As I grew up, my great-grandmother (Big Nanny) usually came to visit once or twice a year. During my early teen years, she began visiting more frequently. By the time I turned 14, she moved in with us. I never questioned her presence because I was very happy to be able to see and talk to her every day.
One morning my mother called my siblings and I into the kitchen to talk to us. Big Nanny was seated at the table, and uncharacteristically quiet. My mother explained to us that big nanny had terminal lung cancer. I remember thinking that somehow the doctors were wrong, and all she needed to do was stop smoking. At the time, she smoked about 1-2 packs a day (I forgot the brand). I remember asking her to stop smoking, so that her lungs could somehow heal themselves, she said it was too late. Undeterred, I asked her to at least change her brand to a lighter cigarette (I secretly believed that ANY reduction in her smoking habit would result in a reversal of her cancer). She eventually relented and switched to Carlton brand cigarettes because they were lower in tar and nicotine. As time passed, she became weaker. Eventually, she was confined to her bed with an oxygen tank. Our neighbor across the street was a nurse; she came by periodically to administer morphine for big nanny’s pain.
Big Nanny succumbed to lung cancer when I was 15.