What Cancer Cannot Do

This is not a conversation I want to be having.  I’ve been putting it off for a week now, but that seems cowardly, and I know I have to talk about it sometime.

So here it is.  Short, brutal, unsentimental.  Factual.

Last weekend, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer.  Terminal, systemic, advanced cancer.  It may have started in her liver and breast, but now there are nodules wrapped around her bronchial tubes, a mass pressing on the bottom of her lung that keeps her from breathing well, a mass on the top of her lung that presses against her throat and keeps her from swallowing.  And just to be sure that there’s nothing to be done about all this, it’s in her lymph nodes as well.

Even if it weren’t wrapped around her vital organs, it’s not like we’d be trotting off to chemo or something.  She’s 90 (91 in December…so weird to think she may not make it that long), weighs under 80 lbs, and has been malnourished for years (she doesn’t like food. prefers to smoke).  She hates all things medical; she only went to the doctor now because she felt too sick to put up a fight when her daughters made the appointment and drove her to it. According to the professionals, she’s got three months.

Three. Months.  I think I subconsciously expected this to be a movie-esque turning point.  An about-face, possibly depicted in an inspirational montage.

Doesn’t look to be happening.

Cancer cannot bring my grandparents together in the last days of their marriage.  They’ve been married for 63 years, but she wouldn’t allow him to be present at the diagnosis…because she was afraid he’d say “I told you so.”  He wants to talk to her, but she’s avoiding him — slipping out side doors when she hears him coming, holing up in her room.  It’s tearing him up.

It cannot magically change the character of my family.  My aunt and her kids will still be self-absorbed and clueless, my other aunt will try to shield her young ones from any knowledge of what’s happening, and my mom will try to bring her parents together in defiance of the above paragraph.

It cannot create a relationship that wasn’t there before.  And for this, I truly grieve.  I read about Steph’s bond with her grannie, and I wish that I could claim that sort of closeness with my own grandmother.  As it is, we’ve just never spoken the same language, and the bond that wrenches my heart with the thought of loss is with my grandfather.

I figured she was going to go first.  She smokes, she drinks, her sense of nutrition is downright bizarre.  And yet, when the words “three months” came across the phone line, it’s like everything from my ear down just went numb.  Three months is the beginning of October, and reflexively, I found my arm stretching towards the calendar, pen in hand.  What am I going to do, pencil this in?  It made me think of the command given to the incoming tide: “This far, and no farther.”  I can’t fit this in — it hovers over everything else, combining metaphors into some sort of damoclesian sword / storm cloud / time bomb THING.

I’m not even sure I want to be posting this.  I don’t want people to tiptoe around me, waiting for me to burst into tears at any moment.  The TJ part of my INTJ personality is too practical for that — I can’t stop this, I can’t even really affect it that much, and so please don’t think I’m heartless if I seem to be focusing on What Must Be Done.  Because when it comes down to it, that’s all I can do.  We have to take care of the details before it’s too late, and I have to take care of my mom and my grandpa.  Wishing for what can’t be just isn’t in the schedule.



  1. freundlyfolk said,

    July 8, 2008 at 11:23 am

    we do what we can, what we must, to get through each day. thank you for sharing this…

    i promise i will not tiptoe around you, nor will i offer tired, cliched hallmark-card lines like, “remember the good times.” but i am here if you want/need to talk, or if you want to do something completely different.


  2. krishyana said,

    July 8, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    *hugs* you are a do-er and i know it is a way of coping for many of us, i am prone to sudden bursts of emotion at first and then a sense of getting things done comes over me, i can relate 🙂 i’m not good with consoling, i’m terrible at knowing what to say, but i am always good for hugging and will be here if you need anything :).

  3. Nichole said,

    July 21, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    I’m really sorry, Ginny.

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