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COLUMN: Cancer touches everyone, everywhere

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By Shannon Brock

When I was 10 years old, or maybe 9, my grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I didn’t know what that meant. I just knew she got really sick, really fast.
On January 21, 1995, I lost the last of my living grandparents to this ugly disease. I remember my mom getting the phone call to come to the hospital in a hurry. I remember my dad carrying me into my great aunt’s house. I remember pretending to be asleep when my great aunt Bonnie got the call that her sister had died.
I pretended to be asleep so that my aunt wouldn’t try to comfort me when she needed comfort herself. I pretended to be asleep so that I wouldn’t have to face the harsh reality that at 10 years old, I didn’t have any grandparents left (when I’d only known my grandmothers, anyway) and, at the age of 45, my parents were without their parents.
I was absolutely devastated when I lost my Granny. She’d been my best friend, my afternoon caretaker and the master of making grilled cheese. And I’m sure I cried like any young girl does when she loses a loved one, yet doesn’t quite understand what it means. But I didn’t mourn.
No, unbeknownst to me, I saved all my mourning for a few years later when my great aunt Bonnie — the same great aunt who watched over me on the night my grandmother died — succumbed to the same dreaded disease, cancer.
I don’t remember the exact date or how old I was, but I remember crying uncontrollably. Just sobbing over what appeared to be the death of my great aunt. What no one knew, and I guess no one knows until now, is that through those tears I did express sadness that my great aunt was gone, but through those tears, I mourned every loss I had faced — my great aunt, my Granny a couple of years before and even my Mamaw (my paternal grandmother), who died when I was only 5.
Though I’m not sure what took my Mamaw (after all, I was 5 and don’t remember how she died), I can safely say that two out of three of those ever-important women in my life, and several more since, were ripped out of my family because of cancer.
That’s why, when I heard the story of 10-year-old Dawson Moore, who at such a young, lively age has been diagnosed with brain cancer, and when I heard the story of another youth in the community who was recently diagnosed, I felt a connection. And I bet, whether reading about Dawson or my family connection to the dreaded “c-word,” you did, too.
I don’t know a single person who hasn’t been affected by cancer. I know many survivors, I know many caretakers and, sadly, I know many who have gone down fighting. And, again, I bet you do, too.
So, what can we do about it? Well, for starters, we can attend Dawson’s fundraiser this weekend or make a donation to help out one of our own.
We can participate in next year’s Relay for Life or make a donation to the American Cancer Society.
We can pray for a cure and we can pray for our loved ones.
Studies show that one out of every three or four of us (if not more) will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in our lifetimes. It’s a shocking statistic, but we mustn’t lose faith.
In the words of the late, great Jim Valvano (who died of cancer shortly after giving an amazingly inspirational speech at the 1993 ESPY awards) — “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”
There’s a cure out there, and my hope is that it’s found as soon as possible so that no 10-year-old has to lose another grandparent or fight his own battle with this dreaded disease.