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On a pleasant spring evening all four of us squeezed onto the bed together watching television, having conversations and just being together. This was the routine for every weekend that my brother and I visited home from college.
As it drew close to 4.30 pm, Mom and Dad started getting ready for their evening walk when something on television caught my mom’s attention. It was a show on breast cancer awareness on one of the lifestyle channels. A group of women shared their experiences of dealing with the disease. Each experience was different. While some talked about dealing with the disease, others focused on the disease and creating awareness about catching it on time. Something there seemed to have struck a cord with my mother. As she later recalled, she was well aware about breast cancer and had been having regular mammograms and self examinations until somewhere the family took over her life and taking care of herself took a back seat.
The next morning, after we all left for our respective work/ study schedules, she got busy with her daily chores. There was this nagging thought that kept bothering her, of not having had a mammogram for a long time. During her shower, she decided to examine herself just for some reassurance till she got an appointment for her mammogram, only to find a small lump on her right breast. If not for her mentioning it to my dad, she would have dismissed it, giving our lives priority over hers. Dad got the earliest appointment to go see the gynecologist, who referred her to the oncologist for a biopsy. The biopsy confirmed our fears, a stage one malignant tumor.
While at the hostel, it was a little scary for us children to understand what was happening. Everyone was anxious, but each one was masking their emotions and thoughts, thinking of the other. The only one to openly express her emotions and talk about what was happening was my mom. She was blunt enough to say, “What will happen will happen! Let’s just deal with it as it comes. There is no point in worrying.” More so, she had instructed us all not to tell everyone about the illness, especially family, so that the elders in the family (her uncles and aunts) would not be worried about her…we did as asked!
The doctor had given mom two options, lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy or a complete mastectomy of the right breast and right lymph nodes followed by chemotherapy only if needed. He suggested the latter, so that the chances of the diseases coming back are reduced. Mom did not think a minute. She was ready to take the disease head on and do everything to weed it out of her body. And so the doctor decided on the earliest date for the mastectomy and we were set.
Once all the pre-op tests were done, mom was admitted to the hospital and prepped for her operation. We were there with her all evening, discussing all the fun things about our day, making our usual observations about things and people, having fun like we always do when the four of us are together. As we were about to leave after her dinner, the nurse came in to check her blood pressure. It was then that my mother’s anxiety became evident to us all.
She had an alarmingly high blood pressure of 220/110. The nurse immediately informed the doctor, who came in to check on my mother. The jovial doctor diverted her thoughts from the operation to other lighter topics as he gave her some medication to manage the blood pressure. He asked her to rest and left for the day. We too bade farewell and left so we could reach the hospital early next morning, to spend time with her before her operation.
Every time we went away from her, the magnitude of the situation would dawn on me. But somehow as soon as we were with mom, she would be happily distracting us with random conversations. Somehow, this worrying perfectionist had suddenly let go! She was clear that she was not going to let the disease affect her or her family’s life.
As the next morning came, we were informed that the operation had to be postponed because of continued high blood pressure. The more I heard about her BP, the more I asked her to stay calm and not to worry, only to see her smile back and say, “I am not worried!” My father stood there, his hands caressing my mother’s face, affection that my parents had hidden from us all our growing years!
The operation was rescheduled for the 8th of May. We realized that the date was right in the middle of the semester exams for both my brother and me. Mom made sure we concentrated on our studies, made sure everything felt the same at home before we left for our respective hostels for the exams. She cooked food for everyone and stored it in the fridge so no one had to worry about lunch and dinner between our studies, exams and trips to the hospital.
On the day of the operation, we both completed the day’s exams and arrived at the hospital. Our father was already there waiting for it to begin. We met Mom briefly, kissed her (she always insists on kisses, which my brother and I always tried to avoid) and let her proceed. Her blood pressure was still high, but manageable. So she was wheeled in for her 2 hour long surgery which finished almost at dusk. After stabilizing her vitals, she was shifted to her room. She was still under anesthesia. As she awoke, she smiled at us only to say, “That feels lighter!” She was still fighting strong, not a sign of the tremendous pain her body was in. After spending some time with her we left her to rest.
The next morning when we arrived, my mother was sitting up with numerous tubes protruding from her chest. It was painful to see. As the intern arrived to check on her before the doctor’s visit. She softly assured him that he was doing a good job and that his efforts to not hurt her while tugging and pulling the numerous tubes were painless. Her concern there was to reassure him, rather than discuss her problems. That is Mom!
Luckily for her the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes and thus she was saved from the curse of chemotherapy. But to me, she had fought a tougher battle. One where she had taken it upon herself to stay strong in all her pain for the comfort and happiness of her family. I am sure she had numerous thoughts and memories of the times when her own mother was in the hospital with brain tumour. I am sure she had her low moments. I am sure she too wondered like many others, “Why me!?” But not for one second did she ever let her pain or weakness come across to us.
Almost five years on, she is winning her battle with the wretched disease and I hope the equation never changes, for I have lots more to learn from my HERO!
Pic credit: Kim (Used under a Creative Commons license)
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