February 4 marks the annual World Cancer Day. It's a day that I count my blessings, call my grandparents and parents, and feel grateful to be born into a family of warriors. My great-grandmother survived three different cancers back in the 80's - ovarian, breast, and colon - and passed away peacefully in her sleep at the age of 93, a few weeks after attending her naturalization ceremony. Her son, my dear old grandpa, has been battling Stage 4 colon cancer for about 5 years now.
In today's post, please allow me to share my OG's story with you. My OG (Original Grandpa), before his diagnosis, was a proudly active, loudly affectionate, boisterously opinionated, and surprisingly healthy small-time apple farmer, rose garden curator, world traveler, photographer, husband, father, and grandfather who still had all of his teeth at age 80. He had gone to a doctor's appointment for a routine colonoscopy one year and a few polyps were found. The doctor said NBD and told him to return in 3 years for another colonoscopy.
3 years later, my grandpa's colonoscopy was followed by a biopsy that concluded stage 4 colon cancer. We were all pretty shocked. My grandpa underwent a colectomy and the removal of a few neighboring lymph nodes and then many rounds of oral chemotherapy. He took the medication dutifully and crankily complained about his raw skin, all the while joking about not losing hair since he was already bald and giggling about the loss of his old man belly. I was away at college during this time, and it was pretty shocking each time to come home and see my OG becoming weaker, sleeping more, and losing weight. After 2 years on chemo, his cancer was declared to be in remission, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
About two years after that, his cancer came back, and this time, it had metastasized to multiple parts of his body. So my dear OG went back on chemo. However, he didn't seem to understand that his cancer had metastasized and that the doctor was trying to find a good dosage of chemo pills that would help him prolong his life but also keep him as comfortable as possible. I would call him, and he would get excited after each doctor's visit when his cancer index (I'm guessing this was the Peritoneal Cancer Index) showed a better prognosis and his doctor would lower his dosage. He repeated a few times that he would be able to stop taking the chemo pills soon and get back to traveling.
I talked to my parents and realized that nobody was really telling my grandpa the truth - that he was going to have to take the chemo pills for the rest of his life. My family felt that giving my grandpa limited information would protect him and his will to survive, but I respectfully debated that keeping him informed would put him back in control of his life and decrease his chances of slipping into depression. It took a few talks with my OG for the information to sink in, and it was heartbreaking to see the shock on his face. However, it was incredible to see his determination in getting back to his beloved occupation - traveling. He had his eyes on that plane ticket, and this last year, he finally got on a plane to China with my grandma. He came back with a boatload of pictures to show us and a ton of stories. My OG became an updated version of the old him (still loud, affectionate, and opinionated), with more traveling stories, more beautiful photos, and more stamps on his stamped-out passport. I am so proud of him, his will to survive, and his drive to continue living as happy and fulfilling a life as possible.
For World Cancer Day 2016, let's not only remind each other and our loved ones to get checked for cancer, but also help those who are living with it find a life that is still meaningful and fulfilling for them. Spend some time with your loved ones and ask them what activities they most enjoy or used to enjoy. Brainstorm some ideas together that can help them participate in their activity. My OG wasn't able to travel when he was on aggressive chemo, but we were able to look through his meticulously put together photo albums with him. Hope can make a huge difference in terms of prognosis, and it doesn't have to be this grand idea of survival - it can just be helping each other find a single activity to look forward to.
As always, thank you for reading. <3