From my pre-school to preteen years, every day ended with a school bus ride to my grandparents’ house–though we just called it “grandma’s house” back then.
My favorite hour of the day was hearing the garage door rumble, and the screen door creak, and seeing my grandma stroll in with a hug and a tray of something sweet. She’d fill up the cookie jar, change out of her hospital clothes, and lay on the couch to relax with us.
One day, from the couch, my grandma pointed to the basketball hoop outside her window where my brother was playing, and told me I should try out for the 4th grade basketball team.
Some personality traits skip generations. My grandma, born in 1932, had always wanted to play sports. She had a badass scar on her leg from a bicycle kickstand, and her fervent loyalty to Minnesota Vikings football made me imagine her as a 1940s teenager running routes at a school recess she probably never had. Looking back, I’m amazed at how that one, simple sentence of encouragement launched ten of the most formative years of my life, on the court.
Shortly after my basketball tryout, I was riding in the backseat of my mom’s car when she told us devastating news. My grandma had noticed a strange back pain, and tests showed it was actually ovarian cancer. Although they expected to beat it into remission with chemo, the chance of recurrence was high. My stomach dropped, and I hoped desperately that the diagnosis was wrong, or that she’d at least beat the odds and stay with us. I couldn’t wrap my mind around my grandma not being present for my school graduations or wedding.
The very last time I saw her, we baked cookies, and I sat next to her on her favorite couch. Inside, I knew it was time to tell her I love her. An unspoken goodbye.
After a long and brave fight with ovarian cancer, and chemo, and wigs, and scarves, and oxygen and hospital stays–I lost my grandmother in November 2005.
What I remember most about her funeral was shivering from cold and nerves at the church lectern, and my uncle saying, “the world just got a lot colder.”
Six years later, I was a college senior working an on-campus job when I got the worst menstrual cramps of my life. I headed to the campus store for medicine, but when I got close, I knew something was wrong. My cramps seized a crippling grip on my abdomen until I could barely walk. I felt nauseated, and overcome with a raging fever. I quickly ducked into the bathroom, and tucked myself away in a stall. I wondered whether I would make it out, or if I was dying. If I was dying, I knew a bathroom stall was not the best place to find help. Suddenly, I felt an inexplicable reprieve. A cool, internal sensation. And for no identifiable reason, I thought of my grandmother. I took that split second of relief to crawl out of the bathroom and ask for help before I fainted and woke up in the hospital. After a series of poor medical experiences–including doctors who laughed at my questions and told me I was probably just pregnant–I was finally diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and potentially endometriosis, too.
Some traits skip generations. I watched my grandmother listen to her body. Seek out doctors. Ask questions. And fight–with a humble, beautiful will to survive, until her very last day. And, she passed that energy down, much like her love for sports.
I fight for my health and #ListenUp to my body because I love life, just like she did. Because I want to spread warmth and empower people, like she did. Because my health matters to my family–and the family I have yet to build–just like she meant the world to us.
ALEX BLEDSOE is a writer, filmmaker and communications strategist, and the co-founder of Breaktide Productions. Alex has been recognized as a Maynard 200 Fellow and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Fellow, and was previously a guest columnist for The Washington Post, an Aspen Institute emerging writer nominee, and a Hedgebrook scholar. Previously, Alex managed public relations for Apple. She is multilingual, and earned her B.S. from Georgetown University with a degree in international politics. In 2005, Alex’s grandmother passed away after battling ovarian cancer for five years. In 2011, Alex was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). She is an advocate for self love and practices self care through exercise, laughing, traveling and quality time with loved ones.