8 Lessons I've Learned About Love While Supporting My Grandmother Through Breast Cancer


“Your grandma is headed to the ER. The doctor called and told her she needs emergency spine surgery,” my mom told me.

The next day, my grandma had fast-growing masses removed from her spine, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time. In addition, a rod was surgically added to her back as the cancer cells had been eating her spine — and once the masses were out, she would need that extra support. Once her surgery was complete, her doctors told us that because of the location of the masses, had she come in a day or two later, she could have been paralyzed. Since her surgery, she’s been in and out of the hospital three times, and radiation was put on hold.

… And this all started a month ago.

Thinking about the last 31 days, I can’t help but think about my family’s current journey — both the moments of fear and the beautiful moments. As I think about these beautiful moments, I can’t help but see and feel love.

Here are eight lessons I’ve learned about love on our journey. While I already knew many of these things listed, they’ve been highlighted again and again throughout the last few weeks.

1. Love is patient.

There’s so much patience that comes with love. With my grandma’s illness and surgeries, love meant taking one day at a time, one moment at a time. It’s about rearranging furniture in the house so it’s easier for my grandma to get around. It’s about creating a schedule for family members to rotate during the nights she was in the hospital.

2. Love is kind.

So much kindness has been shown to my family since this journey began. People have gone to visit my grandmother at the hospital and at her home. They’ve made meal after meal and have even helped with some house duties when needed. We’ve even received messages from people around the world, just to let us know they were praying for my grandma and our family. Kindness hasn’t been shy.

3. Love is more than skin deep.

It may be cliché to say, but I believe beauty is ever-changing, as are our bodies. Love is loving your spouse when you meet them — and when weight is added after her child-rearing years. Love is loving your spouse when she ages and permanent creases are added from laughter to her once-smooth skin. Love is loving your spouse when cancer takes over and scars are added from life-saving surgeries and permanent reminders of time spent in radiation are tattooed onto her skin.

4. Love is laughter.

In the midst of the struggle, there have been many moments of laughter in the mix. My family members are naturals at finding the light in the darkness, laughter being one way. During my grandmother’s six-hour surgery, I may have offered to teach my 75-year-old grandpa to “whip” and “nae nae” in the waiting room… And he may have accepted the offer.

5. Love is thinking of others.

The day after my grandma’s major spine surgery, she was on a ton of medications, and she was on a mission: to find me a husband. The poor men who entered the room had no chance. As they walked into her room, she would say, “My granddaughter, Crystal, was on the front page of the Fresno Bee yesterday. Are you married? She’s looking for a husband.” (Teamwork makes the dream work? Ha!)

6. Love is creative.

A few weeks after my grandma’s surgery, many of my family members left town. She seemed to be in the clear and out of danger, and my grandparents insisted we go on our previously scheduled trips. One aunt went to a work event, the rest of us headed to my grandpa’s family reunion in Florida. Yet halfway into our drive to Florida (from California), my mother received a call. Grandma was put back into the hospital. We hated to not be home while she was hospitalized, but they insisted we continue on. It was important to them that we were at the reunion when they couldn’t be. And during the reunion? The most precious thing took place. All of my grandpa’s eight siblings sat together and brought them to the reunion via FaceTime. Everyone was crying by the end of the call, but hospital or not — grandma and grandpa were going to be at the reunion. (Mom and I also brought 36 pounds of frozen boiled peanuts home so they could also enjoy one of their favorite southern foods.)

7. Love can be scary.

Loving another human being can be terrifying — regardless if they’re a family member or friend. Loving them means you care about them, and when the hardships come? When cancer diagnoses are made and emergency surgeries are unexpectedly added to your calendar — it can be scary, and you can’t imagine life without those special people in your life.

8. Love is worth it.

As scary as loving another human can be, it is so worth it. Love means you’re never alone, that someone is there for you in both the good times and the bad. Love means you have others on your team, rooting for you through all the moments that come your way. It means having a grandma who wants you to find a loving spouse when you’re single, because she wants you to experience the kind of love and joy she’s had for nearly 57 years of her life. It’s having people you can call or text at midnight when you are on the brink of tears, knowing they’re there for you regardless. Loving other people can create memories, happiness, and an extra special adventure. Love is scary… But it is so worth it, and life would be lonely without it.

Image via Thinkstock.

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