She even giggled through cancer

It has been said about many people after they pass away.

But when I say my aunt Pam was one of the nicest people on this Earth, it’s because I’m not sure if there’s life on other planets or she’d be immediately upgraded to the nicest person in the universe.

Pam giggled freely and had a childlike spirit about her.

She really did see the good in things, even when her body was being attacked by a horrible disease. She seemed grateful for every day, even over the course of the eight years of tests and medications and chemotherapy and surgeries and weeks and weeks and weeks in the hospital.

But she never stopped giggling.

If you asked her how she was doing, she’d never complain. She’d smile and say, “Oh, I’m all right. How are you doing?” And it wasn’t just something she said out of duty, she was genuinely interested in how others were doing.

If there’s one thing of which I’m certain, it’s that my sweet aunt, one whom God entrusted to be a wonderfully loving mother to a special needs son, is in heaven, free of pain.

She married the love of her life and devoted her heart to her two children and grandchildren.

She was the best of the best. She was one of those people I couldn’t imagine having a hateful thought in her head.

She loved the Lord. She loved her family.

I only saw her about three times a year, but from a very young age, I knew Pam was a special aunt. She did all the things people think aunts are supposed to do, even if they seem silly.

She never forgot my birthday. Not once. And when I became too old for her to buy me Christmas presents according to “family rules,” it practically tore her in two. She loved gift-giving. She was so kind.

After we did karaoke one Christmas Eve, she told me I should try out for American Idol. I laughed. When I was a girl, she told me I could be a model. More laughter. When I got older, she told me I could be a bestselling author, then told me I could be on the CBS Evening News.

“You could do it better than Katie Couric,” she said.

Never mind that I can’t read music, am 5-foot-5 and absolutely not a size 2, and I’m not sure if my flea-like attention span could handle sitting for months to pen a book. And as much as I’d like to pretend it’s easy to just step in and dethrone network news anchors, saying that is the near equivalent to inaugurating myself as the President.

None of that mattered to Pam. I was her niece; therefore I was the best at everything in her eyes.

She always told me I was the funniest person she knew. I told her once that she needed to start making more friends, because I’m basically just a moron with a couple of one-liners.

“You’re just like your daddy, but better looking and less ornery,” she’d say, and then she’d howl with giggles, hoping my Daddy, her brother-in-law, heard her.

Boy, was she good at giggling. She had such a happy soul.

And she made me feel talented, beautiful and like I mattered. I’m certain she did that for everyone in the family. She said and did all the things a good aunt does.

When I was in the hospital for a month in 2011 fighting a stomach infection that would eventually heal, she was still quietly fighting the cancerous battle that would eventually overpower her. She was several years into the fight, with some days difficult for her to continue.

Her new “normal” had become synonymous with struggle, yet she took time to send me a card that said:

“I hope by the time you get this you will be out of the hospital and feeling better. I will keep saying prayers for you every day. I know you are getting tired of being sick and I know kinda what it’s like to be sick at your stomach – it’s terrible. Hang in there and I hope you get better soon.”

I cried so hard when I read that note. Here she was eaten up with cancer, but she was empathizing with me, saying she “kinda knew” what it was like, which was the understatement of the century.

Pam was so good about thinking of others.

Looking back, receiving that note was one of the moments that helped snap me out of the depression I was in following my hospital stay. Because of Pam, I promised myself that I wouldn’t wallow in my own pity any more.

When I lost my hair because of the trauma of my infection, Pam told me every time she saw me that I was beautiful, my wig was beautiful and that she was sorry for things I had to go through. She’d send me encouraging notes, like she was trying to will my spirit to bounce back.

Mine was a minor setback. My hair grew back. My life got back on track. She knew that would happen.

But for goodness sakes, Pam had cancer. She wouldn’t get any better. She knew that also.

But she still saw the positivity that was awaiting me in my life, despite her diagnosis that was a billion times worse than anything I’d faced. For a few years, even though doctors didn’t spell it out, Pam knew she would die. She knew the treatment was only prolonging her life a little so she could make more memories.

Those treatments allowed her to live long enough to make sure nothing was left unsaid to her husband, children and grandchildren. They allowed her to see Hawaii, which was her dream. My uncle planned the trip and surprised her. If you wanted to get Pam talking, all you had to do was ask her about Hawaii. She had a sweet innocence about her, and when she talked about Hawaii, it was like a 5-year-old girl describing her trip to meet Cinderella at Disney World. Pam lit up the room with her eyes and giggled through her stories.

When the doctors finally told her this summer that the end was near, Pam seized life instead of falling into a hole like many would. She got her ears pierced with her granddaughter. She went with my Mama to get her first manicure. She made a “bucket list,” and she dragged my uncle all over seeing things she wanted to burn in her memory one final time.

Among those things was a wooden bridge in Missouri. It’s something that most people wouldn’t dream of putting on their bucket list, but it fit Pam. She had a way of making ordinary things into amazing ones. Only Pam could make a rickety bridge as exciting as the Golden Gate Bridge. And for someone who lived for vacations, traveling all over the states whenever she had a chance, that’s saying something. She’d seen the Redwood Forest, but that old, covered bridge was beautiful wood to her.

Instead of looking at her prognosis as a death sentence, Pam looked at it as advance notice to finish strong and bathe in God’s wonders on Earth.

Not once, even before she was diagnosed, did I ever see Pam take life for granted.

Sitting at her bedside in the hospital last month was hard for me.

It cut my heart to see her in the final stages. I didn’t want her to hurt any more.

But there were other things in my head, too. Selfish things. You see, I hate hospitals. Walking in one, smelling the hospital smell and seeing all the gurneys and nurses, it’s like walking back into my personal Vietnam. I get nervous, even a little nauseous.

But I had to put that aside and realize my Vietnam is a Hawaiian vacation compared to Pam’s Vietnam. So at her bedside, I looked her in the eye and told her how much I loved her, how much she meant to me and how much I admired her and will continue to long after she’s gone.

“You’re stronger than all of us put together,” I told her.

I’m not sure how much she understood, but I felt that we became kindred spirits all over again. She squeezed my hand and tried as hard as she could to smile and say the words, “Love you.”

I’ll never forget it. And I’ll never forget my beautiful, loving aunt who taught me that no matter what nasty turns life takes, you can’t allow anything to steal your joy or stop your giggles.

Not even incurable cancer.


In Memoriam: The life of Pamela Ann Hopper Ball will be honored on Oct. 10, 2013 at 2 p.m. at the Seneca Church of Christ.

One thought on “She even giggled through cancer

  1. I love the fact you shared this story. I never read it before today, there are some things that just hit a little to close to home for me yet. But I needed this today thanks for sharing this wonderful story about your aunt Pam. My mom was the same way she even passed from this life laughing and that made it some easier to accept knowing she was not in pain and happy about the journey she was about to take with Christ. You are an awesome person and I am honored to call you my friend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *