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Cancer care brings grandmother, teen closer together

By: Nathalie Alvarenga Morales

Youthcast Media Group®

My paternal grandma and I were never that close. It took a Stage 2 bone-cancer diagnosis in 2019 to bring us closer together. I've now spent more than 150 hours with her in the last three years accompanying her to chemo. 

Courtesy of Nathalie Alvarenga Morales

It’s not like I didn’t know my grandma before– I mean, she’s my grandma. She lives 15 minutes away and we saw each other all the time. But we didn’t spend a lot of time alone. I never imagined this would be the reason I now know more about her life. 

I started attending chemo with her because she doesn't speak English at all so I would be the one translating everything for her. 

So much time spent together. We usually got to the hospital, about 20 minutes from home, around 7 a.m. While we waited for her to get taken in, a nurse would take her blood pressure and temperature. She never had to tell me how she felt; it was clear in her eyes and in her high blood pressure. The diagnosis had changed her life completely.

Grandma’s chemo took four hours every time, three times a week. The chemo room was a comfortable place– it looked nice and felt nice, the walls had soothing colors and the seats were cozy, with a nice view to outside.  The nurses were sweet and kind no matter the workload they might have had on top of them and they did their best to make the experience as easy as possible. 

Of course, none of  that could ever make up for the hard situation the people getting chemo were going through. Slowly I saw my grandmother's hair thin and her smile dim. I knew there was nothing I could do to bring back the same smile she had before. 

I didn’t realize how lucky we were to live close to her appointments. When I saw people with bags and backpacks full of things like books, snacks, coloring books and blankets, it never really made sense to me why, until a nurse told me that some patients live an hour away, or more. It then made me realize how hard it is for others to receive treatment just to keep them alive, and how much money they have to spend. Other times you saw people in their wheelchairs who were struggling to even make it in the waiting room. I saw some people with computers, knowing they wouldn't let their saddest moment, the moment they were struggling in, get in the way of their work responsibilities.

I knew this was a hard time for Grandma, as it was probably for everyone else in the building. We didn't talk a lot during her appointments– she was sometimes in pain, tired or just worried. But I always hoped my presence helped her a bit. 

We slowly found ways to connect. I shared with her the details of the small fights my younger sister and I have at times, and she connected it to how she was once the little sister who would annoy her older sisters. We talked about my excitement about going back to school, and about cool recipes we could make together, which gave us something to look forward to. 

Grandma has been getting better, and so has our relationship. She no longer receives chemo as the cancer has disappeared. She still has regular visits to the doctors and other specialists. I've been able to tell there is a bit more joy in her, she smiles and laughs more. 

Nathalie Alvarenga Morales is a rising junior at Annandale High School in Virginia. She worked on this article with Youthcast Media Group, which has a partnership with Annandale’s journalism class. 


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