Why Cancer Did Not Beat Pearl / by Tynesia Boyea-Robinson

mamapearlOn Saturday, January 4, 2014 at 7:31 PM, I was there when my grandmother, Mama Pearl, took her last jagged breath.  People love to talk about the loved ones who went peacefully.

“When she passed, she just had this sense of calm.”

“You could tell she was right with the world and left with her affairs in order”

“She clearly made peace with her situation and is in a better place.”

I’m sorry, but none of these statements apply to Mama Pearl.  I was there with her and my family from when she woke up in the morning until she left us that evening.  My day started with clumsily assisting my mother give her a bath.  By that time, Mama Pearl had deteriorated significantly and was worlds away from when we first learned about her diagnosis in February of last year.

Shortly after learning about her brain tumor, my two sisters and I visited Mama Pearl in March.  All together, we had enough mutual support so that we could focus on her and not on how her illness made us feel.  Mama Pearl spent most of the time shaking her head at how silly we were and shrugging off any offers of help.  She was fine, thank you very much, and the best way you could help her was to leave her the hell alone.

Fast forward to the day of her passing.  While my mom lovingly talked to Mama Pearl, put on her favorite perfume (which my mom hated), and rubbed her with fancy lotion, I did my best to help.  I found myself an adolescent mass of thumbs and uncertainty.  By that time, Mama Pearl spent most of her time sedated, but I still firmly believe that somehow she was lucid.

As I awkwardly tried to change her sheets, I swore I could hear her say “all those book smarts, and no common sense.”  As we tried to daintily turn her head to the opposite side, she seemed to say “Will y’all stop messing with me?  I was fine where I was.”  I found myself apologizing for bothering her as I left the room and damned if she didn’t say, “’Bout time y’all let me be.”

The highlight of her day was when her Disney coworkers came to visit in the afternoon.  A steady stream of friends and colleagues who knew her as a talented chef floated in and out of the room paying tribute to a woman I never knew.   To her husband and colleagues, Mama Pearl could soften a little, take off the suit of armor.   To us she was stern and self-sufficient, and she would not suffer fools.  She would do anything for us, her daughters, her grandchildren, her siblings.  For us she fought tirelessly to provide, to be an example.  She strived and struggled to ensure safety, security and positive upbringings.

It was this side of her that would not and COULD not stop fighting as long as we needed her.  And truth be told, at times, I do feel that we needed that fight in our lives more than we were willing to let her lay down her struggle.

I watched her body claw for every last breath and watched it finally surrender. I felt the need to continue the fight on her behalf.  Because in the morose death match of Pearl vs. Cancer, the disease won the battle for her life, but the woman won the battle for ours.  My sisters and I are stronger, better women because of the life she lived.  And we will instill that strength in the women we touch.  There is a beauty and grace in a woman willing to fight for what is hers and those she loves.  And by those standards, Mama Pearl is an epic warrior whose life ended in victory.

Please click here to support my sisters and me as we raise money for Breakthrough for Brain Tumors in honor of Mama Pearl’s brave victory against brain cancer.