This post is sponsored by the American Cancer Society, who I firmly believe helped my grandma reach 77 birthdays. Thank you ACS for everything you do.

My grandma had surgery when I was sixteen years old. My parents totally downplayed it, so I wasn’t worried. She was 70 years old but a tough little bird who had survived so much. She was only in the hospital for a few days, giving me the rare but exciting opportunity to drive her car to and from school.

It wasn’t until later that my brother and I were told that the surgery was because she had colon cancer. And it wasn’t until much, much later that we were told the doctor said to her, “if there are any trips you want to go on, take them now.”

My grandma didn’t want to go on any trips. She wanted to see her four grandkids grow up. Kyle and I were juniors in high school, and my cousins Leah and Timolyn were in middle school. After Gram recovered from her surgery, she went back to the grind of helping my parents shuttle my brother and me around. School pick up, voice lessons drop off, pick up at the track meet, drop off at work, shop at the mall. She was always there and always did anything for us.

I remember hearing her cheer for me after I gave a speech at my high school graduation. She helped me pack for college and sent me a letter every week, even though I was only an hour away. The day I graduated from college she danced around, singing the school fight song, pride on her face. Leah graduated from high school a month later and my grandma’s smile couldn’t have been bigger. When I got my first “real” job, I sent her emails from my office and my parents would print them out so she could read them. She loved hearing my crazy stories about my work and social life. The next year Kyle finished college and Timolyn graduated from high school, and my gram was so happy. It was seven years after her surgery.

After we had all graduated, my Grandma started to decline. My dad visited me at work to tell me that the end was coming – Gram had seen us four kids into adulthood. I couldn’t really grasp it. I still needed her! It wasn’t until I got older that I realized how hard she had fought, through chemo and a colostomy and pain. She did it for us, and it has profoundly impacted the way I look at each day, especially after Maddie died. Grandma suffered profound loss but still got so much joy from making her loved ones happy, and I try to do the same.

I have the last few birthday cards she sent me. Every year she would make me whatever pie I wanted for my birthday – I usually wanted something hard to make like custard or lemon meringue. Her birthday was almost a month after mine, on July 23rd. On her birthday, all her kids and grandkids would gather together, and we’d sing her happy birthday. I wish she’d made it to birthday 78, but I am so thankful for the twenty-two birthdays I spent making her smile.

Heather & Gramma
two days after I graduated from USC