By Katia Jordan
My Granny, Gloria F. Smith, was an extraordinary grandmother who took the duties of being a grandmother and exceeded them significantly.
The bond that we shared was almost indescribable. We shared a powerful and loving relationship.
So when I learned during my sophomore year in college that Granny had pancreatic cancer, it was equivalent to someone snatching my heart right from out of my chest. I knew I had to be with her.
But I was in Thibodaux, La. at Nicholls State University. That moment was definitely one of the worst moments I’ve endured. When I was five, Granny decided to move from California to Maryland so she could watch and spend quality time with her only granddaughter. Granny was my best friend, a mentor, a provider, and a protector all fused into one.
I was inconsolable because thoughts of her possibly dying and her being in excruciating pain were flooding my brain. Ironically, the only person who could relinquish those dark thoughts was my grandmother, the person who I was sad for. She held me in her arms for nearly a
half- hour consoling me and telling me everything was going to be ok.
My parents and grandmother actually kept her diagnosis a secret from me for a full semester at my grandmother’s request. They hid the news because they worried this information would tremendously affect me and cause my school and tennis to rapidly decline.
My grandmother’s diagnosis came to a complete surprise to everybody, especially since she always appeared to be healthy and active. My grandmother was always very conscious of her health and she regularly went to the doctors. Whenever she had her routine doctors’ appointment, doctors always gave her a clean bill of health.
In December of 2014, she had been experiencing unusually severe stomach pains and this caused her to check herself into a hospital, where she was eventually diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. Doctors explained to my parents that my grandmother had a rare form of this
already rare cancer, which is why the disease went undetected.
While I was in school, my grandmother was often at her draining chemotherapy sessions. I was extremely disappointed that I wasn’t there by her side to support her, just like she had supported me all throughout my life. This guilt caused me to make the decision to transfer for a second time to a school back home in my hometown of Baltimore. I wanted to assure my grandmother that I would always be by her side, no matter what!
Throughout my college years, I unconventionally attended three schools. Before I played tennis for Nicholls State, I attended Syracuse University (SU) and was a member of SU’s women’s tennis team. I transferred to Nicholls because I was impressed with the coaching staff at the time. Although, it was slightly embarrassing for me to discuss my multiple transfers, my abundance of love for my grandmother outweighed my pride and ego.
When I attended Morgan State for my junior year in the fall of 2015, I was able to spend all my weekends with my grandmother. After my last class concluded on Friday afternoons, I would rush home to spend time with her and help her with anything she needed.
As the days went by, Granny became smaller and weaker. Despite her frail body-type, her determined and upbeat spirit remained the same. Her appetite dwindled rapidly and the most she would eat would be a small portion of oatmeal. My mom and I often had to assist her with walking, bathing and eating. In fact, my mother devoted her life to taking care of my grandmother and even moved in with her to provide 24/7 care. It was a blessing for me to be able to help.
Granny passed away February 19, 2016. Losing my grandmother is something I cope with every single day, but I am extremely blessed to have been able to spend such quality time with her before she passed.
It was extremely difficult to celebrate my graduation without her in the stands, but I knew she was looking down on me during graduation day May 20, 2017.
Moving back to Baltimore to be with Granny and attend Morgan State was the best decision I could have ever made. Along with spending quality time with my late grandmother, I developed more of a passion for journalism.
At Morgan State, it was wonderful to be an intern with the Urban Health Media Project and work with high school students who are aspiring journalists, reporting on health disparities and other issues that could save lives.
Pancreatic cancer is a disease that often goes undetected, so young journalists like me and the UHMP students have the ability to make a big difference in the amount of information about symptoms on pancreatic and other cancers.
Granny might still be alive if that kind of information had been available.
Jordan is now pursuing a master of science degree at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication.