Dr. Cosby Ronnenberg
Essay 1: Personal Narrative
September 10, 2018
The ‘C’ Word
As a young child, I always knew what the ‘C’ word was, but I never knew that it would ever affect the ones that I love. I was first exposed to this word around age ten when my mom’s dad had a terrible diagnosis that only had two options for cures: radiation or surgery. At this age, I didn’t really know any specifics of the disease, I just had a disheartening feeling about it. It wasn’t until twelve days before my sixteenth birthday, that the ‘C’ word became a hard-hitting word in my family – a word that many are never prepared to hear.
In my high school biology class, we briefly talked about this topic, discussing that the cells in the body suddenly have a mind of their own, reproducing at an alarmingly fast rate without the body’s permission, from a faulty gene in the body. Maybe I possessed a certain degree of naiveté that drove me to feel that I was untouchable, that this illness would not have the capacity to touch my family or me. Then, January of 2016, my grandfather called my dad on a Friday night and said the most harrowing word we had ever heard from him: cancer. More specifically a type of cancer better known as leukemia. Because I only knew very little information on this terrible illness, I was torn between wanting to know more because I wanted to be educated, and not wanting to, because I wasn’t sure if I could handle the truth.
I never knew how my grandfather found the courage and strength to deliver the devastating news so nonchalantly. My knees shake at the sight of blood and I do not have a high pain tolerance; yet at that moment, no measure of heartbreak or physical pain could compare to what I felt upon discovering that my grandfather was battling leukemia. Everyone in my family took this news very hard; however, when I learned of this news, I shut myself off from the world. I refused to talk about the illness that was taking away my grandfather’s life. I thought that maybe if I didn’t recognize the disease, that it would not exist. However, I realized that is not how it worked unfortunately.
After what seemed like the longest weekend ever after hearing such terrible news regarding my grandfather, I was more quiet than usual when I returned to school on Monday. Throughout the day I had memories of my grandfather and I appearing in my head, knowing that soon it would no longer be like that anymore. I remember going to the library during my study hall that day and just thinking to myself how everything would be different in my life without my grandfather. I just couldn’t help but to think that I soon would no longer be able to listen to my grandfather share his stories about his time in the Navy, or any other story from his lifetime. No more visiting him at his house in McFarland on Lake Waubesa, which I knew as “Crocodile Lake” since a young age because he’d always tease me by saying that there were crocodiles in it. I realized that we would no longer be going on boat rides or fishing together anymore. I knew that soon I would only carry his memory with me and the impact that he made on my life.
To this day, I still remember going fishing with him for the first time when I was about six years old. He had bought me a little pink Barbie girl fishing pole for my birthday that year, and I just thought that it was the coolest thing in the world and could not wait to test it out. My grandfather carried his tackle box and fishing pole out to the pier and set the open container of worms on the bench. Since I was a little girl, my grandfather didn’t trust me to put the worm on the hook myself, so he did it for me. While watching the worm trying to squirm out of my grandfather’s fingers, I remember saying, “Gross grandpa!” as any “girly girl” would do. My grandfather encouraged me to try casting my fishing line out by myself, but it didn’t end up very well, considering my fishing line ended up in the top of a nearby pine tree. I could tell that my grandfather was kind of frustrated with me, but he let it go, knowing that it was first time fishing by myself. My grandpa ended up cutting my fishing line and putting a new hook and worm on it, and this time helped me cast out.
I remember anxiously waiting for a fish to bite the worm, knowing that I would feel a “tug” on the fishing rod if a fish started biting. A few minutes went by and I started reeling in when suddenly, I felt a “tug” – or at least what I thought was. Excitedly I remember yelling, “Grandpa! Grandpa! I caught something! I caught a fish!!” As I continued to reel in my fishing line, it seemed to keep getting heavier…and heaver…and heavier until I reeled it up out of the water. I remember looking confused at what I had just caught but with a huge smile on my face I looked over at my grandpa and said, “What is it? What is it?” My grandfather, being the goofy man that he is, said, “It’s a seaweed monster, silly,” as I looked at the big glob of green slimy seaweed I had just caught. My “big catch” wasn’t quite what I wanted to catch, but I thought to myself, “Maybe next time.”
