About Freshman Austin Smith as told to Cheyenne Smith
My Rock, My Reason, My Grandmother
She was 51 years old the day she passed away. I was lucky enough to have spent 16 years with her before she took her final breath. My grandmother could brighten anyone’s day by just walking into the room. She kept a lot to herself, but when it came to her children and grandchildren, she lit up like a light bulb. I loved to be with her and spend time just talking the day away. She was one of the very few family members I could open up to right away. Life was normal (well, as normal as my family can get) for the longest time, until one day my grandmother came back from the doctor’s. She had been experiencing some symptoms like back pain and feeling full all the time, so she had decided to get checked out. The doctors told her that they had found cancer.
My grandmother was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic pancreatic cancer. When I heard about this, I couldn’t help but worry she was going to die a slow and pain-stricken death. I myself didn’t want to live anymore because I didn’t want to watch a family member wither away from something the doctors can’t be certain to stop. I was mad at myself for not having the answer to help her. We looked for answers and found a few types of chemotherapy that she could go through. She pushed through treatments and fought it the best she could. Every once in a while, the chemo would really get to her and make her so ill she couldn’t do much at all. I know those days were the hardest, yet proudest moments of this road she was on. I knew it was hard for her, but she kept fighting. She wanted to see all us grandkids graduate and get married.
Everything was going well during the treatments, but we all could see she wasn’t enjoying life like she used to. It wasn’t until long after she started chemotherapy that she decided to quit the treatments and let her cancer take its course. She gave it up because she wanted to spend time with her family and not feel sick the entire time. She was much happier this way because she found such joy in spending time with her children and her grandkids. She knew that the chemo was no longer doing what she needed to survive and that her cancer had finally taken over.
I think in my mind she was coming to terms that God was telling her that her time was up, and it was time to join him upstairs. It wasn’t right for us to try to push treatment because ultimately, she knew her body better than we did. As much as I loved to be with her, I know that it was better to have her enjoy life the way she wanted. I tell myself after every day that I’m just one more day closer to being with her.
The last few days of her life were the hardest because that’s when the cancer was starting to take over completely. It spread throughout the entire pancreas, so no antibodies could fight off infections effectively. Her other organs and functions started to fail soon after. Within two days, she could no longer walk to the restroom nor take her medication orally. The hospice caretakers would give her what they could as they waited at her bedside. When the days started to get worse for her, I was always there to see her.
Unfortunately, on the last day, I couldn’t be there. I was in bed when my mother called me. Mom told me that my grandmother was waiting to say her goodbye to me. That’s when I told my grandmother it was okay to go, and that I love her very much. On the other end I could hear the moans, which was her way of talking, getting louder as if she was telling me something. My mother then took the phone away again and said she is moving on. I wanted to be there, but my mom said I would get in a wreck if I left now to try and make it. I regret not being there for her, but I know one day we will be reunited. I know she looks down on me each day seeing all that I do, and I just hope she is proud.
After her passing, I really didn’t know where to go. She was my rock. She was like a second mother to me. When I was little, we all lived together, and while my mother was at work she took care of me. Our relationship grew stronger as I grew up. I was lost because I watched her die slowly from the inside out because of an illness we cannot yet cure. I was extremely upset that she couldn’t be saved, but I understood that if it were God’s wish to have her join him, then I can’t be too upset. I just wish she could have seen me grow into the person I am today and listen to all that I have accomplished and am in the process of accomplishing.
I hope that she knows her fight with cancer and her passing are the main reasons why I decided to go into the field of work that I’m pursuing right now. I am currently enrolled in the pre-med program at Ohio Northern University. I plan to go into a field that will help find cures for cancer or at least hope that I can find a medicine to allow them to live their life longer. Watching her wither away from the strong woman I knew she was to someone who couldn’t even feed herself killed me. I never want anyone else to experience that if I can help it. It’s honestly one of the worst feelings I have ever felt, but with her in my heart and soul, I know she would want me to follow my dreams doing what I love to do best.
Medicine has intrigued me even before she became ill, but now I have a stronger drive to work in such a field. I know she is looking down watching me to my best to succeed and I know she is extremely proud of the man that I became today.
This story originally appeared in Facing Our Futures Beyond High School, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.