My maternal grandmother was first diagnosed with breast cancer in early 1987. After a mastectomy of one of her breasts, removal of several lymph nodes, and radiation treatment, she went into remission for 8 years. She took tamoxifen to keep the cancer away. She was advised to discontinue the tamoxifen because the drug itself can cause cancerous tumors with long-term usage. Shortly after going off of the tamoxifen, her breast cancer came out of remission. I do not know if it was a result of going off the drug or if it would have happened whether she was on it or not.
When the cancer returned, it returned with a vengeance and it had metastasized to her bones. I did not realize until this time that you can have breast cancer in your bones and it is still considered breast cancer not bone cancer. She was having problems with her back and the orthopedic surgeon actually found the cancer in an X-Ray. This time the treatment was far more aggressive with chemotherapy. She fought valiantly. The cancer continued to torment her body and spread to her brain and her lungs. It was a long battle and finally after 2 years of fighting she decided it was time to stop. She was in hospice care at my parents’ house when she died, 9 years ago on October 25.
My grandmother did a lot of things very well.
She had to drop out of high school to help take care of her siblings and her family when her father died. She was always embarrassed that she did not graduate from high school. So, when I was in elementary school, she got her GED. She was so proud of that accomplishment and we were proud of her.
She played the piano at her church, which is where she first met my grandfather. She and my grandfather built the house that they lived in together for over 40 years.
She was a wonderful seamstress and made so many of my dresses growing up. After her mastectomy, her arm and incision site hurt and she did not sew like she previously had. My senior year in high school I decided to take up sewing so I could learn this skill in which she was an expert. She helped me learn to sew. I am glad I have this skill not only because it is useful to know but mainly because it connects me to my grandmother.
Oh, and she could cook homemade country meals like no other! Of course, that is what all grandmothers do well, don’t they? She made THE BEST fried chicken, fried okra, creamed corn, and biscuits. When I was in college, I realized that she would not always be around and I made a point of staying at her house one weekend to learn how to cook her chicken and biscuits. I must say one weekend does not produce an expert biscuit maker but over the years I have learned to make them as well as she did. Every time I make them I cannot help but think of her. Last week in all of my batch cooking I made several portions of biscuit dough to freeze and eat throughout the coming months. YUM!
She loved us, her child – my mom, and her 4 grandchildren and we loved her. I hope one day I get to be a grandmother and pass down the biscuit making tradition to my own grandchildren and to love them the way she loved us.
In memory of my grandmother and in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I urge you to do your monthly self-exams and get your mammogram as directed by your physician. Since my grandmother caught her breast cancer through a self exam, she was able to have 9 more years with her family. During those years she watched 3 of her 4 grandchildren graduate from high school, 1 of her grandchildren (me) graduate from college and get married, she had 4 more years with her husband before he died, she moved into an adorable cottage home that was just right for seniors, she got to ride an airplane (which she had never done), and she went out of the country on a cruise (both of which were things she had never done before). Hopefully, one day there will be a cure to all the cancers in the world. Until that time, do what you can to prevent cancer in your own family and to treat it as you can if you are faced with it.
This post is being entered in The Carnival of Family Life. It is my first time participating.