When cancer killed grandma…

I’d like to expand on what I wrote in this post, particularly about my grandma. I didn’t write enough about how her death affected me. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer  when she was 85 and I was 15. It’s been said that type of cancer is one of the most excruciating and lethal. (R.I.P., Mr. Swayze)

Let me backtrack… my granny was Manuela. She insisted we call her Manuelita, though. She didn’t want to hear any of that “abuelita” or “grandma” business. She was short, stocky, feisty, and incredibly rugged for her age. She lived with my family since before I was born. In a sense, she was a second mom. They both ran the show while Dad was off working. Dad, Mom, and Manuelita: they were the bosses of us 5 kids.

Manuelita & I
Manuelita & me

Manuelita was an amazing cook, no matter what ingredients she mixed together. I remember the smells of the kitchen: cilantro, tomatoes, garlic, carne asada, tortillas grilling…Ahh… The kind of food that enriched my soul, let alone stomach. It was magic. Love itself, served up on a plate.

When I got sick she spoiled me rotten, every chance she had. She was my granny, after all. In exchange, I made her smile, or tried to as much as I could. Running up and pinching her butt usually would do it. Or, just a smile.

Now flash forward. I was 15 when I heard of her cancer diagnosis, from mom’s mouth. No, I thought. Not her…not Manuelita. I was the one who was supposed to get sick, not my family.

Over the next few months, I saw Manuelita slowly and agonizingly slip into death. Her deep brown skin turned a pale grey. Her cute chubbiness disappeared and caved in around her. By the end…she was little more than bones on a hospital bed.

As I saw her waste away I felt horror. A deep, profound fear. Is that where I’m going to end up? What if it (cancer) comes back? My God, I don’t want to die. Up until Manuelita’s cancer, I only ever feared what I had already been through. But the suffering I saw before my own eyes with my grandma was a shocking and brutal look into death itself.

Her cancer and death remain a defining moment in my life. I think since then the fear never left. I buried it for a long time, but maybe that’s what all this really is: fear. I don’t want to die. How foolish that sounds, since we’re ALL going to die. But knowing that doesn’t make me feel any more comforted. I think what fuels the fear is that my illness right now feels so palpable and so real. It’s like nature itself is saying “I got my hold on you and I’m not letting go.” Nature is a cold, hard bitch that also happens to be amazingly beautiful. I just think that now I feel it’s cold grip stronger than before. The tenacity of nature, man. It doesn’t let up. Such unrelenting power. I pray and hope for a reprieve.


  1. Marie Lacanlale says:

    Dear Christian,

    Please accept my deepest condolence regarding the loss of your
    grandmother. I’m sure she’s in a better place now.

    I know that we lost touch after graduating from MD, but I can see that your family did a wonderful job raising you. They have raised a strong, smart, and caring man.

    I know that it’s a tough time for you right now and that you’ll get through it.



  2. Benny D says:

    Chris, I am so proud of you for writing this blog. Maytrella sent it to me last week, and I have been reading your entries, a few each day, and several of them have really touched me…I think it is so incredible that you live with the pain that you do, but even more so that you have chosen to open up and share it with the world. That takes incredible guts, so good job!! I’m going to see if I can convince that oldest sister of yours to have you guys and myself over for dinner, as we are long overdue for a visit. Much love, Benny D.

  3. Kathleen S says:

    I loved your grandma! Everytime I brought Thania home she had us eat something and fussed over us like we had been gone for months when we had been there a few days ago. She reminded me of my Nana even down to how her face pwder smelt so it was a very loving feeling. You all loved her so much. Her eyes just sparked when she looked at all of you. Her grand children were her light. She would be so proud of you.

  4. Liliana says:

    Hello dear Chris!
    I am from Ukraine, and I have just read your post accidentally…
    I was so shocked… Indeed the death is something most unacceptable on this planet, most dull. Some time have already passed since you’ve lost you dear grandma, but the pain from it remains forever. Still it is not the end, death I mean.
    I very believe that Jehovah God, the One who is our Creator and loving Father, will resurrect your dear grandma, do you believe that too???
    Contact me if you would like, I shall be very glad to listen from you something new!!!! You may find me in Facebook “Liliana Yusypiv” or in skype ” liliana.jw ”

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