Cancer Essay

October 20, 2007

During the summer of 2003, I plunged into a two week nightmare. I felt robbed of my dreams and my hopes for sharing another year with my grandfather, or at least to utter the words of goodbye. On July 28th, 2003 my grandfather, Pantaleon Cabiao, passed away just a day after his birthday, from Prostate Cancer. The story I will share with you will be written in the best way that I can, although no one will ever understand how powerful my grandfather was in my life or how sorrowful this journey has been without him in my life.
I was given only two weeks to encapsulate the entire notion of the first person in my family to have cancer. My family has always been intimate. The word cancer was foreign to our vocabulary. I only saw glimpses of what it was in the news and in my health textbook. In some way, I thought I was immune to getting cancer, for my family to develop cancer, or to even see the first person in my immediate family die from it.
Death was also a term I was very unfamiliar with. At only fourteen years of age, I had only experienced the death of animals I raised. I have never been to a funeral. In my mind I internalized my grandparents would never leave me. I knew they were getting older as years passed. However, I would have never imagined to have death come pull my grandfather away from me so soon.
My grandfather has been my best friend. He taught me how to hold a pencil and to write my name. He taught me how to be a leader, emphasizing our ancestor lineage of warriors. He taught me how to be a man and for that I will always be thankful.
In 1999, my grandparents retired and they moved to Moses Lake. My grandfather was a very muscular individual. He exercised daily while he tended the family farm. He ate organically grown vegetables from his crops and in 2003, was only seventy-two years old.
Almost every other weekend of the month, my family would drive three and a half hours from Seattle to Moses Lake to see him. I could remember his smile, as it gleamed with one missing tooth, as we pulled up on the Ranch driveway every other Friday evening. He was strong, intelligent, comical and loved discussing politics. He was the best grandfather figure I could ask for.
In the first week of June, we were awakened with a call with my grandmother’s worried tone. My grandfather had suddenly fell from his bed while getting up to go to the bathroom, and was rushed to the hospital because he was paralyzed from the waist down. The entire family was shocked and confused because we all knew of his great health habits.
They performed emergency surgery that night to remove the tumor in his back. The next morning when we arrived, his doctor informed us he had cancer and it was terminal. They warned us he only had a few months to live and our hearts sank to the floor. My grandfather smiled as we walked towards him. He assured us this will all pass. He told us sternly to be strong and to pray because prayer is the strongest form of medicine. I continued to pray days on end.
The beginning of the school week, I could not focus on my academics. I was worried for my grandfather and just the thought of losing him caused me to be in denial. I rejected the thought of his passing and ignored the chatter going on at home. That week was the longest week of my life. I feared for his life. Soon, I started to ponder about my own life and how temporary our lives on this Earth really are. I started to rationalize maybe if he were to pass, I could go with him to ease my sorrow. I could not imagine losing him and I would not know what to do without him. Soon, many more thoughts clashed in my head as I worried about what would happen to the farm, how would my father react. I asked myself questions about why doctors could not have diagnosed it sooner. I hated my grandfather for not telling me. I could not eat or sleep for days.
At the end of the week, on Friday afternoon while my family was packing a second trip to see him, I wept furiously wondering how much worse everything could be. To ease my pain, I created a life size poster. I cut up many of my baby pictures with him and pictures of us throughout the years. I found a special picture with him next to me holding my pencil. I had my parents enlarge the photo and created it as the focal point of my art piece. Because I was a very expressive writer, I decided to dedicate a poem to him. I wrote it in large cursive letters on his poster. I packed it away to bring it with me to the hospital and was again excited to see him.
On Saturday morning when I arrived, my grandmother sat me down and explained over the week, his mental state had deteriorated. He was in and out of radiation therapy which was not successful. He no longer was able to recognize even her and she was worried on how I would react. My eyes started to swell with tears as I realized I missed my chance to say good-bye. I missed the final chance to tell him I loved him and how thankful I was for everything he had done. I have grown up so much as an established young man who excelled in school. Without his motivation, his guidance and inspiration – I would be lost. I had the urge to tear up my poster because it was useless. My grandmother held my arm tightly and explained that although he may not be talking correctly with his disillusioned state with the medication, she would advise me to sit on his side and recite my poem.
I walked into his dark hospital room as the room reeked of a distinctive medical smell. I held his cold hand and told him I was there for him. My grandfather’s face was emotionless. Difficultly, as I trembled at each word, I recited my poem as best I could. I could no longer deal with the pain, so I put my poster down and left the room. My family bid their farewells until Sunday night.
My mother, siblings and I drove back to Seattle on Sunday night. I was devastated he no longer remembered who I was or the fact that we could not spend his birthday with him. My father called and said they decided to rush him home to the Moses Lake ranch, which was almost two hours away from the Wenatchee hospital. As my grandmother, father and auntie rode in the rushing ambulance, they saw an unusual beautiful arch of white butterflies. My father also informed me of the weird visuals my grandfather was uttering about children gathering around him and seeing his mother and siblings who had passed years before. They knew his time was coming. They remember him saying he would like to pass in peace at his home.
Until this day, I believe I still receive messages from my grandfather. At Moses Lake, on every visit, a little white butterfly would follow us grandchildren around. Surprisingly, whenever a celebration occurs within our immediate family, we would see a white butterfly on our Seattle window pane. At times when I am by myself, I suddenly receive a rush of the same hospital odor. He also talks to me in my dreams.
With just two weeks notice, it stuns me every time that I remember how fast and traumatic that moment was in my life. Each year that summer comes by, I dedicate a moment to remember his life and celebrate the memories in the years I was able to share with him. In a way, the sorrow will be never ending, as a void will continue to reside in my heart. Cancer has robbed me of my chance to have my grandfather see me walk down my college graduation aisle, a moment he promised. I dreamed one day to see him waiting at the end of the line for his embrace. I learned that life should never be taken for granted and people you love are not with you forever. Human beings only live once. Within the limited previous time we have, it is essential to let people know how we feel and what difference they have made in our lives. Cancer does not just affect the victim but captures families as its prey as well. Watching my grandfather fight for his life is something I never want my own children to experience. Although he has passed away, his words continue to live on. I know he will forever reside in me and he truly has never left. Until this day, he has continued to help me achieve my dreams and still remains my main inspiration in all that I do.
Howard Cabiao