My life when Amma was diagnosed with breast cancer

Published: October 28, 2014
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This ordeal, at the outset may seem like hell on earth, but for those going through it, all I can say is, keep the faith and remember that if God put you through it, He’ll get you out. PHOTO: REUTERS

Do you know how it feels to wake up one morning and find out that your mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer? I do.

It doesn’t hit you at first. It was all a big rush; hospitals and tests, alien language and timeframes, it was chaotic and far too real. I still remember sitting with her, my mother, at the hospital. We were surrounded by family, aunts and uncles, but she was scared. This was my mother, the person I would run to in the middle of the night when I had a nightmare. She was my hero. And yet, she sat there and became a child living her nightmare, pale-faced admitting that the hospital terrified her. That she didn’t want to stay there because it frightened her. All she wanted to do was go back home and I could do nothing to help her… my mother… my pillar.

My mother is an extremely jolly person; full of life, laughter and love. And seeing her like this broke all our hearts. If the decision were left up to my brothers and I, we would never have been able to convince her to stay. To us, if she didn’t want to undergo the procedures, it was her decision. But we have a very strong family support system, thank God, and when my aunts and uncles saw our wavering resolve, they took charge. They convinced her to stay and I am ever so grateful to them.

We had gotten several tests done, biopsies, mammograms, ultrasounds, you name it and we had them done; it was once the results came in that we realised just how serious things were. Surgery was required and this monster called cancer became all the more real. If there is a disease, it must be treated. Everything cannot be left to mother luck and nor can everything be blamed on luck. Yes, we were lucky to have gotten the tests done and found the disease – but these tests are and have been available to all of us for a long time now. They have just been ignored and our conditions have been left to fate. Generally, for most of us, it is our ignorance that is to be blamed, not luck, not fate.

I started reading all sorts of articles that came my way trying to figure out what was going to happen next. My mother got her surgery and the next step was chemotherapy. I spent the time in between reading up on what exactly chemotherapy entailed and what effects it was going to have on my mother. When a member in the family is diagnosed with such a serious disease, it doesn’t just affect the patient; it takes a toll on everyone in the family and challenges everyone, physically and emotionally. In the case of my family, we become an even stronger unit and better connected to one another. I became very possessive about Amma; everything was on my radar, who visited her, what time her chemo sessions started, the difference in how she felt before and after chemo, and how I could make her most comfortable within my capacity. After chemotherapy, varying from person to person, some of Amma’s side-effects were nausea, lack of sleep, loss of appetite and becoming emotionally sensitive. She was in need of extra care and attention, and as a daughter my mission became giving her exactly that.

Amma’s nails used to turn blue; she lost all her hair but we never let her lose her self-confidence or feel any less beautiful than she was. Once, Amma hugged me and cried about the ordeal she was going through. She said she had never done anything wrong to anyone, so why this torture?

And I told her,

“God only puts burden on people who can bear it Amma, you’ll be fine, and you are fine, it’s just a matter of time”.

But it was not easy for me to utter those words or have my mom break into tears in front of me, because I didn’t know what God had planned.

But the times are truly testing and sadly, people don’t help very much. They don’t seem to care about the sensitive nature of such a disease. People would come and discuss religion, completely out of context to a point where I would have to cut them off and curtly make them realise that they were stressing my mother out. Then there were the aunties, our ‘well-wishers’, who came to visit my mother only to burden her about how my mother’s ‘only daughter isn’t married yet’ and that they hoped that Amma ‘lived to see the day’ I would get married.

Sooner than later, I started limiting people who could meet my mother.

To-date I don’t seem to understand how people can claim to be ‘well-wishers’ when they discard all measure of etiquette when they come to visit a patient at the hospital. Besides, I never understood why bringing up my marriage to my cancer-ridden mother seemed appropriate. Neither of us needed the sympathy, in fact, we didn’t even see the point of the conversation, so why it was seen as a campaign these self-righteous aunties needed to champion was beyond me. Cancer seemed friendlier in comparison.

My close family was always there for me; and in these times of need is when you realise the importance of family. My khala, my mom’s younger sister, was my pillar of strength. Most of the time when I couldn’t or didn’t know how to convince my mother to eat, drink or take her medicines, khala would take over. She was there for my mother at all times and made no qualms about it. In fact, we read somewhere that bright colours and colour therapy is a mood changer and so we used to wear bright shades of lipsticks or clothes to lighten up Amma’s mood. We did everything we thought possible to make Amma comfortable.

My brothers and father couldn’t fully express how they felt; but in situations where I couldn’t really make Amma laugh, my brothers were there for the rescue. They were there to cheer us both up; after all, it was very normal for me to get sad and jittery in such a situation, but both my brothers were rock-solid shoulders I knew I could lean on.

