The decision to document my grandmother’s illness and treatment in a photographic essay was difficult for me to make, however she was exceptionally supportive of this project and encouraged me to capture her experience as it really was. I wanted to share her story, that of an older woman struggling with disease, sickness, pain, treatment, and finally hope in an honest but empathetic manner.
At age 70, my grandmother, an independent woman who cared selflessly for others, was diagnosed with leukemia. She had been caring for my grandfather, who had suffered a debilitating stroke, for more than 10 years, and had nurtured her two children, and me—her only granddaughter. It was necessary for her to live apart from her husband of 50 years during her treatment—a heartbreaking separation.
Her first treatments were ineffective. But she was lucky enough to receive a bone marrow transplant that would help her counteract the leukemia from an anonymous donor who was an exact genetic match. This transplant was overwhelming and frightening for both her and our family;
there was a high risk of her experiencing GvH, or Graft versus Host, a reaction to the new stem cells which might have had dangerous, grueling side effects, and which may have ended her life. Grandmother decided to take the chance to prolong her life. Although she did not suffer from GvH, her recovery was long and exhausting requiring much family assistance. However, now she is living independently and still recovering.
My grandmother is a very important part of my life. She is an artist who loves to paint, sculpt, and sketch. She spent hours teaching me her skills throughout my youth and she encouraged me to pursue a photography major in college.
I present this photo essay to honor my grandmother’s courage and inspiration, my family’s mutual support, and the generosity of the cell donor. I hope that I have captured my grandmother’s dignity during this harrowing time and have contributed to an understanding of the impact of disease and its treatment.
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