Part 5: ‘The Everyday’

I am heading home after a long day at work, and I receive a frantic text from S, a dear friend. She has received upsetting news – the father of a good friend of hers has been diagnosed with cancer.

“I feel so helpless,” S writes. “There’s not much I can do for her, except remain available for her, and provide her support.”

I pause before replying.

I had been in her friend’s position before, of being told things that had made my world come crashing down around me. Of facing the insurmountable task of needing to be strong, even though all I had wanted to do was to crawl into a hole, to hide myself from everyone, from myself.

It had taken me several years to come to terms with my mother’s diagnosis, even after she was given a clean bill of health.

My friends, the family I had chosen for myself, rallied around me, giving me the strength that I desperately needed. They listened patiently, calmed me down when I went through fits of grief and frustration, forced me to function, turn up, and keep going.

I reassure S that her presence and pledge of support will be invaluable to her friend. I tell S to remind her friend that there is always an open channel of communication for her to talk about her feelings, to talk about cancer, because that outlet is essential for survival.

S thanks me, our exchange trails off, and I continue my ruminations as the bus crosses the expressway.

In the weeks, months and years that followed my mother’s diagnosis, I have written and talked about cancer to death. At first, my writing was about making sense of my feelings, because I didn’t know what exactly I felt. There was a lot of sadness and worry, yes, but there was also a fair amount of anger. Why me, I used to ask (even though I was merely the supporting cast in this drama). When was I ever going to get a break from life?

Then, my writing helped me connect with others who had gone through similar experiences. I realised, belatedly, that I was not alone, that I never had been. And the comments in my articles, echoed these sentiments, with other caretakers and cancer survivors sharing their thoughts and feelings about their own journeys.

Talking about cancer helped me find a community, a community that I still look to during days when the internal monologues get too difficult to deal with.

I have also become a proponent of mammogram check-ups. My mother’s early diagnosis was the result of a routine check-up. If she had not been diligent about it, who knows how things would have turned out eventually? There was no history of cancer in the family before my mother. How could we have ever known?

And so, life goes on. With conversations about cancer, regular check-ups, and an all-round diligence in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. There are many things in life that are beyond our control, but we can and must do our part to make our everydays a little better.

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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

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4