Friday, 28 February 2014

Roller-coaster ride through hell

When a loved one is stricken with cancer, its impact on family life is far-reaching.

I LEARNED at a very young age that anything can happen when both sides of your parents’ families have a history of heart attacks and cancer. The silent disease lurks in the ancestral closet of their combined gene pools.

With that knowledge in hand, I was mentally prepared for any eventuality, or so I thought. I was well aware of pain and suffering, and the vulnerability of human life.

Whenever my aunts and uncles paused to discuss the family’s medical history, I took the opportunity to learn whatever I could to stay more vigilant. No one can fully appreciate how devastating it is when a health problem affects a close member of the family, until you experience it yourself.

My father was certain that he would live out his days to see all his grandchildren get married, and even give my mother an eventful funeral. When I was in my late 40s, my father died of a stroke following a silent heart attack at the age of 77.

My mother will be celebrating her 85th birthday in a few months. I consider it a great blessing that she is still alive and pushing the limits as she tries to adapt to circumstances beyond her control.

I had planned to enjoy my retirement by spending quality time with my mum. However, a sudden crisis prompted me to re-prioritise my life.

Early last year, my mother was diagnosed with a rare form of skin cancer. I wheeled my mum from one clinic to the next, as she underwent numerous diagnostic tests and examinations. I listened to medical opinions from various specialists and considered alternative versus conventional treatments.

There were days when my tolerance level and hamstrings were stretched to the limit as I raced against time in the midst of so much uncertainty. As her primary caregiver, I tried to find a balance between her needs and mine.

My mother took it all in her stride without complaining. Her courage, willpower and enduring faith were a great source of inspiration for me.

After her surgery to remove the cancerous tumour, I slipped into depression and spent many sleepless nights thinking of my own mortality. I experienced despair, doubt, terror and grief, and questioned my own ability to care for my mother

More than anything else, I wanted to protect her from pain, and the loss of mobility and independence. It saddened me to watch my mum losing her vibrancy.

Despite her illness, she remained calm and accepted her condition. She even reassured me that we would do our best to face any challenge that came our way.

Her faith inspired me to turn to God and I prayed daily for her recovery as she underwent a few more surgeries.

There were many moments when I was angry with God but my mum found solace in focusing on prayer and healing.

This tumultuous journey made me realise that no matter where you find yourself in life, there’s always someone who has gone through the same struggles.

High hopes: Prayers can keep us going when the going gets really challenging.
High hopes: Prayers can keep us going when the going gets really challenging.

What has happened to my mother has forced me to slow down and take stock of my life. People often ask me how I am coping. Well, I have begun to accept the fact that cancer is a grim reality of life. You just have to learn to cope with it when it comes knocking on your door.

The burden of a life-threatening disease can crush the spirit of even the most dedicated caregiver. It challenges routines and relationships for many. All of us have the same basic needs: we want to be loved, nurtured, educated and included in society in every way possible.

I realise that survivors and their caregivers try earnestly to find ways to balance life, cancer and its treatment, and not feel like a victim themselves. A survivor has to cope as best as they can with the physical pain and emotional anguish that each day brings.

Many survivors have to try very hard to stay positive and challenge negative stereotypes. Caregivers, on the other hand, share stories of joy and sadness, united in the conviction that everything happens for a reason. They learn to count their blessings in the face of death.

They say God runs the show, and faith is a huge part of our lives. It is beyond what you can see but it is as real as anything you can touch or feel. Mum will be completing her first year in remission in April. She is slowly but steadily regaining her strength. She is getting a taste of independence, and enjoys life’s smallest joys.

I am thankful for the support of everyone who has played a key role in her recovery, I know she is much blessed to have survived cancer, and my heart beats with hope as I look down the long road ahead.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , Lifestyle , sheela k


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