You never think it will touch your family, but it does. You never ask for sympathy, but you receive it. You never go back to being normal, but life goes on. You never know what will happen next, but neither do the doctors. You never ask for the fight, but you battle, and you battle until there is no more fight left in you. Three years ago, three words changed my life forever: Grandma has cancer. But three other words helped me through it: For The Kids.
The pain of watching her go from a normal grandma to a tired, suffering, but fighting one was a pain unlike any other. There are no words to describe the emotions you experience when you get the phone call. I remember every detail from that day: where I was, what I was wearing, what I was doing, the look on my mom’s face. Suddenly your family is flooded with empathy and support, as meals, phone calls, and text messages become a daily thing. What no one ever makes a daily thing is talking about coming to terms with the idea that the battle may come to an end at any time whether it is fair or not. The one thing that gave me solace was knowing that she didn’t fight her battle alone because we were right by her side every step of the way.
I visited her nearly every day during her treatments. Usually when I arrived, I sat in my car for a few minutes to collect myself and get all my tears out because the last thing I wanted was for my grandma to see me in pain; she didn’t need that and neither did my family. To me, every visit was a constant reminder that there may not be a tomorrow. I never admitted it then, but I do now: part of me was always ashamed for having to sit in my car and collect myself, for having to put on a face in front of my family. How dare I cry? I’m not even the one that actually has cancer. Am I even allowed to cry?
Life soon became far from normal. At only seventeen, my brother and I stepped up to take care of our sister while our parents were at the hospital. We took turns making dinner, doing laundry, parent things, all while balancing school, a job, and sports. The craziest thing? Putting on a brave face to go into the hospital and putting on a “normal” face to go back out. Many times, I went right to work after the hospital, and was so good at hiding the fact that I was hurting. Hiding the fact that I could have just shared my last milkshake with my grandma. Hiding the fact that all I could remember was all these tubes and machines hooked up to her as if it was normal. Hiding the fact that cancer sucks. Having to focus at practice and perform to my best ability with heavy thoughts on my mind, not knowing what was happening while I was away from her bedside.
Slowly, our visits started to change. Dropping by all the time, unexpectedly, turned into having to call her first to see if she was awake and up to visitors. There were more bad days than good days, and then one day there was a last day. Just like the first phone call, I’ll always remember the last phone call. Frantically rushing to get dressed in the middle of the night, my last words to her, our last hug, and calling my boss at two am after she passed because my “normal” life was paused once again. While my family was gathered around her room, I wandered off outside to get some fresh air to try and process what just happened. I was just starting sophomore year of college and was so excited to tell her all about the great work I would be doing with the DanceBlue programming committee once again, and all about the great things I would be planning for my little adopt-a-family boy. Angry and upset was an understatement, but then I remembered the promise I made to myself when we received that first phone call: I would become an advocate, one who made sure no one had to fight their battle alone, because no one should have to fight alone.
The morning after losing a loved one is always weird. Tired from not getting much sleep but temporarily forgetting the reality of what just happened in those few hours of sleep you did get. Waking up to it all over again and waking up to your phone being blown up with messages of support and love. Most of all, you start to reminisce and reflect, but in a sappy way, dare I say beautiful. I woke up that next morning with the biggest heartbreak that was unlike any other, but reflected on what DanceBlue meant to me: it just meant even more now. Planning the marathon just meant more. Visiting our boy in the clinic just meant more. Grandma would be so proud. Suddenly, I found happiness in a time of grieving. I found my passion: seeing kids with cancer forget about their diagnosis and just be kids for once, even if it was only for a few hours; seeing my promise to myself come true. Just like I made Grandma forget about her diagnosis and smile through our visits. The love within the DanceBlue organization is so selfless, and I am truly blessed to be a part of it. Now a Junior here at UK getting ready to apply to Physical Therapy school next year, I can say that DanceBlue changed my life for the first time freshman year as a dancer, and now for good, as I want to go into pediatrics and specialize in Oncology. Hopefully one day, I can open my own physical therapy clinic made specially for kids with cancer. Normalize talking about the hardships of an emotionally challenging and physically draining disease. Most of all, advocate for those who are fighting; Advocate For The Kids, and don’t ever stop.