Finding out that someone you know has cancer can't be easy for anyone - it's a piece of news that has devastating effects not only for the patient, but for their loved ones as well. Here, Arathi Devendran shares her story of how she dealt with her mother having cancer...
There are many times that I have repeated this story, because really, all experiences in life become stories as time passes, don't they? And yet, it hasn't gotten any easier to recount this story, and each time this tale has been told, I haven’t gotten any better at expressing myself.
Maybe it’s true then; no matter how many times you do some things, they never get easier. Like going to the dentist. Or saying goodbye. Or perhaps, talking about how you were told your mother has cancer at the age of 19.
I still remember the day my family found out; I’d just come back home from a long day at work, and my mum and dad were sitting at the dining table. The air smelt different; filled with unhappiness, and worry, and fear. My mum was crying. I knew what it was even before she’d said it. After all, we had been waiting on the news from her mammogram for days.
It’s difficult to prepare yourself for news like this. You could psyche yourself with all the positive thoughts in the world, and then when it hits you, you feel completely and utterly lost. And the best - or perhaps the worst - part of it all was that the Earth continued to spin on its axis, and life outside our little tragic bubble continued to function just as it was before.
As a family, we went through all the stages of dealing with misery: anger, denial, and then a stoic acceptance of the facts.
My mother [pictured above] had breast cancer, and it was time to do something about it.
She went through her lumpectomy without much ado, and then it was time for the dreaded chemotherapy sessions. My mother prepared herself for them like a warrior; she shaved her head even before the sessions started because she knew she was going to lose her hair, just one of the many side effects that came with the treatment. Her hair had been her pride and her joy, and yet, she did not balk at the prospect of letting it all go. It had to be done, and she was going to do it with her head held high.
I will always maintain that it was her spirit of defiance against this disease that led her to conquer it.
I’ve seen my mum go through many things, but never have I seen her suffer as much as she did during those sessions. Getting pricked relentlessly on collapsed veins for the sessions, going through periods of nausea, being unable to eat, or move, or even function on some days. I don’t know how she did it. She tells me to this day that she doesn’t know how she got through it. 4 sessions. 14 weeks of hell.
Where was I in this hullabaloo of misery, then? Where was my father?
We stood on the edges of her discomfort, doing everything and anything we could to make her better. Endless pep talks, cleaning, cooking, organising her medical trips, holding her head when bouts of nausea would make her wretch uncontrollably, hiding our fears and worries behind a mask of strength so that she could carry on. It was all about her. We were just crutches, but even then, how weak were we.
It’s not easy being a carer to someone who is fighting a battle with cancer. There is no way that we could ever understand what that person is going through. We wouldn’t be able to grasp the fears that they struggle with, the sense of hopelessness that comes with branded as a Cancer Patient, the physical difficulties that they grapple with - we can never fully know what all of this entails. And when you don’t understand what you’re dealing with, it makes everything that much harder.
Was I affected by this experience?
"What doesn't kill you can make you tremendously weak," says Arathi Devendran. "But you will survive."
Possibly more than I would care to admit. I’ve developed an irrational fear of hospitals and being unwell. I’ve developed an even bigger fear of my parents being unwell. Every single phone call that I receive in the middle of the night from home (which isn’t where I’m at, at the moment) fills me with an initial sense of dread.
Are you okay? What happened? Is your health all right?
Is any of this fair? That was (and perhaps, still is) one of the recurring questions that I have. Is it fair that this had to happen to my mother/my family? Is it fair that this disease exists? Why? What for?
Questions that I will probably never have any answers to, but what I have learnt is this: What doesn’t kill you can make you tremendously weak, but you will survive. I have seen my mother walk out of her chemotherapy session, short of breath, but still holding herself up with dignity and the fierce want to survive. The human heart’s capacity to thrive under times of duress is beyond our wildest imagination.
This could happen to you, or you, or you.
And you will get through it. Your family, perhaps previously torn apart, will come together to fight this monster. Your son, whom you never thought responsible, will step up to the plate. Your daughter, whom you watched and raised, will now become your tender, loving mother. Your husband will remind you of the reasons why you loved him in the first place; for his capacity to hold you when you’re falling, for looking at you in your bald glory and saying that you are beautiful, and for never leaving your side even during your sickest moments.
My family made it through. Yes, we’ve been scarred, but we’ve made it through...And you will too.
You’ll also be pleased to know that just a couple of days ago, my mum was declared free of any traces of cancer, after 3 years of her battle with it.
There is light at the end of the tunnel.
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