Like the fighter she was, Amma underwent all the necessary treatments and even in such trying times, she thanked God for giving her strength to bear the pain, and never complained about it. God gave Amma a second life, I saw her hair grow back, and her skin become normal again. Today, she is the same jolly person she once was and has a more rejuvenated view on life; today, Amma is much stronger than anyone else in the family and because of her, we are too.

This ordeal, at the outset may seem like hell on earth, but for those going through it, all I can say is, keep the faith and remember that if God put you through it, He’ll get you out. But you need to help God help you – so don’t take those periodic tests for granted – staying one step ahead of a nasty disease like cancer is never a bad thing. Catch it in the act before it sneaks up on you, because when it does, it is usually too late.

Shafaq Naveed

Shafaq Naveed

The author is an avid web writer, experienced in creating content and copy for the web and interested in exploring the changing trends of marketing online.She is currently working as an assistant marketing manager at a software house.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    When I started reading your blog, I was depressed because I thought that perhaps the ending would be sad. But I see that she courageously underwent all the procedures, and as you put is she got a new life. I am so very happy that she got well again. I hope she lives a long and happy , productive life.
    The meddling of the so called “well wishers” is pretty much a common , albeit nasty and ugly thing in our society. You dealt with them very well.
    I salute you for being a very brave young woman. I wish we had more like you in our country.Recommend

  • Anon

    Glad to hear that your mother made it & is doing well. Mine didn’t. She passed away from the same disease,when I was barely out of med.college.The pain she suffered was the most mind-numbing experience of my life.Recommend

  • Azhar

    Our family just went through a horrible period where our Ammiji was in Hospital – sadly she did not survive but your article brought back memories. We are a close family and it too brought us even closer together. Cherish the time with your parents you won’t get a second chance.Recommend

  • Akif

    May ALLAH give ur mother and all patients the strength to endure this painful disease… Recommend

  • Ahmed

    May you and your family remain blessed always.The best kind of contribution from your side.Recommend

  • M

    I know it sounds horrible at the time, but everyone has their own ways of dealing with situations and as irrelevant and heartless as it may sound, things are not always said to offend or upset you. This is my story and that of many others who look after an ailing parent.

    I watched my mother like a hawk and would get so upset by some of the things people would say to her, esp about getting me married – but now that she’s gone, it does kinda suck that she won’t be there if/when it happens. Your article took me down memory lane and I, too, like you am grateful for the incredible support system I found in family and friends.

    May Allah grant your Amma a long and healthy life and may she live to see all her grandkids;)Recommend

  • Fary

    Shafaq and excellent write up. Best wishes for you and family !Recommend

  • tungi

    awww! niice to see how you dealt with such an unthinkable ordeal! makes me love my maa more:)Recommend

  • Urooj

    I can totally relate to it. And overwhelming pain.
    I appreciate you writing it. But despite telling my self all the time, ‘everything will be fine’ — i ended up losing two family members. Now rather than becoming more strong, I feel like becoming weak and apprehensive of losing other loved ones.

    May Allah help us, AameenRecommend

  • Yoyo

    May Allah bless her with a very very long and happy life inshAllah :) She’s blessed to be surrounded by such a loving family – stay strong!Recommend

  • TwoCents

    Alhumdolillah! Glad to know your mother is doing well now.Recommend

  • Aaliya

    May Allah bless your mother with strength and continued good health. You sound like a very strong and honest person and inshaAllah, may you never have to experience anything like that again. Ameen
    PS: Ignore the “well-meaning” aunties, they just love to point out the obvious at the most inopportune times. I wasn’t married until I entered my 30s, so from aunties to neighbours to relatives, wherever I turned, I was reminded and probed about the “void” in my life. It was so irritating that I just stopped going to weddings and family events, and found peace only when I moved out of the country. It’s just sad the lengths people will go to, to make other people’s personal life their business. Ignore it, it will pass. Allah has a plan / timeline for all of us.Recommend

  • Muhammad Saad

    I had gone through this 8 years back and had similar thoughts and now again going through it, do not leave it. it re occurs with more intensity may ALLAH save all.Recommend

  • Jayman

    The story made my day. I am so happy to hear that your Amma is doing well. My own, passed away last month. She was diagnosed with Leukemia only a couple of months back. I miss her very much.

