• Kemba Zola

Honoring Life... a family's battle with cancer

The Holy Quran speaks to the blessing of life in stages.

Surah 16:70, Maulana Ali translation says, And Allah creates you, then He causes you to die; and of you is he who is brought back to the worst part of life, so that he knows nothing after having knowledge. Surely Allah is Knowing, Powerful.

Gratitude and honor were my feelings when witnessing two close individuals in their final stage of this life. Their strength, character, and attitude going through the transition humbled me. Most important, are the signs God opened my eyes to see so that I am able to celebrate the lives of those gone before me and not mourn them.

God blessed me with a mother, brother, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and numerous close friends for a specified period of time, that is now up. Each person played a unique part in my development. In keeping the spirit of my loved ones alive through constant remembrance, I often reflect on the lessons learned witnessing my grandfather and aunt each fight a battle with cancer. It happened so quickly, then again, it seemed as if the pain would never subside. My grandfather was diagnosed approximately 10 years earlier with prostate cancer. He refused treatment and choose to live his days his way. My grandfather use to say "I have forgotten more than you have ever known". A bit of sarcasm, maybe, but it was the absolute truth (read HQ 16:70). A man full of integrity, patriarch of the family, humble from being raised in the South, but also stubborn and prided as most Black Men in America are. On a sunny July day is when my grandfather was rushed to the hospital for what my family thought was a stroke. With his wife of 59 years by his side and lots of family present, the positive tests results confirmed it was not a stroke, but instead the cancer was in full swing and in fact had spread throughout his body and into his bones. 30 days is what the doctors estimated remained of his life, God knows best. The news was initially devastating. My grandfather went home, but subsequently returned to the hospital after requiring additional medical attention. I can not recall if it was on his first or second trip to the hospital; my aunt, his only daughter, had been in her second car accident in a weeks time. She too, was then simultaneously in the same hospital. As a family, we could not understand why her left peripheral vision was either faint or blacked out. After a series of tests the confirmation of a mass filled brain tumor existed. The patriarch, my grandfather, taught family first. This is exactly how we came together, each with a role from the heart.

My role was special, filled with honor. As the oldest granddaughter and niece I had the privilege to spend many years being attended to, so the opportunity to express my gratitude by action was timely. I experienced an overwhelming sense of duty right next to my grandfathers hospitable bed. My grandfather raised men and because of this my father instilled in me the importance of being a woman. With only one of my uncles and myself in the room my grandfather needed to move, I think he wanted to sit up or perhaps relieve his bladder. At any rate, some things happened whereas I found myself excused from the room so not to violate male privacy. Upon my return there was feces on the floor. As I began to clean it, my grandfather apologized as he appeared helpless. He had demonstrated nothing but independence all my life and if anybody had cleaned behind him it was only my grandmother. As I cleaned, I smiled. Joy filled my heart, definitely not because this occurred but because I was honored. Being the first granddaughter he cared for me, he must have changed a few of my diapers, he gave random spelling tests ensuring I never used a word I could not spell, he taught me to ride a bike, and he never failed to mention I was beautiful and smart. I was swift at cleaning his bowel accident, because I was grateful to repay the favor. Days go on, and while they seem so long they are indeed short. Every moment I have to spend engaged in this transition, running errands, protecting my grandmother from people that offer themselves but are really in the way, and keeping my faith solid so my strength exudes to other family members; I gave my all, by God's permission.

Being mindful, the doctors also had given my aunt a specified time to fight her battle. Like my grandfather, 10 years earlier, she chose to live her prescribed time as ordained by God with little medication. She eventually agreed to a few treatments, but this was not a heartfelt choice of hers. I paid close attention to my aunt as she continued to have routine filled days despite the pain and changes occurring with her health. Her independence spoke volumes and literally there were times everybody could hear it just the same. To her father, she spoke softly and with no real physical strength she was found attempting to lift him when he desired to move. Not a good idea, but definitely an action to please her dad and comfort him at the same time. I admired her tenacity. The moments she spent with my grandfather were special, intimate, and memorable. Within 30 days my grandfathers heart would beat for the last time. It was a peaceful transition. My aunt, in her role of being a daughter, made sure to be a friend to her mother. Side by side, mother and daughter entered the church for the funeral of my grandfather.

A few months went by with my aunt having good and challenging days. The thing about her good days were the fact she was very active. The more she insisted on keeping her routine against the recommendations; the more challenging it was for the family to keep up. Cancer was invading her internally, yet she refused to acknowledge its presence. A warrior with a strong belief, a person is who they say they are; but more importantly they are who their actions present to the others. Life was getting shorter for my aunt and my family understood the need to comfort, protect, and provide a relaxed atmosphere. My aunt wanted to hang out on the beach with me, but her health and the sun would not permit it. One evening I opted to stay over my grandmothers to tend to my aunt through the night. Little did I know this would turn into a slumber party for two. I was supposed to watch over her but like an aunt, she was being hospitable to me. My grandmother went to her room and just when I thought my aunt was going to bed she came back with sheets and blankets to sleep on the other couch in the living room with me. She provided words of wisdom, confided her feelings surrounding the loss of my mother, and what it meant for her to be by my grandfathers side until the end. This was a perfect girls night. Approximately five months after laying my grandfather to rest, the family gathered once more to pay tribute to a beautiful, strong, and no nonsense Black Woman.

In celebrating the lives of my grandfather and my aunt, it is my understanding that to God is our eventual return. Being born the first granddaughter and niece afforded many learning and loving opportunities. I miss them both and will continue my life journey in a manner that is respectful, dignified, filled with love, and being first to own up to my responsibilities. I thank God for the time He gave me with my loved ones.


Kemba Zola

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