Saturday, August 28, 2010


"...When they called they said there was an abnormality, I had to go back and have another mammogram, and then i had to go back and have a biopsy," a kind voice recalls into the phone. the voice is salty with age, sweet with the south. the voice is my grandmother's...

"...Cancer is cancer," she says, "...and you think, 'well, this is probably the end of me' of course it wasn’t – I was so blessed..."

i remember us all knowing something was wrong. it was October 2006, and my grandmother (to whom i'll refer as Nini from this point forward) had not been herself for several weeks. finally, less than a week before her surgery, she told us she'd been diagnosed with breast cancer.

over a month before, she'd gotten the call to come in so the doctors could get a second look at the abnormal readings on her mammogram. after her second mammogram and biopsy, she had to wait a week or so before she could return to the doctor for her diagnosis.

i remember a point in time when she found herself able to talk about that week. we were sitting in the car as she recalled the torment of knowing yet not knowing what was growing inside her, the gripping fear that accompanied the utter helplessness of having no option other than to wait.

"But what came to my mind in the midst of all of this," Nini says this morning on the phone, "was something that my leader in Bible study said, 'do not waste your suffering- seek the Lord and see how he can use that to strengthen your walk and to make you stronger- to give you insight you’ve never had and make you able to help other people.'"

When i look back on that fall, i consider how alone Nini must have felt waiting to find out if she was going to die or not. the reason she didn't say anything was because i was on homecoming court, and she wanted to wait until after the big football game to tell us the news (i don't suppose this is appropriate given the circumstances, but yes, i wanted to kill her for that). It's hard for me to fathom the kind of strength it takes to think of others above one's self, to knowingly choose peace over turmoil when a cancer of unknown size or severity is alive inside your chest, but Nini did it.

i started to think about my eating disorder and all the unspeakable selfishness and weakness and fear i've spent years in because of it. so many times i tearfully explained through clenched jaws how excruciating it was to try and do better- how even the slightest effort towards progress created a painful turmoil in my head that just wasn't worth it to me.

"I have a mental illness!" i would scream, "you can't just expect me to get over it- i am SICK- just like someone with cancer!"

therapist after therapist urged me to just take a step at a time- my mom likened my situation to a dark forest- assuring me that if i would just step into the unknown and hold on, i would one day enter into a clearing- into freedom.

it's taken five years for me to realize the uniqueness of the disorder from which i suffer. while just as diagnosable as the flu or cancer or any other type of illness, it is one of few in which the possibility for complete recovery rests entirely in the sufferer's hands.

there are countless others like Nini- completely at the mercy of an illness- who would give anything to have the option of guaranteed recovery placed into their hands. colorless, bald-headed people would jump from their beds and follow limitless orders if their doctors told them it would make them better.

fellow strugglers, they are not so fortunate as we.

and yet, we sit and rot and waste away, ignoring the life in front of us that is ours for the taking and using and giving.

if i could go back a few years to Nini's hospital room after her surgery, i would look her in the cancer-free eye and tell her thank you for showing me what it means to be strong, to choose life. i would tell her that in honor of that fearful, lonely week through which she wondered if she'd reached her end, i was going to step into the unknown, stop cowering before my diagnosis, stop getting in my own way, and reach for the life of freedom and recovery that five years later, i've finally found.

Nini- i'm sorry it took so long. but i thank you for loving me all the more anyway. you are a true example of what it means to fight. even when recovery was out of your hands, you chose life regardless. you've inspired me and now i pray your story inspires others. i love you.



  1. Inspired is not "word enough" to describe the way I feel after reading this. You are such a gifted communicator. I feel like I've received a hope transfusion...a little dizzy, a lot stronger. Thanks, EA. You are so loved by me.

  2. EA, you are wonderful. This was beautiful, and so true! Lovelovelove.

  3. EA, I love this. LOVE it. I just read it to my roommate. Thank you.