    Make every moment you have with her count. God Bless !Recommend

  • Asad Nayani

    I can only imagine what you must be going through, thank you for sharing your experience. Goodluck I know you can beat this.Recommend

  • Nomi

    I’m glad to read in the end that your mother battled the disease and is doing well now. May Allah keep her in the best state of health.
    When I begin to read your article, the most terrific days of my life flashed in front of me when my mother was diagnosed with final stage cancer. Our family had never expected this because my mother looked healthy and had never complained anything about her health. The treatment of this disease is the most hardest part. I remember my sisters had to persuade her for hours to eat or drink. We did everything in our capacity to make sure she gets the best treatment but even that didn’t save my beloved mother.Recommend

  • Natasha

    All I can say is *hugs* Cancer is indeed a hurdle, and your mother has conquered it successfully because of people like you for her to lean on. Hope you guys always stay happy :DRecommend

  • Mir Taqi

    I can relate to much of what you wrote, having lost my mom due to this same disease. Your writing brought tears to my eyesRecommend

  • Malveros

    Thank u for writing this as this provides hope and inspiration. I am lost for words.Recommend

  • Muse

    can imagine what you went through glad that your mom’s doing well
    make sure that you keep her on a healthy diet,check on alternate therapies,introduce new stuff she can do,gardening,read books to her,follow up with the doc,most of all keep her safe from negative people,it’s a culture thing in pak that whenever someone’s ill they bring up so much of hopeless topics&have no etiquette on what to say or not to say
    one wrong sentence by a family member depresses a cancer patient,always be positive in front of them…Recommend

  • R. Subramanian

    Recently I lost my mother due to this cancer, initially operated for breast cancer later it got spread everywhere. So I can clearly understand the pressure pain frustration you and your family might have gone through. Things went exactly as you had mentioned, my mother was so very terrified of hospital, identical situation… My advice for you, after the operation cancer used to spread like a wild fire, so don’t take things lightly, even though doctors used give chemo for killing the cells but some time it won’t work for elderly persons, so follow the advice of doctors carefully, don’t miss the scheduled check up. If there is re occurrence (some time there will re occurrence of cancer) means don’t panic, even though cancer can’t be treated fully but with regular check up and proper treatment we can control the disease and live long. See the signs of cold cough and pain in the operated area. Regularly give lemon juice mixed with ginger it is good for cancer patient it will increase our body immune system. I am telling these things because I don’t want anyone go through the pain I went through and loose our loved one. God bless you and your family.Recommend

  • Fahd Siddiqui

    Hy Shafaq

    So proud to say the least to see you writing this, As I have been through the same and can totally relate to it. As I read images just flash through my memory. I always wanted to write something like this for a long time about my experiences. What mistakes
    people make and as you rightly said that “if there is a disease It must be treated “just wanted say
    May Allah bless your parents and I’m sure they have been blessed already because they have a daughter like you

    Stay blessed :)Recommend

  • Sohni

    Thank You for such a thoughtful article. I was diagnosed with Breast cancer when my kids were very young and I had no family to support me. By the grace of God I am well but the threat of Cancer returning is always there. Just make sure she is never left alone to ponder on her illness. As for the well wishers well we all know what they can do with their wishes and themselves.
    Your are a brave mother’s daughter and you have done her proud. Bless you both.Recommend

  • Guest

    Hello, Urooj.
    I am not Muslim, and I do not believe that everything happens for a reason. However, I do now that it is up to us to push harder when problems push on us. I wanted to share my story with you. I can relate to you because my mom was just diagnosed with Breast Cancer. She is so full of love and joy, I do not want to lose her. I am scared. When she told me that she was diagnosed with cancer, I started crying. She said, “Don’t cry. I won’t cry either. We are here for each other.” I love my mom. She is my light, my guiding star. I won’t lose hope. Please don’t lose hope. Some things can’t be fixed. You cannot be in control of everything. However long someone lives, make the most of it. Smile, take care of them, and never go to sleep without resolving a fight. Please also help spread awareness about cancer. Recommend

  • Urooj

    I appreciate your sharing personal story with me.
    The way you have bring in positivity to it, and your sage advice has given me push to enjoy my present more than worrying about past or future. Its people like you who push me to see new lining in sky everyday!

    Thanks once again :)Recommend

  • Naghma Danish

    A most heard and discussed disease but the most pathetic thing to be dealt by the victim and the family…a very fatal time that not only hits the nerves out of the patient but also shakes the entire family from its very roots…i congratulate u for coming out from this exam that has been onto you by Allah with success of earning a new life…Because, people who have the caliber to be tested are been tested by Allah.
    Brilliantly stated..keep it up:)Recommend

  • SIMSAM

    u r lucky,CONGRATS,but what to say when there are no more “moments” left for somebody, even if one is only 27yrs of age.Recommend