In my family, lymphoma is a legacy. My grandpa died from complications of a rare type of T-cell lymphoma in 1987. I was 4, but I remember his laugh. "Papa's chair" was an overstuffed tan velour recliner by the bay window at my grandparents' house in Ohio where he would sit when he got home from work. I would sit with him, in his lap, reading books.
Less than a year after he died, my mom was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma when an X-ray revealed a tumor the size of a loaf of bread in her chest. My dad says one of the saddest moments of his life was when I—with my chubby cheeks and shock of blonde, curly hair—asked if she was going to heaven with Papa. I didn't understand much else other than that she was tired. I would go with her to her radiation appointments, but the trips to the hospital were more about candy, playing games on the children's floor and, if I was good, getting chocolate cake off the conveyor belt carousel of desserts in the cafeteria. The doctors provided a grim prognosis, but 22 years later, she's still proving them wrong.
Mom and I never talked much about her experience. But this past November, my husband, Shayne, was diagnosed with lymphoma. I wanted her to have all of the answers. I wanted her to be able to tell us exactly what would happen, what we should expect. My mom couldn't tell us the outcome, of course, but she did know how to do exactly the right thing: She showed up, cleaned, cooked or just sat quietly. She knew when to leave us alone, and she didn't judge when I snapped at her.
All the while, she's also been the caretaker for my grandma, who now lives with her and my dad. Some days she wakes up, watches her grandkids for a couple of hours and then runs errands for Shayne. Afterward, she goes home to make dinner and take care of my grandma. She exemplifies the kind of mama I hope to be.
My family knows how to deal with crisis. We have an unwritten action plan where each of us plays our own role, and, so far, there seems to be virtually nothing we can't handle. But sometimes it can be too much. My grandma, the one who was married to the aforementioned Papa, recently had a tumor removed from her hip. The doctor talked to my mom just today about the pathology report. That tumor was benign, but she has cancerous cells in her abdomen. She'll start chemo in a few weeks.
If all had gone as planned, Shayne and I were going to have our wedding this fall on Sept. 18, which also happens to be my grandma's birthday. We were going to celebrate Shayne getting well, our wedding and her birthday, all at once. Instead, they'll both be in the hospital, receiving chemo, listening to the whir and click of an IV drip.
This originally appeared on This Machine Kills Cancer, a blog about Shayne Miel's journey through cancer.