddaughter is.

I am aching for you and want you to know that someone in IL has you and your bad **s grandma firmly in prayer and admires you immensly.



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I am sending you and your grandmother many prayers and postive thoughts. You are such a wonderful grandchild and have so much compassion. I am sure she is very, very proud of you..

Please keep posting here and let us know how we can help you through this painfull and difficult time. We all understand and we are here for you..



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I think it's normal to wish that it had all "been over" sooner, and then to feel guilty about that! Trust me, I have been there! My dad fought recurrent melanoma with a vengeance, and he suffered a great deal. Yet, even through it all, I know that had he not chosen the path he did, the end may have come sooner, though not necessarily less painful. So don't doubt that the treatments were all for nothing. You, your dad, and BA Grandma have all benefitted from the extra time. Not at a high cost, but it was NOT all for nothing!

Keep doing what you are doing.

Much warmth to you,


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It's normal not to want to see the people we love suffer just as it is normal to want them to survive. I think your granny is lucky to have you with her. You can't control the rest of your family, but you can be there for her.

I will say a prayer for your grandmother and for you.


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My prayers are with both your grandma and you. You should be so proud of the fact that you have been such a wonderful grandchild. I am sure she holds you near and dear to her heart.

You cannot control what the rest of your family does - only what YOU do - and it sounds like you are doing everything you can for her!! Just being there with her and holding her hand can give her so much comfort.

Thank you for telling her story - she sounds like one heck of a wonderful lady!!

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I hope your grandma is and remains comfortable as she approaches her final days.

Please don't worry about prolonging the inevitable or whatever. Life is so very precious. Most of us will keep it as long as possible. I believe that the extra time we gain can be a period of deep spiritual instruction or even a deep spiritual awakening. It’s hard to say when dying actually begins anyway. Technically, I suppose it begins when the body begins shutting down.

You are a good granddaughter.

Don M

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