by Katie Keynton
Mesothelioma. This word never meant anything to me, then it progressed malignantly. In my life, in my families’ life, and in the root of my family – my grandmother. It hurt everything it touched, and never got better. There was little to no cure, just chemotherapy and clinical trials.
But in every second that it spread, it taught me how to take advantage of every minute. “Seize the Day” is a quote my grandmother wrote in a letter to my older brother for his Senior Retreat. This was right before mesothelioma decided to take away her precious gift of life.
I was in the seventh grade when my mom received a phone call from my grandfather saying that my grandmother had only six to nine months left to live. I remember being in the other room just hearing her scream in a way that is just too hard to put into words. It had so much pain behind it, which is what I’ve decided cancer brings whenever it enters into someone’s world. It’s weird how one word can impact so many people. Cancer changes one’s world as soon as they encounter it. I never understood what this word meant until my grandmother was diagnosed with mesothelioma; a cancer in the lining of the lungs. Before reading about mesothelioma on MesotheliomaHelp.org, I still did not fully understand what it was. I learned about the different stages and to what parts of the body it can spread. At the time, I was only old enough to grasp a small concept of what cancer was in its entirety. I was worried about not being able to spend many important moments with my grandmother, that other people would have their grandmothers.
I knew that I wanted my grandmother to be a part of one special moment in my life, and that was my Confirmation in the Catholic Church. My grandmother converted to Catholicism later in life, and ever since, she has been a devout Catholic. Since I knew her time was limited, I wanted her to be my sponsor. It meant so much to her and me. During those last six to nine months, she told me she was going to make the best of everyday. She never let a day go by without it being special. When my Confirmation day came around, she made it a point to make it something that we would both remember. She gave me a silver heart-shaped necklace with Mary, the mother of Jesus, imprinted on the outside that I still wear on special occasions- especially when it is a moment I wish that she were there with me. My Confirmation date was a few months after she had been diagnosed with mesothelioma. She ended up living so much longer than we expected. With her age, being about sixty-seven at diagnosis, the doctors did not have a hopeful outlook on how long she would make it.
She had been exposed to asbestos as a child from her father. Working in the shipyards in Virginia, he was exposed to asbestos everyday, in which he unknowingly brought home on his clothes for his children to breathe. She also had worked at a bank where construction workers did not take proper precautions to protect against asbestos. Inhaling asbestos fibers everyday at the bank did not help her case later on in life. Because of these two types of exposure, she developed mesothelioma. Her father had passed away from mesothelioma as well, which is what helped the doctors determine what she had. It was kind of funny when we all found out that she was the one to get cancer because she was the healthiest one out of all of the family. There was no way she could get sick unless it were an outside force such as cancer. She ate mostly fruits and vegetables everyday. She would treat herself to ice cream on the porch after dinner some days and just enjoy the sunset. She knew how to take in every moment of life. Although she had an illness, she did not let that affect her from living her daily life.
A couple of years passed by and she was still doing great. She was outliving her expectancy rate given by the doctors and battling hard against chemotherapy and clinical trials at NIH in Bethesda, MD. Her youngest son had gotten married, and with a baby on the way, life seemed to be looking up. Everything seemed to be so joyful, until we found out that the cancer had moved to other parts of her body. She started to get progressively worse, and this time, we knew it was coming. When she passed away, I was a freshman in high school. We all went to visit her because the doctors had said that the time was coming. She talked to each one of my siblings and I in private. She told me to enjoy every moment because you do not know how much time you have left on Earth. She also advised me to eat healthier because all I ever ate was sugar, which was one-hundred percent true. The number one rule she told me was to make a difference in as many lives as I could and do what makes me happy. Ever since that day, I have lived each day in memory of her.
She impacted my life so much more than the words in this essay could express. She still helps me live life to its full potential, without her humanly being present. I began to do a lot of volunteer work in nursing homes and in preschools, while keeping her in mind. Without her final words, I may not have found my true calling. By doing mission work and learning Spanish, I have found the two things I am most passionate about. These two influences motivated me to get involved in a mission trip to Ecuador. The objective of this mission trip was to build a house for a family in need, in which the mother had AIDS. Making a small difference in any life that I touch, through mission work or daily life, helps me give back to those who are going through a similar situation as my grandmother. Because of her illness, I have decided to do something in the medical field in which, being able to help others, creates an immediate positive repercussion in the world. My goal is to become a doctor or Physical Therapist and travel for a month or two every year to a Spanish-speaking country and do mission work. I want to reciprocate the love and care that the other doctors had done for my family. These were the words she wanted me to live by and that influenced the career path I chose, and so I do it in memory of her.
I know it sounds cliché trying to tell anyone who knows someone with mesothelioma, or someone who has it, that it is hard and that it is a journey, but it also has its benefits, because it teaches you how to savor the most beautiful moments in life. There are often moments that you miss by paying attention to your phone instead of spending time with your family. There are also moments that you miss by not looking at the overall beauty of the most simplistic components of life itself. Take advantage of every second God gives you with the people you love, because you will one day regret not doing so. It is hard, but you can make it through and become stronger from it. You should never give up fighting, because the people around you need you and love you. If you give up, then you are letting the cancer beat you, instead of you beating the cancer. Give yourself that chance to create more memories with the people you care about.
Raising awareness for this is important because no one else should have to go through what my grandmother had to. Mesothelioma is preventable just by taking proper precautions when tearing down old buildings or breaking apart cement. There should be proper precautions when doing so. If awareness were raised about this, those precautions would be met. Knowing that the suffering of my grandmother could have been prevented just makes me want to promote awareness even more. Overall, cancer is one of the most difficult obstacles that today’s society has to deal with, but we can get through it, and we can promote awareness to make cancer less widespread.
- Works Cited “Causes of Mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure.” Mesothelioma Help. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2015.
- Flaccus, Q. Horatius, and David West. Horace Odes I: Carpe Diem. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995. Print.
- “Mesothelioma Prognosis Can Vary Depending on the Stage.” Mesothelioma Help. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2015.
I am a Freshman at the University of Kentucky. I love to travel and do volunteer work. I have gone to Ecuador to build houses for those in need , and I went to Spain to visit my exchange student. I love spending time with my friends and family and helping others. I knew about mesothelioma because both my grandmother and great grandfather died from it.