This I Believe

Alexandra - Briarcliff Manor, New York
Entered on June 9, 2006
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: courage, family

A True Optimist

I have always thought of myself as an optimist. I am the girl who always has a smile on her face; only do I succumb to tears in the worst situations. But does that really define optimism? An optimist should be able to be hopeful even in the most dire situations. I didn’t think such a person could exist until this year. Six years ago, my grandmother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The doctors caught it early; two years, an exuberant attitude and many chemotherapy sessions later, she emerged healthy and cancer-free. The doctors said 7 in 20 survive ovarian cancer; she was one of those lucky 7. The doctors said it was her attitude that separated her from everyone else.

Two years ago, the doctors found out that her cancer was back. She conquered it with that same radiant energy that had pulled her through the first time. She immediately began intensive chemotherapy treatments that were increasingly rough on her aging body. Everyday, she felt the toxins make her sicker, but she didn’t complain. This was the woman, who at 78 years old, drove herself to chemotherapy in her yellow Volkswagen bug. Gradually, she got progressively weaker and her body was failing her, but her attitude was as positive as ever. Everyday, she would say, “Give me chemotherapy, give me more,” even though we knew that the chemotherapy was killing her faster than the cancer. There were days when we found her clutching her stomach in pain, but she didn’t tell us because she didn’t want to be a burden. After that, she was in and out of the hospital for months at a time. There came a point when the chemotherapy was not working effectively and her systems were starting to fail; the doctors said that trying any different treatment would do her in. When my dad tried to tell her, she would say, “Well, we’ll just have to get more chemotherapy.” My dad didn’t have the heart to tell her when she said that. Then one day, she finally understood. She asked my parents, “Am I going to die?” and they slowly explained what was going on. She refused to believe it. Her response was, “Give me more chemo.” She subconsciously understood, but this was not a woman who believed that nothing more could be done.

They eventually put her on a morphine drip; when I visited her she seemed happy and collected, but how can you be happy knowing that you have weeks, maybe months, to live? I don’t understand how she did it, but she remained positive and hopeful until the last days of her life. She never thought the cancer could take her down. She was courageous and radiant and strong. She was beautiful. She was a true optimist – I am nothing compared to her. I now use her optimism as a tenant to live by. I can only hope to strive to be as full of life as she was.