This year marks seven years since we lost our grandmother.
Our Lita succumbed after a four-month battle with lung cancer on March 13, 2007.
From the previous November into the new year, I watched as the relentless disease gnawed at my grandma.
Hospital visits, needles and the dwindling of motor skills tarnish my memories of her last few months of life.
Her death was peaceful; we knew she no longer suffered.
And while it broke my heart to lose her, I never really blamed the disease.
For many years, I was angry at her.
You see, my grandma was a smoker. In my mind it was fundamentally a lifestyle choice that took her.
But then the disease reared its ugly head again, this time wrapping its ruthless hands around an unsuspecting younger cousin.
Two years ago, Valente was diagnosed with bone cancer.
At the ripe age of 18, he was forced to trade his motorcycle, indoor soccer games and fun nights out for doctor’s appointments, chemotherapy treatments and blood-cell counts.
It was then that the reality hit.
It doesn’t matter if you smoke a carton of cigarettes daily or if you watch every calorie that passes your lips. The disease does not discriminate.
Valente continues to fight it. Intense rounds of chemotherapy eradicated the disease in his bones just months after the diagnosis. But lamentably, the cancer spread to his lungs.
He is currently undergoing treatment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and his fighting spirit remains staunch.
A group of us cousins joined him in his effort, forming a Relay For Life team in honor of him and an aunt that fought and beat cancer in 2009. We also remember my Lita.
We raise money for research in the hope that this disease – and the suffering Valente and so many others endure – ceases to exist.
For this year’s Relay campaign, the American Cancer Society adopted the mantra, “Finish the fight.”
Fitting for what we hope Valente accomplishes.
To aid in that fight, visit www.relayforlife.org/wisecotx.
Erika Pedroza is a reporter at the Messenger.