Fighting cancer one step at a time

Published 9:54 am Monday, June 6, 2005

By By Adam Prestridge
We've all heard those stories from our grandparents that started off, "When I was your age."
They usually followed with "we walked to school barefooted in the snow" or "it took days, sometimes weeks to travel lengths that only take hours today."
Most of our reactions are the same, especially as a child. We roll our eyes in the back of our heads, say "whatever" and do whatever we've been swindled into doing just to escape.
If I would have ever done that, my grandmother would have come up with one of her silly sayings like "By Cracky" and put me in timeout because I had doubted her truth. That's because she really did all those things. I still haven't figured out what that saying is.
Even though she is one of the sweetest women I know, she is very independent. It's not that my grandfather, God rest his soul, didn't take care of her, because he did, it was just the way and the time that she grew up required independence. In fact, my grandfather co-owned the Findley Avenue Farmer's Market in Birmingham, which still thrives today.
As a young child, my grandmother and her siblings worked hard on her father's farm, through the Great Depression, until they set out for Alabama in 1936. If you ever want to know how a five-week drive from Minnesota to Alabama in a 1928 Chevrolet feels like, just ask her. She knows.
I can only imagine how long and exhausting the trip took, not to mention her parents Charlie and Pearl and her two brothers, Anson and David, were all crammed into that Chevy. The five of them didn't stay in fancy inns at night, but rather camped beside the roadway and sometimes in the car and cooked over an open campfire. It's amazing to say the least.
Come to find out, they moved so my great-grandfather could start a new job as a steelworker in Birmingham. I just wonder why he made his decision or how he knew about the job. It's not like he read it in the classifieds. It's also odd that they settled in Westover in Shelby County. I've been told my grandfather worked all week in Birmingham and came home on the weekends.
I say all of this because she's continued her survival-type ways throughout her life. Working in an airplane hanger during World War II as a tool technician, she survived a terrible accident that left her hospitalized after a huge tool rack crashed down on top of her. She's also survived two bouts with cancer.
Her first run in with the deadly disease was when she was 57-years-old and she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After treatment, including chemotherapy she was able to win the fight, but 16 years later, when she was 73-years-old, the disease returned. This time it was in the form of breast cancer.
Luckily the cancer was detected early and she wasn't required to take chemo. The downside is she had to have a mastectomy, or her breast removed. She was able to bounce back from that and is living proof that cancer can be beat.
At a late age, she became active in Relay for Life, which benefits the American Cancer Society, even though she is hard of hearing and can't walk around too well due to deteriorating knees. Even when she was instructed by her doctor to use a walker for assistance, she attended the event and made it a point to walk a lap during the survivors walk.
I'm proud to say she was named the oldest cancer survivor to attend the event in 1999 and 2000. She may not live in Atmore, and in fact, she's not able to attend the Relay for Life in her hometown, but I'll be there June 10 walking in her behalf. After all, she's a true survivor in many ways.
So next Friday night, as you look at the luminaries lined around Heritage Park, look for one dedicated to Violet Nail, known to me as Maw Maw. She's a true survivor to me and the rest of my family.
Be sure to pay respect to your fallen loved one or to those in your family that have survived this deadly disease.
Adam Prestridge is publisher of the Atmore Advance. His column appears on weekly.

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