Life Lessons I Learned From my Grandma: Colon Cancer

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a very special relationship with my grandma.  She and I have had a close relationship all of my life.  We have spent a lot of time together laughing and talking about life.  My grandma turned 90 years old this week, and I believe that she has had an amazing life.  She has experienced many trials during her life, but she has faced them with a smile on her face, joy in her heart, and an unwavering faith in God.  I have learned so much from my grandma, and I believe you can too.  So, I have decided to commemorate her 90th birthday by sharing a few stories about my grandma’s life with you.  I hope these stories will show you how her faith has brought her through the difficult times that she has experienced.  I will be posting everyday this week and every post will be stories of how God has been with my grandma throughout her life.  I believe the stories will help you to see how God can work in all of our lives and how we can achieve peace through every experience we encounter with His help.  Having such a wonderful grandmother in my life has brought me immeasurable peace and PEACE MATTERS.  

Thanks to Katie Couric and her late husband, a lot of attention has been brought to the diagnosis and treatment of colon cancer.  Colon cancer is the 3rd most diagnosed form of cancer and the 4th leading cause of cancer related deaths.  Early detection is crucial, and when detected early, colon cancer is 90% curable.  These facts and figures may seem unnecessary to the story that I am getting ready to relate to you, but they are important to the millions of people who will be diagnosed with colon cancer during their lifetime.   

The realness of colon cancer was brought into my life in October, 1997.  My grandma, Ruth Custsinger, had been plagued with pain in her side for most of the summer and early fall.  She was no stranger to pain, but this pain seemed different.  She was seventy-two years old, and she had been through cancer before.  She had spoken to her doctor about the pain, but he did not seem alarmed.  Colon cancer in its early form does not present pain.  However, my grandma knew something was wrong.  She insisted that her doctor schedule a colonoscopy for her.  He reluctantly did as she asked, and I believe it saved her life.  

You see my grandma did indeed have colon cancer.  I remember the day my mom told me. I thought to myself that my grandma had already been through so much.  We were all worried and scared.  All of us, that is, except my grandma.  She once again showed strength and faith.  I really think she was so relieved to find out that there was a reason for her pain.  She carried the pictures of her cancer in her purse and would show them to people.  It was as if she were proud, but I think it was her way of warning people of the dangers of colon cancer.  My grandma was scheduled for surgery, and the part of her colon containing the cancer was removed.  I went to visit her in the hospital after the surgery, and there she was lying in bed.  Her familiar smile and laugher filled the room.  She was completely at peace and didn’t seem worried at all.

I was going through a difficult time with my job.  I had just started a new teaching assignment and was away from home, and had a very difficult group of kids that year.  My grandma seemed more concern for me than herself.  After the surgery, she was told that the cancer was localized and small.  The doctors could not understand why she had been in pain, because the cancer was in its beginning stages.  Of course, my grandma knew differently.  God had allowed her to experience the pain so that she would have it checked out.  Had she not experienced the pain that every doctor told her she should not have felt, her story may have turned out quite differently.  My grandma was scheduled for chemotherapy, and she began it soon after the surgery.  As we all know, chemotherapy can be a very difficult treatment to go through, and my grandma had struggles to face with her treatment.  She endured those struggles with her characteristic strength and good humor.  

As I said before, I was dealing with my own issues, and my grandma was very aware of that.  She and I talked a lot on the phone while she was going through chemotherapy.  The treatment was keeping her from sleeping so she would call me.  She was so worried about me and praying that God would improve my situation.  I was worried about her and praying that God would heal her.  We were each going through our own struggles.  They were completely different, but they made us feel the same.  You see a trial is a trail.  It may look different, but the feelings are the same.  I find it amazing that in a time when I should have been comforting my grandma, she was comforting me.  I believe that God knew that she and I both needed something else to focus on while we were going through our own trials.  My grandma didn’t focus as much on her cancer because she was thinking of me, and I didn’t focus as much on my own struggle because I was thinking of her.  

God wants us to serve our fellowman.  We have each been given that job.  We are supposed to support each other, pray for each other, and build each other up.  When we do so, we not only bless the person we are helping, we bless ourselves as well.  God knew that my grandma and I needed each other.  The reason was not even remotely the same, but He knew that we needed to comfort each other.  I know that my grandma certainly comforted me during that time, and I hope that in some way I comforted her too.  I cannot express to you how important it is that we help each other.  

That is what God wants.  He has given all of us unique talents and gifts to better equip us to do His work.  Even when we are struggling ourselves, God wants us to reach out to others and help them.  I truly believe it is part of the healing process and that it is a win-win situation.  

We never know what a phone call, email, text, or card can do to lift someone’s spirit.  We all need to know that we are not alone and that someone identifies with our struggles.  Of course we always have God.  He will never leave us, and He will always comfort us, but He wants us to rely on the people He has placed in our lives too.  

So, the next time you are going through a struggle and you think you are alone and the only one having a difficult time, think of my grandma.  She could have turned inwardly and been only concerned about herself, but she reached out to others, and in the process helped herself.  God truly wants us to be at peace, and He has given us so many ways to achieve it.  Helping others is one enormous way of receiving and giving that peace.  So, go out and help someone.  It will bring you and the other person a lot of peace, and PEACE MATTERS.  


One last thing . . . if you are experiencing any kind of issues with your colon or experiencing any abdominal pain, see your doctor.  If your doctor does not seem concerned, see another doctor.  Insist on having a colonoscopy.  It could very possibly save your life.      

This picture of my grandma and me was taken on her 89th birthday.