Tara’s Emotional Stripes

Within only five days I lost two loved ones. My aunt Pepper was diagnosed with breast cancer around five years ago. After multiple rounds of chemotherapy and other procedures Pepper went into remission. A few years passed and she felt some pain in her leg. When she went to the Dr. they told her that it was stage-4 breast cancer. She did numerous trials and rounds of chemo…and during all of it she was still traveling the world with her two young daughters and husband. Nothing stopped her from making memories with the people she loved. After a fun packed summer, Pepper seemed to decline pretty fast. The WARRIOR in her chose not to recieve any pain meds in her final days so that she could be aware and still communicate. Pepper passed away on September 26th 2015 surrounded by her family and in the peace and comfort of her own home.

Pepper’s mother in law, or my grandma (we call her Nappy), was diagnosed with stage 4-lung cancer in July 2015. She had gone to the Dr. to have a different procedure done and when they did a scan to prepare for the surgery they found cancer in numerous places, so they could not perform the procedure. They told her it was stage 4-lung cancer. There wasn’t much they could do, so they chose to do chemotherapy. They did one round and Nappy took it like a champ…no nausea, just weak and tired. After that first round things started to spiral out of control. She had some bleeding, her lungs kept collapsing…seemed like every Friday she had a trip to the E.R. There wasn’t much time for questions or making decisions. A short four months later Nappy passed away in her home surrounded by her husband and 6 children on October 1st 2015.

It was really hard to sit and watch my aunt and grandma go through this. I have never lost a close friend or family member before so to lose two in less than a week was rough. My aunt Pepper did a great job at making life appear normal and nothing was wrong, I applaud her for that. She didn’t want to dwell on “cancer” she chose to live a normal life. I never saw her complain. The hardest part for me was thinking of her daughters who are still so young, just 13 and 16. I wish I was able to help out more…bringing dinners or driving the girls where they needed to be, but Pepper was never the type to ask for help.It was amazing to see how strong her daughters were when they spoke at their mom's celebration of life. They became more open and honest with each other and were able to continue on with their daily routines because of the comfort and support that they had with each other. Goes to show the strength of those who support WARRIORS.

Nappy was a different situation. For about the last two years I would go to her house weekly and watch shows like Downton Abbey and anything on HGTV and have some lunch, as my two little ones played with her toys, or rearranged her house. All of that stopped as soon as she was diagnosed. We were told by others to give her some space so she could rest, or not to touch her in case we had a “dormant” cold. I will forever remember seeing Nappy in her bed after about three weeks of not being able to see her. She was laying in her bed facing her window opposite of the door…I could see that she had lost majority of her hair due to chemo and she had lost quite a bit of weight already. The only thing I could think of was “no one prepared me for this.” I wasn’t ready to see her so frail and weak. I covered my face to not show my emotions as I gathered myself together. Luckily my five-month-old son at the time was a big distraction. I have no knowledge about chemotherapy or what it does to your “brain”. When I talked to Nappy, I tried to make it as normal as possible, but I felt like I was talking to a stranger…she had a blank look on her face majority of the time. I left her house that day sadder than ever…I just wanted to see and talk to the Nappy I knew and loved. I felt like I wasn't going to see her again because of the toll chemo put on her. I went home with so many questions that I wanted answered, not only about her health, but about chemotherapy in general. I'm sure I'm not the only person who thinks, "Did chemo shorten her life? Did it give her more time? Is the quantity or quality of life better?" These questions raced through my mind. But you never know what the outcome will be until you try, so that's what Nappy chose and I stand by her choice. I wasn’t able to visit much after that. She had lots of appointments and surprise visits to the ER.

When she was on hospice I spent as much time as possible by her bedside…along with other family members. I didn’t want to miss out on the last few days I could hold her hand.

It was hard, visiting was sad, but it was bittersweet. I was able to watch my grandpa show unconditional love for his wife, as he bathed her, helped her get dressed, and manned the house. Nappy’s kids, or my aunts and uncles, were there laughing, crying, and telling stories about their childhood. She was and is loved by so many. I was able to get closure when I went on one of my last visits to visit her, I was able to see and talk to the Nappy that I know and love.

I wear my emotional stripes for my aunt Pepper and Nappy with pride. Together we’re all WARRIORS.

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