Spittin' In the Wind
Grandma's clichés got me through breast cancer treatment although I
gritted my teeth every time she spouted one.
Waiting for the initial diagnosis, she told me "waiting is the
hardest part" and "no news is good news." I wept with fear. "What if
I have cancer, Grandma? What if I die?" She hugged me and smoothed
my hair. "It's Hobson's choice, child. One man does everything right
and gets it; the next does everything wrong and doesn't. Let's just
wait and see what happens. Time will tell."
When no news became bad news, she switched to "behind every cloud is
a silver lining" and "count your blessings." I counted the blessing
of no more pregnancies, expected or otherwise. Grandma hugged me and
said, "Child, it's a hard row to hoe but look on the bright side. A
bird in the hand's worth two in the bush." I enjoyed my birds. When
a large portion of my breast was removed, Grandma winked and
said, "a half-pint's better than no pint at all."
We spent a lot of time on our knees during my years of cancer
treatment. When I was weak as a kitten from a series of
debilitating cancer treatments, she said, "It's always darkest
before the dawn" and "this too shall pass." Too exhausted to even
stand in the shower to wash up, Grandma recommended to "give it a
lick and a promise. It'll keep." My hair fell out – Grandma said it
went "hand over fist." When I saw myself in the mirror for the first
time, "bald as a cue ball," I cried. Grandma told me "beauty is only
skin deep" and "all cats are gray in the dark." Then she
added "life's not so bad when you consider the alternative." How
could I disagree?
When my hair grew back in, kinky and unmanageable, Grandma wisely
said, "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know."
When the cancer spread to my lungs and I wanted to give up, Grandma
urged me to "tough it out" and bet me "dollars to doughnuts" the
doctor was wrong. "To put it in a nutshell, I have faith."
A woman in my support group traveled abroad, desperately seeking
unconventional cancer treatment. She offered to pay for my ticket
and urged me to accompany her. I asked Grandma what she
thought. "You might get left in the lurch. You don't know what'll
happen and you'll be far from home. Grandma said, "Don't try and
shoe a goose, girl. Those quack treatments are leaves without
figs. Your doctor's worth his salt, warts and all. Your friend's
looking for a needle in a haystack. You stick to your guns."
I wondered if a trip to the tropics might lift my spirit. Maybe I
could go along and not take the treatment. Grandma read me the riot
act. "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Honey, going along
on that wild goose chase, wasting your energy – why, there's no
rhyme or reason to it. Your friend's at sixes and sevens. Someone's
convinced her they found the Holy Grail. Lord love her, she's
tilting at windmills. I'm afraid she's done crossed the Rubicon, and
now she's running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I'll
not have you dragged pillar to post to suit her fancy. You stand pat
and stick with your treatment. Thank her and tell her no, thank
you." I thanked her for her kind offer, and stayed at home.
The woman passed away shortly after her tropical odyssey and Grandma
said, "Poor thing was only thirty-five and looking down the barrel
of a gun. She got pipped at the post. Well, time and tide wait for
no man. That woman's cancer grew like topsy, bless her heart. You're
different, I swan. Your treatment's up to snuff; I can feel it in my
bones, girl." Later on I realized my grandmother had invested as
much energy talking me out of that trip as she had the remainder of
the five years of my treatment.
My doctor ordered tests to gauge the effectiveness of my treatment.
Grandma and I sat on tenterhooks, waiting for test results. "There's
a light at the end of the tunnel, girl," she said.
"But what if it's a train, Grandma?"
"Don't worry about the horse bein' blind, child," she said. "Just
keep loading the wagon." We spent more time on our knees. I said my
daily affirmations. Friends brought meals, and my treatments
continued. Grandma pulled out all stops, praying constantly for my
recovery. "Give it the whole nine yards. Keep your back to the wall,
girl," Grandma advised. "By hook or by crook, we're going to beat
Finally, the test results showed the cancer had
disappeared. "Between you, me, and the gatepost," Grandma
said, "That was too close for comfort. Sure got nip and tuck at
times. Praise God and pass the chocolate cake." Everyone around me
celebrated. "Ain't this just the life of Reilly?" Grandma
teased. "Now you're footloose and fancy-free." I laughed. I still
had four children to raise. I was relieved but the specter of cancer
still loomed just around the corner. "You do your dead level best.
Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Eat good food, take
your treatments, bend those knees every night. You won't kick the
bucket any time soon, I promise."
Grandma left us a month later. Her last words were "nail your colors
to the mast, Child, and never give up."
Now I tell my children, "Never underestimate the power of a woman.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Don't worry, be
happy. Today's the first day of the rest of your life. Live it with
gusto. Give it everything you've got – lock, stock and barrel." Then
I add, "Nail your colors to the mast, Child, and never give up."
Absence makes the heart grow fonder.~~GHC