When I showed up to my first Relay for Life event my freshman year of high school, I had no connection to cancer. Sure, it was inspiring to see my friend Marissa fight against cancer so passionately, but I never felt a ton of emotion toward the cause. Just a few weeks after attending my first Relay, my grandpa got up early from the lunch table after a round of golf and said, “I gotta go, I have an appointment.” When my mom asked what was wrong the reply was, “Just a tickle in my throat. Probably just a cold.” My grandpa was a doctor. A Michigan alum. He knew what was wrong, right?
After a week, the diagnosis of Stage 1 thyroid cancer came to my family. He waited a week to start treatment because the doctor said it wasn’t too urgent. I wasn’t worried. This is a man who had served in Korea, raised seven kids and gone to Egypt eight weeks after having knee-replacement surgery.
After a week, it had progressed extremely rapidly. The treatment plan changed. Chemotherapy once a week and radiation twice a day, seven days a week. When I looked up his actual diagnosis, Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer, I read some pretty scary stuff. “Anaplastic tumors are the least common (only 1% of thyroid cancer cases) and most deadly of all thyroid cancers. This cancer has a very low cure rate with the very best treatments. Most patients with anaplastic thyroid cancer do not live 1 year from the day they are diagnosed.”
As his condition worsened, we did get to spend more time with him. My mom went to help my grandma cook dinner while my sister and I watched TV with my grandpa. When he became too ill to eat solid food, I made him my famous frozen chocolate mousse pie. To this day, some of my best memories are sitting with him on the couch listening to him yell at Tiger Woods to let someone else win for a change.
After less than 90 days, we were told he would live three more days without treatment or three months living in the hospital. Ultimately, he decided that having three months staring at a hospital wall and having everyone worry wasn’t worth it. My aunts and uncles flew in from San Francisco, Manhattan and Savannah to say goodbye. He passed away after we had all left for the night, holding a picture of my grandma.
Even though cancer stole my grandpa, it brought my family closer together. Before his diagnosis, we hadn’t seen my uncle from Savannah for years. Now he comes to visit us twice a year. We started a family e-mail chain and shared our favorite stories and quotes about grandpa. Now, when I ask for support for Relay, I get notes from all my aunts and uncles saying how proud my grandpa would be. All that makes me feel like I’m doing all I can to honor his memory.
After my grandpa’s passing, I have watched countless friends and families be affected by this disease. When I was 15, my friend Matt’s dad died from cancer. When I was 16, my friend Angela’s dad died in less than 60 days from his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. One week to the day after he passed, my best friend Anna’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Three months later, my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. The list goes on and on, unfortunately with more people losing their battles than winning.
Every time I go to an MRelay meeting, all of these people are in my thoughts. I Relay so nobody else has to go through what my friends and family did. I Relay because I know that, in my lifetime, we will find a cure. Grandpa was a doctor, and when my mom used to ask how his day was when he got home, he’d say, “just another day of saving lives and stamping out disease.” Well, I want to stamp out this disease. I have seen what MRelay can do, raising more than $1,000,000 in the last three years. I know we are making a difference, and I’m so excited to see what we can do together this year.
Please join us on April 11 at 10 a.m. on Palmer Field to help finish the fight against cancer! Visit mrelay.org for more information.
Megan Boczar is an LSA senior.