When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I became slightly obsessed with my dead grandmother. Or, more accurately, I became obsessed with all of the things that I – the youngest of four siblings – inherited from my dead grandmother who I had never met.
Why did I inherit the fine china set that I’m certain she never ate a meal on? The fine china that has stayed neatly packed in my attic since the day we moved in. How on earth, with two older sisters, did I inherit her diamond engagement ring and her gold wedding band? And the biggest question of all: why did I inherit the breast cancer that killed her?
I spent a lot of time wondering if I’d been cursed or somehow ominously marked when I brought her things into my home. I wondered if I should throw them out, let each beautiful dish shatter into tiny pieces or ceremoniously burn every serving tray, platter, tea cup, gold band and diamond ring that she ever touched. I wondered if all of these things had somehow gotten lost or misplaced when she died or when my grandfather moved; if they had mysteriously disappeared 50 years ago, never to be touched by me or my siblings, would I still be feeling this hideous lump?
I wondered. A lot.
Before my own treatment started, I dug out my grandmother’s wedding band. I needed to touch it and imagine how it must have looked on her hand. I wondered if, like me, she tugged on it or spun it when she was nervous or when they told her she had breast cancer. I wondered if she wore it during the treatments that failed her so miserably. I wondered if she had it on when she died.
I put it on my own finger to see how it felt.
That very same day, a dear friend sent me a necklace – the angel of strength. I put my new necklace on and began spinning that old ring and I cried. I cried because I suddenly realized how miserable it must have been to be diagnosed with breast cancer in 1960. I suddenly understood that the heart attack that killed her was a direct result of the treatment that she was hoping would save her. I suddenly recognized why my own diagnosis of breast cancer came with regular visits to the cardiologist. I suddenly realized that my dead grandmother was a part of my own, personal clinical trial.
And I suddenly realized that all of those things she left behind, all of those things that found their way to me, were with me for a reason: a reminder that I had my very own angel of strength always hovering nearby.