My Grandfather Lost His Pancreatic Cancer Battle, but Taught Me a lot About Life

blog image*Editor's Note: This Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, Ambry's Creative Director, Michael Squier, is sharing memories and lessons learned from his grandfather, who lost his battle to pancreatic cancer. Ambry encourages everyone to know their family history of cancer. If someone in your family has pancreatic cancer, you could be at an increased risk. Talk to your healthcare provider about your risk, the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer, and if genetic testing is right for you.

There is one memory I have of my grandfather that is etched permanently into my mind, and in hindsight, I see how it affected the way I try to look at life. It may have been almost a decade ago but I remember it like it was yesterday...

It was an overcast morning; my grandfather and I were sitting on the front steps of my house in Santa Monica enjoying coffee and the peaceful ocean breeze.
We sat there in silence sipping our coffee for what seemed like an eternity. I remember not being sure what to say or how to feel and that not knowing made me feel guilty. Without looking at him, I quietly said, “I don’t want you to die.” He looked at me and just put his arm around me. He gave me a hug and we both began to cry, neither of us saying anything.

At this point, my grandfather had been living with us for a week or so and the two of us had not spent much time together during that period. At the time I was working long hours, and looking back I think I was doing so partially because I did not want to accept the reality of his diagnosis. About three weeks prior, he had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer and with myself being only 21 years old at the time, I didn’t quite grasp the gravity of what that meant.

After a very long embrace my grandfather and I did something we hadn’t done for a very long time, we talked and talked and talked some more. He shared stories of his childhood growing up in the Midwest, he told me of his adventures in the navy and told me about all the beautiful places, things and people he had encountered in his travels across the world. I learned more about my grandfather that day than I had ever before and it made me see him in a different light. We continued to have as many of these conversations as possible over the next few weeks but most times they would get cut short because of the amount of pain he was in, or because the pain medication would make him sleepy.

I don’t know who the conversations helped more - him or me. For him I think it was a way to deal with his own mortality, passing his stories down was his way to ensure he lived on in some way, shape or form.

About five weeks after that first conversation my grandfather passed away.

He taught me about what really matters in life, and in the end it’s the little things that matter most. In his last weeks, my grandfather taught me that once you stop worrying about death, you can start really living life. We are all going to die, there is no escaping that, but the trick is not letting that fear of death control the beautiful life we do have.

With all of the stresses of busy schedules and the constant demands of everyday life it can be easy to overlook what is really important. Sit down with a loved one and just talk about nothing, go throw the baseball with your kid, go buy your wife flowers for no reason, enjoy those small moments in life because those are the moments that you will cherish the most. Those are the moments that really make life special.

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