Here’s to Appreciating Life and the Places You’ll Go, Despite Living With Cancer


A woman living with metastatic breast cancer describes how the death of a friend’s grandmother reminded her of her own grandmother’s passing and the lessons she learned about life from it that she applies in her cancer journey.

Just yesterday — as I write this — a friend’s grandma died. She lived to be 108 and it has been said the secret to her longevity was a thimbleful of brandy each day (Christian Brothers, to be precise).

Now 108 years is a very long time, more time than I can even imagine or hope for. Yet it doesn’t seem to matter how long someone has lived on this earth, it still hurts when they leave us. Even if they are sick or elderly and their quality of life is gone, it is painful to those left behind.

The grief that comes with knowing we will never hear their voice again, never hug them again or never be in their physical presence is one of the hardest parts of this life and the places we go. My friend’s grandma spent an incredible amount of time here on earth and my friend was able to spend a lot of that time with her. But letting go is still never easy.

Hearing the news of her death brought back a flood of memories of my own grandmother’s death and how she lived the last part of her life knowing she wouldn't be around much longer. My grandmother was diagnosed with and died from colon cancer in the 90s when I was in high school. She had started chemotherapy shortly after her diagnosis and ended up choosing to stop her treatment to let nature take its course.

When to stop treatment is a hard decision. When to stop holding on for family is even harder. My grandma was faced with that choice when the quality of her life was gone. The medical technology back in the 90s isn’t what it is today. I can remember her being so sick and weak from the chemo. Her body just couldn’t take anymore.

As sick as my grandma was, she still made sure she had a gift ready for me for my high school graduation. The gift was to be a surprise given to me by my great aunt, as sadly my grandma died a few months before I was to graduate. That graduation gift happened to be the book by Dr. Suess called “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Inside the front cover of the book, she had written the inscription, “Congratulations, Marissa,” and on the last page she added, “All my love goes with you, Grandma.”

To this day it continues to warm my heart that through her own illness she thought ahead and left the book for me. She also went through her jewelry, choosing specific pieces to be given to each daughter-in-law and granddaughter upon her death. Each piece of jewelry had a story that went along with it, whether it was a gift to her from my grandpa or something she picked up in her many travels.

Looking back, I realize she did these things out of love and on her terms. It was something special she could do for all of us while she was facing her own mortality as her cancer progressed and her time on earth was drawing to a close. Now when I wear her jewelry, I know I carry a piece of her love with me, and it means so much that she selected it for me.

As I reread “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” today, with the ups and downs of life as only Dr. Suess could write, there was my grandma’s handwritten note to once again remind me I still have places to go. And while I'm at it, I’ve decided I need to add some brandy to my daily routine, or at least a thimbleful once in a while.

L’chaim — or a toast “to life” in Hebrew. I think we’ve made both our grandmas proud.

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