In 2007 my grandpa was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. It was honestly one of the scariest times in my life. His type of cancer was sadly not curable. He went through a few surgeries and several rounds of chemo, none of which helped.
One day at a get-together at my aunt’s house, my grandpa took me upstairs. He gave me a letter and told me to open it. Without a question I opened it and was overcome with emotion when I realized it was a letter he wrote to me. As I read it I cried even more. When my grandpa saw the tears running down my face he said jokingly, “What’s that water coming out of your eyes?” I just laughed and kept reading the letter. He told me not to tell anyone I had it, so I hid it under my pillow. Each night I would read it and think about him.
His tumor kept growing back even stronger than the previous one. The doctors said there was nothing else they could really do. He was sent home to die peacefully. My family and I went to see him a few more times. In the last week or so before he died, he was in really bad shape so my mom and dad decided not to let me and my brothers and sister see him, because they didn’t want us to remember him that way.
On August 20, 2008, my mom came to my school to pick us up. When I saw her I knew what had happened. On the drive to my grandparent’s house I sat in silence. I didn’t know what to think. My grandpa was the first person to die that I was really close to. I just couldn’t believe he was no longer with us. When we finally got to their house I walked in and the first thing I saw was my grandpa lying there, motionless. I immediately broke into tears. I didn’t realize how close I was to him until he wasn’t there anymore. The next couple of days were so hard. One thing that made me feel a little better, was knowing that he was watching over us.
On the day of the funeral I was a total mess. I think that was the longest period of time I have ever cried. Every time I saw someone I knew or someone that knew my grandpa I would start crying again. It was so hard. Throughout the next couple of months I started to feel a little better. I read the letter every night and tucked it back under my pillow. It was a way for me to feel connected to him.
One night my entire family went to my brother’s basketball game. This was unusual for all of us to go because of our busy schedules, but this time it worked out. In the middle of the game my parents were called out to the lobby. I just thought one of my younger siblings couldn’t find my parents or something. A little later they both came rushing in and grabbed their coats. I walked down by them and asked what was going on. They both said in a quick response, “The house is on fire!” I was terrified and the first thing I thought about was the letter from my grandpa.
On the long drive home I finally told my mom and dad about the letter. They were both hesitant to tell me it was probably gone. When we finally got back to what was left of our house, it didn’t look good. The roof was caved in and everything was black. When it was safe to go inside, a fireman led my mom through all the rubble and into my room to look for the letter. When they walked into what was left of my room, everything was completely black. She lifted my blackened pillow and to her surprise the letter was completely white! It was not touched by fire, water, ash, or anything else. When she brought it out to me I was so relieved to see that it was unharmed. It was nothing short of a miracle!
Later that night we went back to my grandma and grandpa’s house. I showed my family the letter. It said that he was very proud of me for everything I do. He also wrote that he wished he was more like me, because he admired my caring and selflessness.
About a month after the fire my world was turned upside down yet again. On January 31, 2009, my parents took me to the emergency room. After complaining of headaches and seeing spots, the doctors performed a CAT scan. They told me I had a brain tumor. My life was forever changed that night.
I was so scared that I was going to die just like my grandpa did nearly five months before. They later performed a biopsy to see if it was cancer and determine what type. It was confirmed: I had a germinoma brain tumor. I ended up having two more surgeries; one to put in a port and one to take it out. The port allowed me to get chemotherapy and to have blood draws. I had four rounds of chemotherapy, then daily radiation treatment for 35 days.
I didn’t know it at the time, but after my grandpa was diagnosed and before he passed away, he told my grandma to keep a watchful eye on me. They have 16 grandchildren, but for some reason, he was specifically cautious about me. We think he knew something the rest of us didn’t.
I was determined to win my battle with cancer, not just for me but for my grandpa too. Nearly seven months after my diagnosis, I was declared cancer free!
It was an absolute miracle that his letter survived our house fire, and I think my grandpa had something to do with it. I think he wanted me to have something to hold onto – a beacon of hope to get me through all of the grueling treatments and surgeries. I know he was watching over me then and I know he still is to this day!
Editor’s note: We recently asked the Gebauer family to help us tell Cincinnati Children’s story in a TV commercial. Here is a behind-the-scenes look:
Related post: Karey Gebauer explains why 2009 is so difficult to talk about.