Editorial: Confronting cancer in the family

Editorial note: October is National Cancer Awareness Month and St. John’s editor Therese Osborn is sharing how cancer has affected her life.

In June 2018, my mom called my whole family into the kitchen for a meeting. We ran down the stairs, not thinking much of what was in store. She told us to sit down at the table quietly. My first thought was that she found out that my sisters and I broke a chair the week prior, and I got scared, but nothing would be scarier than what she said next.

My mom began talking about how my grandpa had been having health problems and the doctor thought he had a heart attack. The room was silenced when she said this, but my mom kept going. The doctors ran more tests, and realized his heart was completely fine, but there was an underlying problem. They discovered that he had lymphoma, the same type of blood cancer my uncle had on and off for 10 years. My uncle was currently cancer free, so none of us were expecting this kind of scare.

Lymphoma is a cancer that attacks the human at the core; the immune system, or cells called lymphocytes. I had seen how the disease had not only torn apart my uncle’s body, but had left him so tired that he barely had enough energy to continue being the same funny, caring family member that we had all known and loved. This made me think about my grandpa, the only person I knew who put others in front of himself 100 percent of the time. He always loved unconditionally, and never expected anything in return. He is one of those people who you look at, and you know that when they die they are going straight to heaven. Knowing all of that is what made it so unbearable to know that he would be in so much pain. 

A few weeks later, the same story occurred in my household. My mom called us downstairs, and we all sat around the table. We were hopeful this time; maybe our grandpa had gotten better. But she began talking about my uncle, and how he hadn’t been doing well recently. I already knew what she was going to say next. All I wanted to do in that moment was to take all his pain. I was perfectly healthy, I could handle it. But his immune system and organs were dilapidated from ten years of torture. My mom said what we all knew, he had been re-diagnosed with lymphoma. 

The next few weeks I went through blindly. I wasn’t often reminded of my family members’ ailments because they lived in Georgia, ten hours away. I was so distracted by swim team and the start of high school that I sometimes forgot that they were even sick. School began, and, with that, my worries dissipated. My best friend went to Visitation, the school where Kelly Brodnik attended. Kelly battled bone cancer for a while, and she passed away on September 16, 2018. When I heard about this, I stopped everything. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have a friend, daughter, or sibling die so young with so much life left to live. My grandma has always said that only the good die young, and I firmly believe that God wanted Kelly back with him, and that’s why she left this world so soon. I will never stop praying for Kelly’s classmates, family, and the entire Visitation community. The whole incident made me realize I had been living the wrong way. I had forgotten about who really needed my help, and was living in the past to escape the present. But you can’t run away from the negative forever, and on September 16 I started to embrace it. My grandpa had his last chemo the day after, and has been in remission since. My uncle was cleared a few months ago from lymphoma. 

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