My memories of my childhood are ninety percent full of things related to breast cancer.
My mom was diagnosed with this dreaded condition when I was in grade one. Back in the day, the treatment for cancer was fairly uncertain. Everything was in the experimental stages. Being in a country where there was no medical insurance and no health care plans, everything needed to be paid out of pocket.
We lived in a city located in the mountains, and the hospitals there were not equipped to treat patients who needed special treatments. Thus, my parents had no choice but to seek medical attention in a city eight hours away where more advanced hospitals were located. My sisters and I were left under the care of my half siblings, where we did our best to carry on with life.
We saw our parents intermittently in a span of five years. During this time, I heard various discussions about my mom’s condition. Terms such as metastasis, malignant and benign, chemotherapy and cobalt were common at the dinner table. During the last two years of her life, various faith healers came to visit her, trying to ‘heal’ her from her condition, but to no avail. I was too young to realize that Mom was willing to try any means to conquer cancer after being told that it was medically not feasible in her case. Needless to say, she lost the battle five years after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
I grew up extremely aware of cancer’s existence. A year after my mom passed away, my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer and a few years later, two of my half siblings were also diagnosed with breast cancer. A few years ago, my half brother was diagnosed with prostate cancer and he succumbed to it as well. So, anything that pertained to cancer caught my full attention. I felt compassion towards those who faced it and showed my support and understanding, offering them comfort when I can.
However, I realized that I had no idea how difficult each cancer patient’s journey was at all until I found myself in their shoes. All the knowledge I acquired during the course of my young life to adulthood failed to give me the whole picture.
The lost feeling you get once the doctor says: “I’m very sorry to inform you that we have found cancer in your beast tissue,” is something I would not wish on anyone. Everything else the doctor says just goes thru one ear and out the other after the word CANCER, because then all the different scary scenarios would start to flash through your mind. Then follows all the things you need to prepare for in the event that you don’t survive this. Finally, you realize that despite all the planning you made in your life, you still aren’t prepared.
Sure, my family’s past experiences about cancer helped me prepare for exactly that moment. I knew right away what treatment I wanted to get. There was never any doubt in my mind that I could fight this; what held me back and made me tink twice was how the people I love would fare during the battle. But it was only after undergoing surgery and going through recovery that I somehow understood how difficult my mom’s journey was.
I remember seeing her in pain when she was already bedridden. She was never one to complain about what she felt. She would wince and moan a little as she carefully moved from side to side. I’d see an occasional tear roll down the side of her face every once in a while, hear her say it was painful. But not once did I hear her say “why me?” Maybe she just didn’t say it in front of her children.
Her journey was ten times more difficult than mine, and I could not imagine how she maintained her faith and her will to fight for five long years.
After I lost both parents and a brother to cancer, I thought I knew what being a cancer patient was all about. Then I heard those dreaded words from my doctor and realized that I literally had no clue. There was a gap as wide as an ocean between what I knew and how it really felt to be one.
I’ve conquered it, and my journey isn’t even half a percent of what my mom’s was because science has made the journey a little bit easier.
However, I can honestly say that I have bridged that gap. I now know how difficult the last five years of her life was and I salute her for carrying on, bearing all the pain and hardships thrown her way.
Someone once said in very similar words : “You’ll never know exactly how another person feels until you wear their shoes and walk in them. “
In my eyes, she was the bravest woman in the whole world… My MOM.
“Thanks, Mom, for holding on as long as you did just to see us grow a little bit more before it took you away.”