My mother’s battle with breast cancer is not something I was open to talking about. I do not think I will even manage to fully delve into what that time of our lives was like for me because I am a really private person and it feels like I am sharing my deepest intimate thoughts with a bunch of strangers. It’s not that it is terrifying to do that but I find myself at times, more so of late, coping with all the changes in my life since 2012. Sometimes I feel like I am doing well and other days I look back and have regrets. Regret is not a feeling I have ever had and when you lose someone you love it is not the feeling you want lingering around either. So I am a WIP as Lwile likes to say as I am still coping with how my mum’s diagnosis and death has affected me and will probably have an impact on the rest of my life. But today, I will hopefully get through talking about her journey with cancer from my perspective.
Finding out about my mum’s breast cancer diagnosis was the most devastating news I ever received. It was a Friday in June and I was out of the country that year. I had the whole weekend off from work but on receiving that phone call and doing some internet research on stage IV breast cancer, which I do not recommend as it paints a really grim picture when you’re not on the ground to see what is really going on, all I could imagine was my mother having just months to live. I was inconsolable and literally cried for the entire weekend. That day started the 5 longest most hellish years of mine and my family’s lives. Every single hurdle my mum had to go through was harder than the one before which seemed impossible but it was utterly heartbreaking and infuriating. To have front row seats to watch the person you love most go through daily physical pain, loss of dignity, loss of independence, loss of mobility, basically everything we take for granted in our lives almost every single day, it changed me. I felt helpless, empty, dark and tried (and failed) to not to let that side show, so I could be there for my mum.
I am getting ahead of myself though, so I will start from the beginning.
After the initial shock of my mum’s diagnosis wore off I got on board with her treatment plan which was 12 sessions of chemotherapy, a mastectomy in December and radiation treatment the following year depending on how chemo went. I would be home just in time for the last chemotherapy session and before her mastectomy. So in the meantime I would get updates on how my mum was doing from my siblings and sometimes from her. I would hear about how she would get really sick after each session and have to stay in bed. My mum also told me how she lost the taste of food and was only eating to gain her strength. It felt so unfair that she had to go through this especially since she had been misdiagnosed for 2 years to a point where the cancer had now metastasized to a life threatening stage. And this was only the start of the many complications which ultimately led to my mother’s death. In those early days, my biggest shock after finding out she had breast cancer was my first video chat with her. She had lost all her hair within months of chemotherapy. She had the most beautiful hair and always made sure my sister and I took take care of ours, so it got real here. But as usual we had a good conversation, even laughed about it I think. I was glad she was in high spirits, or at least she made it seem that way.
Coming home in October 2012 was unnerving. But when I went with my mum for her doctor’s appointment, her doctor mentioned that my mum seemed genuinely happy because I was back home. But she was also just about to have her last chemo treatment, so it could have been that too. Either way, my mum didn’t seem too different and was actually very active. I remember we even took a trip to shagz and also spent hours walking around downtown buying my nieces school books and supplies for the next year, typical mum stuff.
The day of my mother’s mastectomy was sad and scary at the same time. My aunts, siblings, cousins were all there to support her. The operation was successful but my mum would never be whole again. And even though she would always have the physical scars, I think the emotional and psychological ones were the hardest for her to bear at the time. But like the warrior she is, she persevered. Come the next year she began radiotherapy. The doctors completely botched the procedure and she was eventually told she could never walk again. Hearing this news took me back to first time I heard she had cancer, shock and devastation. I didn’t even believe her first and asked a ton of questions knowing she would get better with treatment or physiotherapy. But I could see like she was starting get upset and me repeatedly asking about it was not going to changing what was inevitably coming.
The following years were not easy; my mother was in constant pain and needed full time care. It was endless hospital visits, and more emotional turmoil for my mother. Some days she was so defeated and did not have the strength to continue and other days she mustered up everything she had to keep the fight going. My relationship with her was not always perfect during this time either and here is where my regret lies. I was the nurturing one and I am sure she knew she did not even have to ask me to take care of her, I would just do it. But I wasn’t fully there for her. I was sometimes resentful, selfish and prioritized all the wrong things over my sweet loving mother which led to a huge blow up with my sister and my mum.
During the last days of her life my struggle only got worse, I was not prepared to watch her die. Seeing her for the very last time in hospital 2 days before she passed I knew she would soon be taken from us. I wanted to give her the biggest hug, I wanted to tell her that I love her so much, I wanted her to share with me all the life lessons she would never get to. I don’t even know what we talked about, probably something mundane like my new job and house, and I before I left I told her I would see her for Christmas but she did not make it till then.
Coming to terms with the fact that I will continue to live this life without my mother is bittersweet. On the one hand, her suffering is over and she lived a selfless full life. She is probably also living her best after life right now. But on the other hand, I will never get to see her face, talk to her, celebrate the holidays together and all the family special occasions. It is hard to remember her final years, remember all that she had to endure and remember that I was not always there for her. It is now almost 3 years since she passed away and I don’t know if I can say life without her is getting any easier or if I am doing better. But having 2020 change all our lives felt like a wake up call from my mum that even when I hit the bottom, I can always pick myself up and better myself for a better tomorrow. That was the type of person that she was, always present in the moment for the people she loved, and it is person I am working towards being.