Part 1: ‘When We Found Out’


Dear diary,

It seems silly that I am writing in my diary at this age, and yet –

Mother called earlier today. The biopsy results are in:

A malignant tumor. Breast Cancer.

Mother was crying on the phone. There was nothing I could say to make it better. Nothing can make this better.

We never thought cancer would happen to us.

To other people, yes. It happened to my mother’s late best friend, whose breasts, by the end of it, were so mangled and decayed that my mother came home after a visit to the hospital with tears streaming down her face, unable to articulate her grief or process the loss. It happened to my uncle, whose last few days were spent struggling to breathe, to eat, and to live as cancer ate away at the inside of his stomach.

It happens to other people, but to us, to my mother? How are we going to survive this? Is she going to die?

(I am ashamed to admit it, but – what about me? Who is going to take care of me? All of this is too soon. Mom, don’t go.)

It was evening when we all gathered together in the living room. My mother could not stop crying.

“Why is this happening to me?” she said.

I couldn’t blame her for feeling so miserable. I couldn’t blame her for asking the question that was on all our minds, in all our hearts. I couldn’t blame her, and yet, I couldn’t answer her.

How can we ever know what the reasons are, divine or otherwise, for what happens to each of us? How can we ever rationalize the reasons for a disease like cancer, now increasingly common, still as fatal and devastating?

Years of keeping my emotions to myself, schooling my grief into something that resembled indifference, prevented me from being of much use to my mother. I could only stare into space, not thinking, not feeling, not acknowledging the terrible fear that had settled in my bones since the moment I received her phone call.

My father sat beside her, holding my mother’s hand, making reassurances, already beginning the process of encouragement and healing that I knew I had to be a part of, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say anything.

Father, so practical, so compassionate, able to hold it all together and hold all of us together despite his own pain and worries.

He came into my room after Mother went to bed and told me we are going to be okay. I nodded. I don’t know how he knew that I needed reassurance, like my mother. Maybe it’s because he has always seen through my bravado and taken the time to realize that, on some days, I am more child than adult.

The tears didn’t come until I started writing this. This space, this dialogue with myself, is possibly the only place where I can come undone, and take the time I need to pull myself together.

Because no matter how much I want to make this about me, it isn’t. This is about my mother. My mother who needs me to step up and be someone I don’t know if I can be (or if I’m ready to be).

Words that I have written on these pages during different periods of my life come back, a reassuring force –

This too will pass. You will survive. This too will pass. You will survive.

I’m trying my best to silence that niggling voice that wonders if my mother will make it through this ordeal, if we will make it together as a family.

Within the week, we have to decide whether she’s going to do a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. Then there will be chemotherapy and radiation, though the details are not finalized. There is a visit to the oncologist tomorrow, and another in a few days.

Within the year, we will know if my mother is going to make it, or not.

Why me? Why us? Are we going to get through this?

This too will pass. You will survive. This too will pass. You will survive.







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Arathi Devandran curates personal experiences, snapshots of the world and the stories people are willing to share with her through prose and poetry