I Can Only Hope She’s Alive When You Read This

I will be honest when I say that I did not take Cognitive Psychology 256 by choice. Although I am a psychology major, it was a list of three courses I had to choose from, and the other two were full.  Towards the last three weeks of class I received some news that would end up making this course invaluable to me.

My grandmother will be 75 this year. She has always been what you would call a “brainy” person, and worked in the Emergency Room Department her whole life until she retired some years ago.  Since her retirement, my loving Nan (as I refer to her as) has undergone numerous operations. She was diagnosed with lung cancer about ten years ago, and had all of her one lung, and part of her remaining one removed. As you can probably guess this extremely limits her physical abilities. Walking up the household’s stairs is enough to leave her winded and wheezing. A few years ago she was also diagnosed with thyroid cancer. In addition I thought it should be noted that she has Parkinsons, diabetes, high blood pressure , and takes 24 pills a day in order to maintain. Despite all this, unless you knew all this about her, you probably couldn’t tell the difference between her lifestyle, and that of other people in their seventies.

My grandmother and I are very close. So close I consider her my own mom in replace of my birth mother who has been absent from my life.  Over the past year, it is safe to say that my grandmother’s memory certainly is not what it used to be. Not really her semantic memory for facts and knowledge, but her episodic memory for events, places, and people, is what seemed to be not all that it was. Up until the last few months, her memory absences didn’t really appear to be more than what you can sum up to getting old. This wasn’t her only issue, many she would mention to me in passing over the phone, even more she would keep secret.  About two months ago was when the constant pain started, all over her body she would tell me. She also was always just so tired, and constantly felt nauseous. On occasion she would just randomly fall, one or two times in front of people, many more times not, and not telling anyone about it either. A little less than a month ago she would tell me that she started getting constant headaches. Every day she would have these headaches. Now at this part of the story you are probably asking yourself, “why the heck doesn’t she take herself to the doctor”? The answer to your question is very simple, she did. In fact, my grandmother on any given month has at least five appointments  with a number of doctors to check on how she is doing with her numerous conditions. Her main doctor believed it was because she was put on a new Parkinson’s medication (her condition was getting worse so they were trying something new) that may have not been mixing to well with her other medications. They changed her medication again and it seemed to help with most of her symptoms, minus the headaches.

Two weeks ago I received a text message from my Aunt “call me as soon as possible Nan is in the hospital”. I called her as soon as I read the message. “Your grandmother fell this morning. She couldn’t get herself up. She was taken to the hospital and they found something in her brain.” The news over the next couple of days was an emotional rollercoaster ultimately ending with the coaster launching off the tracks into a brick wall.

My grandmother has Glioblastoma(s), the most aggressive form of brain cancer. Its cells consist of many kinds, making it hard to treat, and it grows faster than weeds in a garden.  From the day she fell it was like the cancer had finally won some war it was having inside her. Her memory tests seem to leave more doors opened than closed. Most glioblastomas tumors are found in the cerebral cortex, part of the forebrain, and that is where hers was/is. It actually stretches across her entire forehead. What masked some of her symptoms that perhaps would have made it more obvious she was having problems with her frontal lobe, was her Parkinson’s disease. It seemed like all three regions, the motor cortex, premotor cortex, and prefrontal cortex had all been affected. Her constant shaking was to blame for many of her movements and motor control. Her prefrontal cortex in my opinion is what was affected the most. Over the last year decision making had become extremely difficult. Which to be honest was extremely frustrating to me at the time. Simple decisions would become extremely complex despite there simple solutions, and her resolution to most lacked logic. Her memory loss is too complex for me to even try and take a guess at.  Some days she thinks its 1914 (a year of which she wasn’t born yet) or 1943 , and some days she gets it right. It’s also the same way with days, and months of the year. She seems to recognize faces of adults, but not children. In addition she seems think all children are named Gavin, one of her six great grandchildren’s names. She also will try talking to herself if she calls her house and her recorded voice picks up on the answering machine. She will also on occasion ask extremely odd questions that are not relevant to anything, or completely forgot why she is in the hospital. Or think she is in the hospital because she has a condition of which she doesn’t. Some days though, the good days, it’s as if she’s almost perfectly fine. Those are the rewarding days for all of us.


In hindsight, her symptoms make me feel foolish, and make me feel anger towards her doctors. Headaches, vomiting, nausea, weakness of the body, memory loss, drowsiness, all symptoms of a brain tumor. I guess they are symptoms to many other things as well.  I feel as if every day of my life has now become a ticking clock, counting the days that she lives, and praying for more. Perhaps that’s the selfish side of me in all this, and I can only hope she’s alive when you read this.

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