October is breast cancer awareness month. For me this month used to be about pink ribbons and the various gimmicks to raise awareness. Remember the one where you had to tweet just the colour of your bra with no explanation? That was fun. Then my mum was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, and there was nothing fun about October anymore.
My mum’s cancer journey was a long, painful, difficult, inspiring, heartbreaking five years. From when she was diagnosed on June 15 2012 to when she died on December 13 2017 we went through all the emotions. We experienced the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, and everything in between.
Last year on this day my BFF uploaded a video we shot (link here) to raise awareness this month. Before shooting, I asked my mum if there is anything she would like me to talk about. She asked me to emphasize the importance of a second opinion as she was wrongfully diagnosed the first time around. A second opinion may have made the difference between diagnosing her cancer in stage one vs. when it had already metastasized to her spine. She also asked me to talk about how all doctors, no matter how good they are, do not know everything. There was a chance the radiotherapy would end up paralyzing her, but she was not told that by the doctor who did the radiation. It was only later when another doctor examined her that she was given that life-changing information. If she had known, she may not have gone ahead with the radiation. If she did proceed with it, the paralysis would be easier to bear knowing it was her choice. I would advise anyone to do their own research and not rely 100% on what doctors say. They are brilliant, but they are also human and they do make mistakes. No one can really know everything. Forewarned is forearmed.
I have decided to share her journey for two reasons; to comfort and to inspire. I remember feeling so alone when my mum was unwell. I would look around and not see anyone going through anything similar to my situation. It gets extremely overwhelming and it is easy to get sucked into a never-ending spiral of despair. If only I had someone who went through/was going through what I was to commiserate with. Someone to reassure and comfort me. Someone to offer a silver lining.
I also want to inspire. In five years my mum went through more than most do in a lifetime. She lost her hair, then her breast, then her ability to walk. She woke up every day in debilitating pain. Yet she was still so quick to smile, to offer advice and encouragement. Her wicked sense of humor remained intact and she made me laugh nearly every day. She never lost her faith and remained positive till the very end. Of course there were bad days where she was tired of it all, but her resilience always superseded her suffering. We can all learn a lot from her and I hope her journey will inspire anyone going through a difficult time not to give up.
This is obviously a highly sensitive subject and I will take all the time I need between posts. My mum’s story has remained private till now, with only family and friends being privy to it. But it is powerful and important, and I feel it needs to be told. It will comfort and inspire and I will do everything I can to tell it right.
The tag JS Kicking Cancer’s Ass will be a chronological retelling of my mum’s journey. She was a warrior queen who fought like hell. During her second last stay in hospital I asked her where she draws the strength from. She replied that she can never give up on her children. It endeared me how she pronounced children. Shoodren, in full Kikuyu glory.
I hope her journey comforts and inspires as necessary. You will laugh, you will cry. I did.