What My Grandpa Never Had to Know About My Cancer

November 27, 2020
Marissa Holzer
Marissa Holzer

Marissa is a forty-something Flattie in sunny SoCal living with metastatic breast cancer, her boyfriend (and high school sweetheart) and her not so mini schnauzer, Heidi. She enjoys reading, stress baking and roller skating. She hopes to inspire others with her dry humor and zest for life.

My grandpa always lived life to the fullest, until the day he couldn't. And while he did, he didn't have to know about my cancer diagnosis.

I was in my late 30s when my last living grandparent moved to my hometown of Ventura from Los Angeles, California. I remember the day he moved into his one-bedroom apartment at the independent senior living facility and how he wanted only a twin bed. He said he didn’t want to share a bed with anyone ever again. I guess when you’re in your 90s you’ve been there, done that.

My grandma had passed from colon cancer about 20 years prior. In the time between my grandma’s death and my grandpa’s moving closer to family, he had a “girlfriend” or companion with whom he spent time regularly. They enjoyed each other’s company and were always out dancing or traveling. This companion of his ended up moving to an assisted living facility closer to her family due to her declining health, which left my grandpa alone again. Regardless, twin bed or not, he wasn’t alone for long. Soon after he left his home of 50-plus years he met another senior lady at the senior apartment, and quickly had a new companion.

It was heartwarming to see him settling in and happy once more. Although he was always a happy person, at least from my perspective. He was a sharp dresser, had a car and a pension and was often whistling a happy tune. He smelled good too, which apparently is a very important quality when it comes to the single senior population. The ladies loved him, yet there was definitely an adjustment period going from his familiar home to an apartment lifestyle with other seniors. During the year that he lived close to me, I would visit regularly, and I tried to bring him home-baked cookies and treats as frequently as I could. We shared something special that year. We even had an occasion to go out to dinner with both his lady companions together.

How many men in their 90s are fortunate enough to have two dinner dates at the same time? That was my grandpa.

He was nearing his 95th birthday when he had a stroke. He never quite came out of it. My visits were now to the hospital or the long-term care facility. During this time, I knew I had a lump in my breast, but I was only 38. I hoped it would just go away on its own. It didn’t, and then one day in March my arm swelled up. I went to urgent care and was sent to the ER to have an ultrasound to make sure I didn’t have a blood clot. The urgent care also set up an appointment for a mammogram the following day, which I never ended up having.

At the ER later that day the ultrasound confirmed I did indeed have a DVT blood clot. I was admitted that night to the hospital. I knew in my heart I had breast cancer without ever being diagnosed. It was something I knew for a while but was in denial. This couldn’t be happening to me.

I spent five days in the hospital, at that very same time my grandpa was admitted to the other hospital in town. He wasn’t doing well from his stroke. I remember feeling so helpless from my own hospital bed. There was nothing I could do. My grandpa was dying less than a mile from where I was facing my own health crisis. I learned I had stage 4 breast cancer and started chemo the same week my grandpa died. I can honestly say that was one of the worst weeks of my life. As sad as I was about his passing though, I am forever grateful that he never knew about my cancer diagnosis.

I still think of him often and remember his smile. He always had something funny to say and truly enjoyed living, twin bed and all. I treasure those special memories we made during that last year of his life. I know he’s watching over me along with my grandma and all his lady friends, cheering me on from afar. It was only when his body stopped that he slowed down. His spirit keeps me moving forward with a smile always, just as he always happily kept going.

Lesson learned from Grandpa: Stay active and happy for as long as possible.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.