The day before my 21st birthday, I received a FaceTime call from my mother. We were talking for a while about my birthday plans when the conversation took a turn for the worst. With solemn eyes, she looked at me and said, “Your grandmother has Stage 4 cancer. It’s in her lungs, hip and liver.”
That call shattered my world.
My grandmother and I are best friends — it’s always been that way. When I was younger, we would sit side-by-side in the kitchen and she would tell me stories. She told me about the 57 years of hard work and reward that have come with being married to my grandfather. She reflected on what it was like going to a segregated high school in West Philadelphia during the 1950s.
But her favorite stories to tell were the ones about family members I never met.
Growing up, I spent most of my time nestled closely under my grandmother’s wing while my parents were at work. Emulating her behaviors became habitual. It was she who first inspired me to color-coordinate my outfits to match my mood, and to drink coffee each morning while I read the paper.
I remember how she has always been there for me. When my parents forced me to go to summer camp, she would pick me up after I faked some mysterious illness. Then we’d go back to her house and sit in that same kitchen and watch TV.
The idea of my grandmother growing old never crossed my mind. I have always seen her as invincible. But as I have aged, so has she, and now at 75, it seems time has caught up with her.
Watching her navigate her recent diagnosis, I have realized our roles are now reversed. I’m no longer able to call on her to get me out of situations I want to avoid. Instead, now she calls on me to be there for her.
At first, this switch was harsh. We spent a lot of time arguing as I tried to get her to accept the doctor’s orders and the fact that she was now living with cancer. I wanted her to do whatever it took for her to get better, as if Stage 4 cancer was just going to disappear.
I know she will not be here forever and my present duty is to make sure that we spend as much time together as possible, like we always have.
We talk on the phone every day about my future plans and her hopes for me, and she still tells me some of those same old stories I have heard since I was a child.
Even though I want to ignore the fact that our time together is limited, it is a fact I must face, and in recent months has become more apparent than ever. But no matter what happens, I will always be grateful for every memory we have shared together. She will always be my grandmother and my best friend.
Cierra Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.