On this day last year my mum was admitted to hospital for what would end up being her last hospital stay. Five years prior she had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer the sunny afternoon of June 15 2012. It is one Friday I will never forget as our lives were changed immeasurably on that day.
Before that fucked up Friday my mum had had a lump in her breast for two years. She had seen a doctor at Aga Khan Hospital about it and this “doctor” said the lump was like a bump on the road and convinced her she had nothing to worry about. That was the exact simile he used. Like a bump on the road. How wrong he was.
For two years my mum lived with this lump that was misdiagnosed as harmless, yet it was slowly metastasising in her body. Death was bubbling under the surface, waiting until it was too late to make its presence known.
In 2012 she started experiencing intense pain in her lower back. After seeing a few doctors, she was referred to an oncologist at Nairobi Hospital who gave us the tragic news that fucked up Friday. My mum had stage four breast cancer that had metastasised to her spine.
One thing that will always stand out is how calm my mum was when she received the news. So incredulous was her calm I had to ask if she knew of the diagnosis beforehand. She did not. I was bewildered. It did not seem plausible that she could receive such tragic news so calmly.
My mum did not know so much about cancer before her diagnosis. Now that I think about it, perhaps that is why she was so calm. Shortly after receiving the diagnosis she asked if stage four was bad. I had to explain to my mum that there are four stages of cancer and the fourth is the worst.
“Does this mean I am dying?” my mum asked.
“No Jane. You are not dying. Stage four means that the cancer has moved from the breast to your spine,” the doctor explained as she sketched a boob, a spine and cancer cells to better illustrate metastasis.
“So how long do I have left?” my mum asked.
“At best five years,” the doctor replied after much hesitation.
And something came into her eyes then upon hearing that. I later learned from my half-sister that when my mum received her diagnosis she prayed that God would indeed give her those five years because she worried what would happen to me if I lost her too soon. After my mum died one of my aunties told me that while my mum worried about all her children, she worried most about me. She was not sure I would be able to handle life after her death.
After discussing an outline of the treatment plan my mum and I left the doctor’s office. In the parking lot she called her husband to inform him of the tragic news. He was so distressed, so dejected, so despondent. As if he had loved my mother deeply throughout their marriage. Such bullshit, but that is a story for another day.
When we got home that evening we informed our closest family. My sister was in the US at the time and broke down immediately my mum told her. That set my mum off. She had not cried at all since receiving the diagnosis but hearing my sister weep on the other end of the line shattered her calm. She then handed the phone to me as she was unable to continue the conversation. My poor sister received the phone call at work and her boss was kind enough to excuse her for the weekend. She cried all weekend.
I do not remember much about the rest of the evening. I guess that is all my brain was able to handle on that most fucked up Friday.