My life when Amma was diagnosed with breast cancer
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.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.