August 28, 2019 marks the 10-year anniversary of my grandmother's passing from stage IV colon cancer. She was so incredibly special to me -- so much so that I still struggle with the reality that her life ended so abruptly and so unfairly. She was 76 at the time of her death, but was healthy, independent and full of life. Some days, it feels like she just died. Other days, it feels like she has been gone for a lifetime.
My three sisters and I were her whole world. Her "sugar babes" as she liked to call us. I would give anything to hear her call me "sugar babe" just one more time. Just once. She spoiled us and loved us endlessly.
My grandmother was the definition of hard work. She grew up on a working tobacco farm outside of New Orleans as part of a large Cajun family. She didn't speak a word of English when she started elementary school and shortly after graduating high school, she moved to Washington DC to work as a secretary. It was there that she met my grandfather, got married and had my Mom. She continued to work her entire adult life, retiring from NIH after a very long career.
In retirement, she and my grandfather moved to North Carolina to be closer to my sisters and me. She was an extremely accomplished quilter and spent many of her hours recovering from chemo treatments working on a quilt she later gifted to me and my husband. She also took up custom framing and upholstery. She walked miles and miles a day for exercise and cut her own lawn. She liked to be busy and productive.
She loved food and was known for putting together totally over the top spreads for family meals -- she would make everyone's favorites, even if it was five times more food than what the headcount called for. She loved to sit down at the table as we started a meal and yell out "Too much food!!!!" mimicking a snarky comment my Mom made years earlier in response to the amount of food my grandmother had prepared. That joke never got old. It made her laugh every time. But, her favorite food was ice cream. She absolutely loved ice cream and it was always her number one treat.
My grandmother was a deeply devoted Catholic. I don't think she ever missed Sunday mass or a Holy Day.
She beat colon cancer once, but it came back aggressively a few years later and she died just 59 days after her recurrence. Her death brought me a lot of sadness. Deep, deep sadness. Fast forward seven years and I found myself with a job opportunity at the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. I never imagined I would have the chance to devote my professional work to ending the disease that took the life of someone so important to me. Some days, the reminders of her struggle and what she endured feel like too much, especially when I witness the same pain, grief, anger and sadness my family and I experienced in those I meet (and get close to) through my job as Chief Development Officer. But as hard as those frequent reminders are, I feel bolstered by the impact we are having on this dreadful disease.
Last year alone, the Alliance navigated 323,000 patients on their journey, we funded $1.2 million in colorectal cancer specific research and we provided life-saving screenings for hundreds of people who would not have been screened otherwise.
It has not always been easy, but I am proud that I have been able to pivot from such pain to such great purpose. And I know my grandmother is exceptionally proud of me.
Thanks so much for making a donation in her memory and advancing our work to end colorectal cancer in our lifetime.