Losing A Mother To Breast Cancer
“Mama’s got breast cancer.” she cried.
I stared blankly at my sister as if I couldn’t understand her words. A part of me hoped that not reacting to the news would somehow make it go away. But it didn’t. It had become a reality, a reality that changed everything, not just for my mother, but for the entire family. Everyone was affected, but not everyone reacted the same way. Different questions buzzed in our minds.
“What stage is the cancer? What are her chances of survival?”
“Will she undergo treatment in Karachi or go abroad for better medical facilities?”
“The entire treatment is so expensive. How will the family manage?”
“I’ve heard of this really good homeopathic doctor. Will she try alternative medicine?”
“Breast Cancer runs in families. What is the risk that I’ll end up with it?”
The list of questions, comments, suggestions were endless and my mind grew numb as the bombardment of good-will gestures continued.
All throughout my life, whenever I was faced with a dilemma, I turned to my mother for advice. This was the first time I didn’t know who to turn to.
“You have to be strong for your mother ” everyone told me. I nodded slowly, not knowing how that was even possible.
I tried to switch roles with my mother. I began accompanying her for doctor’s visits, reminded her of her medicines, encouraged her to eat well and tried to keep her mind away from the realities of our current situation. In the process, she became so dependent on me that I couldn’t leave her even after we hired private nurses for her care. I had become the go-to person for all her clinical, social and financial information and somehow my eager volunteering for this role was seen as a green signal by my siblings to let go off all responsibilities and “grieve” in their own way.
Making a Whatsapp group called “Mama’s Health Updates” and sending sentimental text messages is an equal share of mental stress for some people.
If there is one thing I learnt from my experience is that the responsibility of the patient’s care should be divided equally among all family and close friends. This is essential to ensure everyone is aware of the ground realities and one person is not at a risk of burnout —- like I was. Burnout doesn’t happen all at once, but is a result of repeated episodes of emotional and physical distress. Three months after the diagnosis, I found myself crying in bed, unable to get out of bed and that is when I realized I had to care for myself and keep myself strong to take care of my mother.
My mother was always the live wire of the family. A school teacher by profession, she was up at 6 am each morning and managed to fit in a daily exercise regimen, a weekly yoga class, monthly committee parties and was always there to help out family and friends in need. Just looking at my pillar of strength lying in bed, shriveled and weak, unable to fend for herself, made me sick to my stomach.
So many times the question “Why?”crossed my mind, but regular visits to the oncologist made my question irrelevant. During one visit I met a 33 year old patient who was worried about who would care for her 5 year and 3 year old daughters if she didn’t survive. At another visit, we met a 60 year old widow whose son was unemployed and unable to pay the medical bills for his mother’s treatment.
After meeting several such patients, I started thanking God for all that we had, instead of focusing on that which we didn’t have.
This entire experience changed me as a person, it made me rethink my priorities.
I no longer complained about a tiring day, instead I was grateful that everything was going in routine. I no longer lost my temper at the mindless drivers and spineless tailors of the world, because these things are just too trivial to complain about. I no longer took my health for granted and encouraged others to do the same.
My mother passed away six months after her diagnosis.
I will always remain thankful to God for providing me the opportunity to be so close to her during her last days. She taught me so much during her life and continued to do so even after her death.