Part 3: ‘The Scare’
You know what the worst thing about cancer is? Once you’re touched by the disease, there is no turning back.
It has been four years since Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. Four years since she went through her treatment. Four years of living with cancer, where in one way or another, we are reminded of its viciousness every day.
There is no respite. There is no end. Because from the moment the doctors tell you that you have the disease, it affects every moment of your life thereafter. It becomes a part of you. It is the shadow you can never quite get rid of, the awful feeling in the pit of your stomach that never goes away, the thing that wakes you in the darkest hours of the night, drenching you in cold sweat.
You might think this is only the case for the patient–the person who has been branded with this dreaded disease–but what few people know is that, when cancer touches one life, it touches everyone related to its first victim.
Those things that I wrote above? I go through them too. Cancer has become an indelible part of my life, and I’m not even the one suffering through it. The haunting may be different, but it is no less difficult, no less torturous, to deal with.
A week ago, Mum had a spate of dizzy spells. We didn’t think too much of it. These things happen, and then they go away. But, in her case, the dizzy spells didn’t go away. The alarm bells began ringing, fast and furious.
They did all the tests they could. Dad and I stood by helplessly, watching as she was poked and prodded by needles, wheeled to the X-ray room and then to the MRI scanning theatre.
Hours later, the doctors came and told us they’d found a tumor in her brain. Possibly malignant. Brain cancer.
And then they left us to deal with it. While our world came crashing down, the world outside of that little ward continued at its steady pace.
I think back to that moment – me leaning against a table because my legs had suddenly lost strength, mind racing, trying to figure out how the family was going to get through this again; my father, sitting next to my mother, holding her hand while she cried; and the sound of my mother’s crying, a low keening wail that was coming from a place that seemed so broken, so devoid of hope.
Thinking back on that day, I cannot remember many things. I cannot remember what we talked about after the doctors gave us the news. I cannot remember what we wore, what we ate for lunch – nothing.
But I can remember that single scene, like a tableau etched in a dark corner of my mind, and the sound of my mother’s cry.
They came back into the room again, hours later. Only to tell us that they had looked at her older records from years ago, and that they had spotted this tumor then too. It wasn’t new. It wasn’t a metastasis. It wasn’t cancerous.
That feeling that began as a drop in the room, swelled and swelled, until we were all caught in it, drowning, drowning.
I could see it reflected in how Dad’s shoulders finally relaxed – I don’t even think he knew that he had been sitting tensed, coiled, ready to fight and react to whatever it was that life was going to throw at him.
There was a roaring in my ears. I had a strange thought then: if relief had a sound, it would be the sound of crashing waves that have finally reached the shore.
And Mum. There she was, sitting with her eyes closed, muttering, and I knew she was praying — praying with gratitude that she had been spared, just this once, thank you, thank you, thank you.
It has been a week since the scare and we are cautiously getting back into the swing of things again.
Cautiously, because we are all fragile — fragile with gratitude that the storm missed us so narrowly, fragile because missing it once is no indication of what can come next.
And with this fragility, I write to you.
To remind myself that the crosses we bear can be heavy and wearisome and that, sometimes, there is no end to things like cancer and disease and caretaking and heartache.
And yet, and yet, occasionally, the clouds part, there is a single ray of light, a breath of fresh air, and we are reminded of the little dove that left Pandora’s Box last.
Her name was hope.