The first time it truly hit me that my grandfather was sick was when I went to visit him for the first time at UW-Madison. When we first entered through the doors of the hospital, I could instantly tell we were walking into a hospital because it smelled so clean. We checked into the front desk to find out what room my grandfather was in and the lady working the front desk directed us where to go. When we got to my grandfather’s room, I noticed that the door was brown and dull like all the others. There were a couple of nurses surrounding his hospital bed checking his IV’s and heart monitors, so it was kind of crowded in his room. Rather than waiting outside of his room with my parents, my brother and I decided to go sit in the waiting room.
When I first entered the waiting room, I noticed a glass topped coffee table covered in magazines surrounded by comfortable chairs in complementary brown. The walls were a neutral tan and held several different paintings in the room, along with a TV. There was even a play corner to keep young children occupied. My brother and I sat down in the comfortable chairs and watched TV for what seemed like thirty minutes but was almost two hours. My mom came into the waiting room, and I could tell that she had been crying, because her eyes were still watery, and little did she know, her mascara was running down her cheeks. She came over to where my brother and I were sitting, and she sat on the arm of my chair and I watched as the words, “The doctors say it could only be hours,” rolled off her tongue and I instantly felt tears dripping down my cheeks. My first thought was, “Why my grandfather of all people? What has he done wrong to deserve this?” But the thing is, cancer chooses anyone regardless of their age, story, etc. After hugging my mom for a while, I decided that I should go to my grandpa’s room and talk to him.
As I walked into his room, I could tell just by looking at his ghost-white face that he had lost a lot of weight. I pulled up a chair next to the head of his bed and sat next to him for a while, just holding his hand, only praying for him to live longer than a few more hours like the doctors had told the rest of the family in the room.
We returned to the hospital the next morning around 8 a.m., and my grandpa was in a totally different mood than the night before, almost as if he were a totally different person. He was up and talking to all his company and having the best time of his life. He got up in his wheelchair and came out to the family room with the rest of us, where we sat and shared stories for hours. After sharing many memories with each other that day, my family and I went back home happy with how the day went and how much better my grandfather was doing.
However, it was only a few short days later that my grandpa was transferred to the VA Hospital under hospice care. My step-grandma called my dad one night and told him that my grandpa wasn’t doing very well and that we should come back down to visit as soon as we could. The next day after school, my parents, brother and I drove back down to Madison to visit my grandpa again and he was awake this time I was in his room, so I pulled up a chair next to him so that I could talk with him. I remember him grabbing my hand and giving me this huge smile, while asking me what my goals were for the future, because he knew that I was indecisive. Smiling back proudly, I told him that I wanted to be a nurse someday, one that was just like the nurses that he was seeing daily for treatments. I remember him giving my hand a tight squeeze and hearing him tell me that he knew I could achieve that goal, and any other goal I chose to set for myself, as long as I work hard for it. Before leaving that day, I gave him a big hug and he kissed me on the forehead; at that moment, I didn’t know that would be my last hug from him.
A few short days later, my dad got the call that my grandfather had passed away after his tough and short battle of leukemia on Tuesday, February 4, 2016. Little did we know, it was most likely that he developed chronic lymphocytic leukemia from his exposure to Agent Orange while in the service. When I first heard this news, I was very sad that my grandfather had passed knowing that things would no longer be the same, but I was also grateful knowing that he wasn’t suffering anymore.
My grandfather was always a very influential person in my life and it is because of him that I am chasing my dreams of becoming a nurse someday, in hopes of making him proud every step of the way. It is because of my grandpa that I realized that I should start donating blood to those who need it, and I am planning on starting to donate platelets, too. In the realm of possibility, anything can occur, but it is the perception that makes a difference and has any kind of effect. Cancer is a learning experience, and it taught me to appreciate life. It drove me to an understanding that this word we fear, cancer, or “the big C,” can be overcome by a significantly bigger “C”: courage.