FTIAT: The Strongest Woman I Know
Lisa (Insignificant at Best) is much more significant to many than her blog’s title suggests. A mom, a tireless worker, and an aspiring writer, she wears many proverbial hats but has ample energy left over for her blog’s readers–and for giveaways, of which she is quite the maestra! All of this aside, she’ll ever hold a special place in my heart for being the first person to interview me as an author.
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The Strongest Woman I Know
My grandmother, whom I’ve always called Gran, is one of my heroes. All of five feet and maybe 90 pounds soaking wet, she is the matriarch of our family and the strongest woman I know. When my grandmother says something, you don’t argue, you do it; the whole family knows that.
When my parents divorced, my mom and I moved in with my grandparents and Gran became a second mom to me. When my mom was at work or on the rare occasion she went on a date (she normally left that for when I was with my dad), my Gran was there to watch over me. Sadly, I didn’t appreciate it at the time because we are both stubborn and would often fight. However, I look back now and cherish the memories I made while living with her and my grandfather.
I can still clearly remember the day I found out this woman I love and cherish so much had lung cancer. I was about four months pregnant and standing in front of the dryer in the laundry room when my mom broke the news. She told me not to panic, but try and tell a hormonal woman that. I remember hunching over the dryer silently crying after I hung up the phone. All I could think of was that my Papa (what I called my late grandfather) was already gone and wouldn’t get to know my unborn child and now possibly my Gran, too. It seemed so unfair that my baby wouldn’t be able to get to know two of the most important people in my life. I cried for a while after that phone call, but once I was done I pulled myself together and tried to be strong for Gran.
About a month or so later, she was admitted into the hospital so they could try removing the tumor. I will never, ever forget sitting there with my mom, my aunts and my uncles and hearing the doctor tell us that he didn’t think the surgery would be a success. (I still get teary eyed when I think about it.) He told us that from the looks of the scans, the tumor was in a spot that would be very hard to reach. He said that he might be able to remove some of the tumor, but doubted he’d be able to get all of it. The sadness in his voice was apparent and it broke my heart.
We were told we could go and see her once last time before she went into surgery.
I don’t know how I managed it, but I walked into pre-op and told my Gran good luck and that I loved her. I held it together, but just barely. I wasn’t even able to stick around until everyone wished her luck. I waddled as fast as I could out of post-op, through the waiting room and outside door. The moment I knew I was alone I broke; it literally felt as if my heart was going to break into a million pieces.
Finally I managed to collect myself and went to the one place I knew I’d find comfort; the hospital chapel. I sat there, eventually joined by my great uncle (Gran’s brother), for about two hours. I stayed until the baby would let me no longer; it (I didn’t know the sex at that point) was hungry and I needed to eat.
My aunt and I went and grabbed something in the cafeteria and the returned to the waiting room to see if there was any news. It wasn’t long before the nurse at the waiting room desk called out for my grandmother’s family; you could hear the panic in our voices as we told her that was us. She quickly explained there was no need to worry, but that one of the nurses in my grandmother’s operating room had called down at her doctor’s request. He had wanted to let us know that despite is worries he was able to get the entire tumor.
The surgery was a success.
The doctor was just putting her tube in and closing her up and he’d be down to talk to us. He just hadn’t wanted us to wait any longer to hear the good news. Can I just say, best doctor ever? I’ve never heard of a surgeon having someone call down to the waiting room like that and when we finally got to talk to him in person we couldn’t thank him enough for it.
It turns out that while the surgery was a huge success, my grandmother did have to have a third of her right lung removed. He told us this meant she would probably have to be on oxygen for the rest of her life and that she would have to go through chemo to make sure that she was completely cancer free. To us, though this news was nothing; she was likely going to make it and that’s all that mattered.
Little did we know that some of the worst was yet to come.
That afternoon we saw Gran and she looked great and even said she felt pretty good. I left the hospital with a promise to see her as soon as she was released (she made me promise not to come back because she didn’t want me pregnant and around all the hospital germs…gotta love her). I was emotionally exhausted, but elated; all in all the day went perfectly.
She got out of the hospital a few days later and that’s when things took a turn for the worse. My mom had offered to stay with her for the first week or so, after recovery, because nobody wanted Gran to be alone. When I wasn’t visiting I was calling to check up on Gran and each report started to worry me more and more.
My grandmother doesn’t like water, she’s always been a diet pop or crystal light drinker. Unfortunately, part of her recovery was to drink so much water a day and this was not going well. My mom could hardly get her to drink one glass, let alone the two quarts she was supposed to be drinking. It’s not like she was drinking other things, either. She just wouldn’t drink.
Then came food. She was periodically throwing up and said everything tasted funny so she’s barely eat all day. Gran started to rapidly lose weight right before our eyes. Not to mention she was maybe getting 1 to 3 hours of sleep a day. In fact it got so bad, about 4 or 5 days after returning home she was back in the hospital; where they kept her for a day or two and then sent her back home.
This is when things got their worst.
