My mum was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer on Friday June 15, 2012. It was a most fucked up Friday.
The next few days after that fucked up Friday are a blur, but I remember my mum had to start chemo with immediate effect. When she came back home from her first treatment she found me in bed in the afternoon (I was in between jobs at the time) and she said to me, “Lwile I need you to get out of bed. I will not be able to do this if I have to worry about you as well.” That pep talk became my mantra for the next five years. I had to keep my shit together so my mum would not lose hers.
Exactly two weeks after that fucked up Friday I had my university graduation and my mum did what mums do. She went out of her way to make it absolutely special despite having started chemo not too long ago. Throughout her cancer journey nothing was beyond my mum’s control when it came to her children.
The day after my graduation my mum undid her weave as she wanted to go to the salon. She had installed it before her diagnosis and she wanted a change now that the graduation ceremony was over. Her hair fell off with each cornrow she undid. After that one! chemo session, not ati three to four chemo sessions later. She was so shocked that she called me to her room to witness. We were all taken aback by the immediacy. She had this look of amazed distress on her face, like she was about to laugh and cry at the same time.
Chemo was tough. Such an understatement but I do not think there is a word to describe just how tough chemo is. From what I saw with my mum and have heard from others, chemo is likely the toughest part of one’s battle with cancer. My mum would go to the hospital in the morning and come back home later in the day. The day of the chemo session gave her no trouble. It was two to three days later that the chemo demons would show their ugly face. She could not get out of her room. She would spend the day in bed with a bucket next to her as she was throwing up immensely. Yet she had nothing really to throw up as she was unable to eat on those days with the chemo demons.
Typically my mum could not stop talking. She was my favourite chatterbox. During treatment she was always on the phone with her support system. But on those days with the chemo demons there was absolute silence in her room. A cousin of mine remarked that is how she knew my mum was unwell as she was not on the phone. Chemo is difficult, painful, exhausting, isolating and ugly. When my mum’s cancer came back in 2017 she was highly reluctant to do chemo as she could not imagine going through that difficult, painful, exhausting, isolating, ugly treatment while paralysed.
Eight chemo sessions later and she had a mastectomy in December. The surgery took over seven hours when we had been informed it would take much less. That was my first experience with a loved one being in surgery. I did not know that more often than not the wait time is longer than initially specified. It was a harrowing experience, especially for someone like me who is a naturally anxious person. I kept thinking that she had died and the doctors were unsure of how to give us the news. But my mum was a warrior queen and pulled through.
Her treatment concluded in January with radiotherapy. We thought that would be the end of her problems. That she would now live a beautiful, happy life free of cancer. Little did we know it was the beginning of a five year nightmare.