“Cancer” is such an ugly word. Yesterday when the doctor diagnosed my grandfather with bile duct cancer, my family’s hearts collectively dropped. Grandpa had been in and out of the hospital for months, so an announcement of this magnitiude wasn’t totally unexpected. He had successfully beat prostate cancer at age 66, and now in his mid-80s, he’ll undergo another surgery in an attempt to remove the new cancerous cells. The prognosis reveals that Grandpa’s chance of living for at least another five years is a meager 15%.
For as long as I’ve known him, my grandfather has been a man of few words. Although he’s soft spoken, the things he does say have a lasting impact. As a young girl eating dinner together, he’d tell me, “Take all you want, but eat all you take.” His message never failed to give me pause. Would I be able to finish that extra scoop of rice? Did I greedily put too much chicken on my plate? This was Grandpa’s way of expressing his generosity while reminding me not to be wasteful. He’s also a gifted piano player who can listen to a song then play the entire melody back by ear. When I was child, my elementary school had special “Show and Tell” days. While my classmates showed off their furry pets and shiny new toys, I brought in my grandfather to play the piano – no sheet music required.
Recently, Grandpa met N at a family gathering. As we departed, he shook N’s hand, looked him in the eyes and said “Take care of her.” I was slightly embarrassed at the time, but I’m thankful to have such a loving family member. My grandfather’s new bout with cancer is a reminder of the cold, hard truth about mortality. We can’t prevent certain diseases from taking hold, but we can determine what state our bodies are in if and when we’re affected. My focus on healthy eating and exercise will hopefully set me up to have the best chance later in life. I’m a pragmatist and the concept of death doesn’t frighten me. I’m at peace with the fact that my grandfather has reached old age and led a fulfilling life, surrounded by wonderful people. Even so, that doesn’t mean I’m ready to let him go.