Today marks three years since I lost my grandparents to cancer.

I was raised by my mom in a nontraditional home and my father was never around. But from Day 1 his parents loved my mom and me like their own.

Annie and Eddie Martin were my twin pillars. They were kind, loving people who taught me hard work, compassion and loyalty.

I spent my childhood running around their beautiful rural property. Learning how to sew, and paint and garden from my Me-me. Sneaking sips from Pop-pop’s coffee cup and sitting on his lap as he read the paper.

They loved the outdoors and tending to their beautiful home. They had massive gardens and would spend most of their days in love and in nature. But as I grew up, the property and the house my grandfather built began to feel smaller. Their love for each other never faltered, however, even as they aged.

After they passed I found an anniversary card written by my grandfather the year before he died.

“Love is a swing in the air, listening to the birds with all the flowers blooming. Things have not changed for us in the last 31 years. Growing a little older hasn’t changed my love for you since the day I said I do. Happy Anniversary. I love you, Annie. Love Ed.”

Cue the tears.

My grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016 at the age of 77, and he had a host of other health concerns. He was the hardest working man I’ve ever known, and the cancer took a toll on his body.

He died in the early morning on Oct. 23, 2016. I had been sitting with my grandmother in the kitchen for hours the evening before, waiting for him to wake up so I could say goodbye. But he never did.

I was blessed to make it 25 years without losing a loved one, so hiding my pain from my grandmother, who was the strongest, most stubborn woman I’ve ever met, was not easy.

But still, I drove her around to each appointment, helped her plan the funeral and held her hand as she laid her husband of 30+ years to rest.

A month later she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

She decided to fight, and I drove her to her first chemo appointment the day before Thanksgiving.

She was a trooper.

I lived about 3 hours away and I couldn’t go with her to every appointment, and when I visited her less than a month later, I could tell the treatments were taking a toll.

She was smaller. Less illuminated.

On Jan. 5 I called to wish her a happy birthday.

She was in the hospital. She fell in the middle of the night and had to call 9-1-1 to help her up.

I gave her a hard time for not calling me earlier and I drove straight to her. We got her an ice cream cake and celebrated her 76th birthday from a hospital bed.

An oncologist visited the next day, spewing a ton of medical jargon I couldn’t really comprehend, but the one sentence I could, told me she wasn’t going to make it long.

The rest of the week went by in a blur as I signed DNR forms, contacted insurance and hospice agencies, organized round-the-clock care and made plans to take her home.

She died days later on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017.

And if you knew my grandmother, she would’ve loved to have gone out on Friday the 13th.

It’s been three years. And I miss them every day. I so badly want to pick up the phone and hear Pop-pop’s deep baritone say, “Hellooo, how are you?” Or Me-me’s singing in the kitchen, “Mamá celeste deliiiiiiicioso.”

My life hasn’t been the same without them. But I also know my pain is just a fraction of what hundreds of thousands of people face every day as cancer continues to threaten families.

And that is why I am running. On Jan. 1, 2020 I pledged to run a mile a day for the first 100 days of the year in an effort to raise money for the American Cancer Society. I’m running in memory of those childhood days when I would race my grandmother to the strawberry patch and run to jump on my grandfather’s lap.

And I’m running in hopes that someday no one will have to go through losing a loved one to cancer.

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