Cancer’s a Bitch

“I’m so sorry,” Gam says to me one night.


“I’m sorry I’m a pain in the ass.”

“You are not a pain in the ass.”

She’s quiet for a moment–then hangs her head and sighs. “I have cancer.” 


The statement stops me in my pajama-putting tracks. She’s never actually come out and said that to me before. It’s always “this thing,” “this disease,” or “this silly thing that I’ve got”–as if not speaking it into existence would somehow make it all go away. I guess having someone dress and change you drives certain points home.

How do you even respond to that?

So I take her face in my hands and say, “Hey friend? I am so glad I get to be here with you and help you. It’s like a Christmas present.”

She gives me the Gam look. The “you are full of it and I’m going to smack you” look.

I laugh a little. And offer the only piece of wisdom I had in my back pocket.

“You know what my friends say, Gam?”


“Cancer’s a bitch.” 

Her whole face perks up–like she’s received sort of divine, life-changing revelation.

“Yeah . . .” she nods. “Cancer is a bitch!”

She’s got a smile on her face now. I feel like I’ve done my good deed for the day.

“You should say it again,” I suggest. And she does–in every way possible.

“Cancer’s a bitch.”

Cancer’s a bitch.”

“Cancer is. A. Bitch.”

And finally, with a triumphant fist in the air–“Cancer is a GREAT BIG BITCH!”

She looks up at me for approval. And there, sitting on the side of the bed, shouting profanities to the universe with my grandma, there’s plenty to go around.


The Boob Stealer

Once upon a time, I was helping my grandma get ready for bed. Warm jammies, cold water, feet tucked in tight. Suddenly, she looked down at her thinning frame and shouted, “Eek! Somebody stole my boobs!”

I chuckle.

“Oh really. Who?”

She looked me in the eye and whispered, with confidence,

“The Boob Stealer.”


They say that cancer and death and sick trays in styrofoam tins can do a number on your mental capacity. You see things, hear things, believe things that simply aren’t.  Maybe this was the start.

Her eyes got big. “You’ve never heard of the Boob Stealer?”

I bit my lip to keep from laughing–honestly, maybe even from crying–but she didn’t seem to think it was funny. In fact, she hadn’t broken her gaze. And suddenly, it dawned on me . . . she wasn’t losing her marbles.

She was trying to tell me a bedtime story.

I may have changed her clothes and checked machines and brought her water–but I was still the grandkid. And despite pain, protruding tubes and cannulas, she’s still the Grandma. How very Ninja of her.

So I nuzzled in close, like a little girl.

“The Boob Stealer,” she continued, “is a very evil man.”

“Uh oh.”

“He doesn’t like women, you see. And he doesn’t think they should have boobs. So he steals them.”

“Really. So where do they go?”

“Into the trash can.”


“And once they go in, you can never get them out.”

“That’s a bummer.”

She nods.

“In fact,” she went on, “he’s the same one who steals your socks.”

This explains a lot. I don’t know what some creeper is doing with boobs and single socks, but I kept listening and cherishing every word. It’s so hard for her to talk and it takes so long for the words to come out that they feel like a present.

A strange, slightly inappropriate-for-children present.

Together, we devised a plan to trap the evil villain so Gam could get her boobs back. We decided that the best way to do it would be feeding him a soggy clam boat from Friendly’s.

(Gam was very upset about the quality of her clam boat dinner. They even forgot the Happy Ending.)

It didn’t take long before she was mid-sentence fading. So I kissed her forehead, dimmed the lights and said goodnight.

It was good to feel like a (grand) kid again.

And good to remind her that she’s still my Gam.

Gam & Fergie

Gam was lying in bed the other night–obviously in a lot of pain. She’s refusing to take morphine.

She’s stubborn.

“Have you given her any morphine today?” the nurse asks.

“No–she won’t. She’s very stubborn.”

Nurse rolls her eyes and chuckles a bit.  “Really? Stubborn? I hadn’t noticed.”

(Everyone notices.)


I’m lying next to Gam, and she finds my hand and places it over her liver–where the cancer keeps growing and growing. Tries to, at least–she misses the spot, but it’s gotten bigger since last time, so it wasn’t hard to find.

I can tell she’s hurting badly.

“My lump ,” she whispers.

That was all she could get out. But she kept saying it. Over and over.

“My lump . . . my lump . . . my lump, my lump  . . . ”

Unfortunately, you know where this is going.

(Yes, I did.)

“Your lovely lady lumps?”

Gam turns her face to mine and gives me the “are you stupid?” face. Well deserved.

“Check it out!” I shout.

She smiles and mumbles sarcastically, “No, YOU check it out!”