You’ll ‘always be in my heart’

was only in sixth grade when the word cancer turned my world upside down.

My parents called my little brother and I into the living room — I had thought we were ordering pizza. But, after one look at their faces it was clear something was wrong. But I wasn’t ready for what I heard next.

“Grandma has cancer,” they explained. At the time, I had no idea what that meant or what to think. I just knew that sentence was ringing in and out of my ears.

She was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. Although I didn’t know what it meant, I knew my life would be forever changed.

It was my family’s first battle against the disease, and seeing my grandmother struggle got harder.

She was the type of person that could give you one hug and make you feel invincible. She got weaker and weaker. Eventually it became apparent my sweet, beautiful grandma was not getting better.

Early in the morning, six short months later, we lost her.

It was weird getting used to life without grandma, it was the first death I experienced. Holidays didn’t seem the same. Nothing really did.

Especially grandpa.

He became extremely depressed. We all reached out to him, we were determined to stay a close family. It was hard to watch someone I loved so much struggling to carry on the way he was. After grandma passed, it was not rare to hear him wishing for his own time. Although it was hard, we moved forward as a family.

Freshmen year of high school, cancer re-entered my life.

This time it was my uncle. My uncle seemed like a celebrity when I grew up. He was nicknamed ‘the governor,’ because everywhere he went he knew someone. He was such a strong role model for both my brother and I.

He was initially diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and had been in the hospital. We had been told he was doing much better and could come home Feb. 23 — my mom’s birthday.

As I was getting ready for school, the phone rang. It was the hospital encouraging the family to come right away. The cancer had spread to his leg, lungs and brain. However, being the protective man he was, he kept his diagnosis to himself.

I can honestly say I didn’t know what it meant to have the family called to the hospital, and once again felt totally unprepared for what came next. The room is still crystal clear to me.

We barely got through the door when my aunt walked up to me and my brother crying, saying “he loved you guys so much.”

I then walked in to see my uncle, ‘the governor,’ laying helpless and unconscious. We sat for hours until finally he took his last gasping breath.

At the time, my cousin Katie was pregnant with what would have been his first grandchild. The light at the end of our tunnel. Since then, Katie has had two beautiful children that helped glue our family back together.

Cancer is a word that has changed so many lives. Although it was painful, I learned at a young age to appreciate my family and loved ones while you still can.

When I was 19, I got a tattoo on my ribs to symbolize the loved ones I will never forget. It is a Michael Jackson lyric that reads, “Though we’re far apart, you’re always in my heart,”

That saying will remain true forever.