Sometimes, a single word can change everything about your life. Sometimes that word is cancer.
Cancer is not something that affects a single person. When someone is diagnosed with this disease, the result is similar to the ripple effect.
When I was 5 years old, I asked my paternal grandmother where my paternal grandfather went. I was just an innocent child wondering why I never got the chance to meet him, but to her, it was probably one of the most difficult questions to answer.
She explained to me that he died of cancer when my dad was 14 years old, that’s seven years younger than I am today. He was only 42 years old. Of course, his death did not have much of an impact on my life; I had three other grandparents filling the void whom I loved dearly.
Still, the summer after my freshman year of high school, things took a turn for the worst. We had just traveled through some of the most beautiful places in southern India, my three grandparents, my younger sister and I.
Shortly after we arrived back at my grandparents’ home in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India, my grandfather started complaining of stomach pain. Naturally, he assumed it was just a stomachache.
It did not go away for several days, so my mother, a physician, took him to the doctor’s office. At first, the doctor thought it was kidney stone or gallstones, but soon the devastating diagnosis came in. It was liver cancer.
My parents did not mention his diagnosis to my sister and me just yet, but I knew that my life was about to change. I realized he was in significant pain, that things were not getting better; I could hear it in his voice every time I talked to him.
There were obvious signs of cancer; I just refused to see them. Throughout my childhood, my grandfather was one of the coolest people I knew, always telling stories about travelling the world and bringing me back souvenirs. He was my best friend; the person that I could talk to for hours about anything and everything going on in my life.
The last time I saw him was winter break of my junior year of high school; by this time my parents had informed me of the diagnosis. Things were not much different in terms of our relationship, but he was different; it was like he lost his sense of adventure, as though he knew he was dying. Still, we talked for hours about my future.
My grandfather passed away Feb. 19, 2015, a little more than a year before I graduated high school. I was unable to go to India for his funeral, but I was given the chance to write part of his eulogy, which a friend read at his wake.
I missed him at my graduation. I could imagine him there cheering loudly. The summer before college, I went back to India, but his room felt empty without him there. Four years later, I still miss him immensely.
It’s not just patients who suffer from cancer, but people close to them as well. It’s not easy to watch someone you love struggle through an uphill battle, when the most likely outcome is a loss. It’s not easy to see pieces of them disappear.
Cancer changes more than just a single person — it changes entire families. Parents who lose their child, children who lose parents or grandparents, husbands who lost their wives, or someone who has lost their best friend or sibling to this illness — they are all affected by cancer.
To this day, cancer continues to affect my life, and I hope to be a part of the search for a cure. My grandfather may have lost his battle with cancer, but I hope to help millions of others win their fight in the future.
Relay For Life has the same goal. As one of the most successful fundraising organizations in the world, this nonprofit raises millions of dollars each year. This money not only goes toward cancer research and treatment options, but also helps improve the quality of life for cancer patients and their caretakers. It funds free exercise programs that help rehabilitate patients during and after treatment. Some of the money raised also goes towards residences known as hope lodges for families of cancer patients who require treatment in another state.
And most important of all, Relay For Life works so that there will be a day where nobody will get that feeling of dread when they or a loved one is told, “You have have cancer.”