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Sarah’s personal story

Sarah Renema's Grandfather
I was recently asked to write a story about one of my favorite men, and I couldn’t be happier to do so. While I find myself referencing this man as “my Grandpa,” as if he is mine and only mine, I realized that he is so much more than just that. This man who is loved by so many, responds to “Big Papa,” Grandpa, Dad, Uncle John, “Peachie Pie,” “Shorty,” and sometimes even “Hey You.” Regardless of how you may know him, here is his story.

My grandpa is a man who embraces everyone around him. He opens his door to any friendly face, considering them a “new friend,” and who is likely to not to let you go without a hug. At 91 years of age, standing at 4-foot-8, he has some of the best stories to share, claiming to have experienced the best and worst that life has to offer. His stories range from life in the Great Depression, his service in World War II, marriage to the love of his life, memories of parenting provided by his first two “peachies,” adventures in babysitting with six of the best “grandpeachies,” and the excitement of waiting to hear his 11-plus great grandpeachies call him “Big Papa.” He has experienced the greatest of love and the greatest of loss, and has some of the best stories and lessons learned from each of these experiences.

Little did he know that at age 91, he would be adding another tough experience under his belt. This experience, however, was a unique one, as it involved way more technology than Gramps is used to.

A little background: Grandpa’s expertise of technology in 2018 ranges from use of his portable CD player to his flip phone with programmed numbers labeled on the back (by yours truly). Little did he know that his face had seen the likings of Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram—more than he would ever know or understand. Unlike Grandpa, at 30 years old, I use these social media outlets to share pictures and memories with family and friends who I don’t see as much as I would like. One of these pictures in particular was an extremely special memory of “Big Papa” getting to hold his newest great grandbabies, who this time around were twins! Grandpa had spent six months anxiously awaiting and praying for these little ones to arrive so he could one day hold both at the same time. He told every neighbor and every stranger about the arrival of these little boys and the excitement he had waiting to hold them. While that special day has come and passed, he still carries this picture to show all of his new friends, and I hold on to it for another reason.

After I posted this picture for friends and family to see, a former classmate of mine happened to see this picture on Instagram and was concerned by the looks of Grandpa’s forehead. Her concern came from what was once thought be a “sun mark” from summer days on Michigan lakes and what appeared suspiciously like melanoma. My former classmate “Jennie,” who is now referred to as Dr. Mancuso, immediately messaged me with her concerns. She helped my family arrange access to some of the best clinicians in the Detroit Metro area, who confirmed the presence of melanoma.

After remission from prostate cancer, survival of two heart attacks, and the loss of his beloved wife to ovarian cancer, the sounds of “skin cancer” did not sit well with Big Papa. He spent many long days at doctors’ appointments with the support of his daughter and son (my mother and uncle), to find the best treatment options available. When the outcome of his treatment was 100% removal of the melanoma, I felt some sort of selfish relief not only that would we all get more time with the man that we love so dearly, but that I would get to share a dance with him at my upcoming wedding.

While #BigPapa may never understand the extent of his popularity on social media, thanks to Dr. Mancuso and the doctors at Henry Ford, I can now continue to share special memories of him to come.

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