When I was 19, my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer, in the most unexpected of ways. Her cancer was discovered when she went for a uterus check up, and later referred to an emergency mammogram, and thankfully, was identified at a very early stage.
Regardless, it was one of the most difficult journeys that we have endured as a family, and through an informal chat with my mother, I've gained some anecdotes to share you with about the difficulties that she faced during her diagnosis, how she overcame her fears, and what her advice to young mothers is about breast cancer.
Even though cancer is becoming more widespread among many families today, the fear and devastation that families feel when a loved one is inflicted with the disease has yet to recede. Cancer had always been something that "happened to other people" and "wouldn't be something that would affect us" for my immediate and extended family, until my mum was diagnosed with the disease.
My mum claims that to this day, she is still unable to explain the abject fear and hopelessness that she felt when she was first informed by the doctor. And that was just the first step; facing a nightmare.
I still remember the day my mum informed me of her diagnosis. I'd always communicated well with my parents, and all of us had known that this doctor's visit could be potentially life changing for all of us. I hadn't gotten the phone call from her as I'd expected, and I'd known that something was amiss.
She didn't waste any time in telling me the truth the moment she got home; there was no hesitation, but following that, there were plenty of tears from the both of us. It helped that I was also at an age where I was able to understand the gravity of the situation, where I was able to be a source of support to my mother as well. Nevertheless, my mum doesn't deny that it was difficult for her to tell me the truth right off the bat, but she also knew that she owed me that much.
Living the nightmare was the next challenge for all of us, but more so for her. Her operation to remove the cancerous tumor wasn't what she feared most; it was the weeks of intensive chemotherapy that followed afterwards.
"It had to be the most difficult experience I've ever had to endure. I was battling constant nausea; a metallic taste in my mouth made any food that I tasted horrible. I was constantly tired, and there were many times where I questioned my will to live." Her voice cracked then.
My mum fought hard during this period. She pitted her will against the disease by taking the plunge and shaving her head even before she started losing her hair. She didn't like the idea of wigs, so she turned to headscarves and caps. That was probably the proudest I've ever been of my mum; as women, we take so much of pride in our appearances, and work so hard at having "perfect hair days" and here was a woman who was willing to forego that in her battle against a disease that could possibly debilitate her irrevocably. When asked if she ever felt self conscious, she laughed. "Of course I did.
But it was something I had to do, and I wore it as a badge of honor for my cause."
My dad was my mum's biggest strength throughout this ordeal, and I figure I did the best that I could do make it a little better for her. What we learnt as a family was that nothing could quite compare to family support, especially during times of intense duress. The silver lining in this terribly dark cloud was that our family became stronger as a unit, and we realized the importance of tolerating differences that would have otherwise been problematic issues before.
My mother adds that this journey has taught her to be a stronger, more positive individual. Someone who is able to believe in herself, and the strength of her own mettle. It has made her more patient, and more tolerant of daily trivialities, and for this, she is very thankful. She's back to work now, and continues to be the pillar of the family.
When asked for what advice she has for younger mothers she says, "Please go for your regular mammogram checkups. Cancer is becoming so widespread now that it could affect anyone, anytime. Be conscientious with your checkups, and if (god forbid) anything were to happen, remember that it can be overcome. Have faith, and believe in yourself."
She adds, "Be honest with your family, because they deserve to know and you will need their help in fighting this battle. Telling your children about it may seem difficult, but if they are at an age where they can understand what this means for you, they deserve to know, and trust your children to step up and deal with this obstacle together with you. As mothers, we get very used to being protective of our children, and it is a humbling experience when we are mothered and cared for by our kids. If they are young, and they cannot understand what is happening to their mummy, use that as a reason to be even stronger, even more of a super mum. Work with your husband, lean on him when you can, and keep the family going as you always do."
To all young mothers out there, I hope this anecdotal piece gives you some inspiration on how cancer can be overcome if a family sticks together.
By Arathi Devandran, follow Arathi @miffalicious
Read more about Arathi and a youth perspective at masalamommas.com
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