My grandmother was now home and back to her non-water drinking and eating ways. Not to mention she had started to say things that were very much unlike the woman we know and love. My mom was a wreck and so were the rest of us. In fact it got so bad that my grandmother said some very hurtful things to my mom and kicked her out, for no reason. Devastated, my mom packed up and went back home.
Nobody was comfortable with her being alone, but we had no choice. I still remember the day we had called to check up on her and got no response. I called my mom to see how Gran was doing since she didn’t answer my two phone calls and she informed me that Gran hadn’t answered her calls either. Since it was about three in the afternoon and we hadn’t been able to get a hold of her all day we started to panic. Since I lived closest my mom asked me to go over there and check up on her and I agreed. I called a few more times as I was heading over there and still no response. I don’t even want to tell you the thoughts that were running through my head.
When I arrived, I called out to her and got no response. I climbed the stairs (her condo has a first floor foyer and the rest of it is on the second floor) and made my way through each room until I found her in her bedroom. I crept up to the bed quietly and made sure she was breathing; to my relief, she was. I started to walk out and her head popped up. She questioned what I was doing and I just explained that we hadn’t been able to get a hold of her and we were worried. She told me she had been sleeping and that was it. I honestly thought she was going to yell at me for being there, but thankfully she didn’t. I apologized for interrupting her and let myself out.
I remember sitting in my car wondering when something was going to give. Did we over react by my coming here? Maybe. However, Gran was acting weirder and weirder by the day and she still wasn’t eating or drinking. Her weight had dropped into the 70’s; she was wasting away to nothing. Christmas was drawing very close at this point and I remember thinking all I wanted was for her to get better.
About a week later, give or take a day, I got a phone call from my mom telling me that Gran was back in the hospital. We were all concerned and hoping the doctors could figure out a way to help her; but as it turns out she helped herself. I got a call from my mom a day or two after Gran had been then admitted, telling me they figured out what the problem was. As it turned out “they” meant Gran. Turns out my grandmother started paying attention to when she was throwing up (this never stopped from the first time she came home from the hospital). Because of some other medication they had given her the previous night they had refrained from giving her another that she had been taking since the surgery. That evening she had no problems and even ate something. The next morning they gave her that medication and within a few hours she was getting sick. She explained her theory to the nurse and then her doctor, but neither wanted to believe it at first; likely because they were too stupid to figure it out on their own (to clarify this doctor was not the same awesome surgeon from earlier in the story). Being the spitfire she is, my grandmother fought to make them listen and got her medicine changed.
Once the problem was identified, my aunt, who is a nurse, looked up the troublesome medication Gran had been on. It turns out throwing up was just one of a few symptoms she was having. She was always complaining of a metallic taste in her mouth, which was caused by the pill. Not to mention this medication was known for causing strange/aggressive/uncharacteristic behavior in some people. With the change of her pill, all of this quickly went away. To this day we don’t even know if my grandmother remembers what she said or how she treated us (why upset her over something that wasn’t in her control?).
A day after her medication was changed my grandmother came home … for good. It was a slow and steady road to recovery after that. Her disposition went back to normal, she started drinking more, and eating more too. Sadly, she wasn’t up for spending Christmas with the family that year, but that was a sacrifice all of us were more than willing to make. We were just so glad she was going to be okay!
It’s been five years now since Gran’s surgery and about four since she was officially declared “cancer free”. Despite the fact that they told us she would likely have to use oxygen, she hasn’t needed it for even one day. She has never been able to gain all of her weight back, but hovers around the high 80’s (way better than low 70’s) and tends to get sick easier than she used to (to be expected when you’re older and missing part of your lung). However, she is still as feisty and vibrant as ever!
My daughter will be five this March and Gran has become a big part of her life. Every Thursday my mom picks up the kid (she works a 4 day work week and this is her day off) and heads over to Gran’s, where they spend the day. Not to mention the kid has spent many a weekday with Gran when my mother-in-law can’t watch her and there are times she has spent the night with her too. I can’t even begin to tell you how much it means to me that Gran is a part of my child’s life. I cherish the fact I am blessed enough to watch my daughter and Gran form a bond. To say that Gran adores her great-grand child is an understatement. I thought my cousins and I were doted on and spoiled when we were kids…we’ve got nothing on my daughter. She’s got her Great-Gran wrapped around her tiny finger and her Great-Gran loves every minute of it! It truly is a joy to see.
My grandmother once told me that before she went into surgery she had made peace with dying. I asked her why and she told me that she honestly thought she was going to make it through. She said she was surprised to wake up and find out that she was going to be okay. Well, she might have been surprised, but I’m not. My Gran is one probably the strongest and bravest woman I know. There was no way she was going down without a knock down drag out fight and a knock down drag out fight she had.
Gran 1. Lung Cancer 0.
This post was written in honor of my Gran, whom I love like a second mother. She is my hero and a true inspiration to me and my family. I love you, Gran.
Special thanks to the wonderful Deb for letting me tell her story. It felt good to finally get it all down on paper.
Also, thanks to all of you who stuck with this super long post and read the entire thing! I appreciate it!