It was hard to write this letter to my mother’s cancer, but here it goes…
To personify you like this is not easy. You know, for awhile I couldn’t even say your name, referring to you as the ‘C word.’
Earlier this year, you attacked a brilliant and strong woman, out of nowhere, without any warning.
I’ll never forget her phone call, her voice, the way I had to pull over and cry on my steering wheel. I let the world blur as you streaked my canvas of security with pain.
She’s not just any woman, you know, my mother.
She’s a woman of devotion. To her god, her family and her work. She somehow held all 3 together for all my life and lives by this, every single day.
And so when you came to her in those surprising results, only a week after my father came home from his organ transplant, I wondered why you had chosen her.
And that there had to have been some sort of mistake there. I said, “No it can’t be.”
It was a natural reaction.
Your name didn’t run in our family. And my mother, you see, she’s the rock. Nothing happens to her.
“Mommy are you sure?”
She’s never expected anything from us, never asked for anything. It couldn’t have been her you meant.
“I will be fine, beta.”
Her independence is what people admire the most. She isn’t a lady who relies on anyone, we joke about how she successfully networked her office herself by reading and watching how-to books and videos. This is someone who had no clue about anything electronic.
But me, I admire the way she has no expectations. She would say I just like to be around my kids, shoeing away the spa treatment or dinner reservation we made her to celebrate what she meant to us on birthdays or mother’s day. Her happiest smiles were when we were all with her, piled up in her and daddy’s bed fighting over who slept on her chest.
So cancer, when you attacked her actual chest, I crumbled. It was not like anything I had ever felt before.
You know, with my dad, we had a reason why he had become sick. We could pinpoint it with science. We knew the cure. We knew how to get there and after all the years of fighting and praying, we did it. His transplant saved him.
But with my mom, it was like being knocked off a surfboard in rip tides.
If anyone has ever had that happen in the ocean, you know what I mean. The minutes where you can’t find your breath, the way no matter what you do, there’s no knowing if it will help you, the current of fear, the confusion.
I surrendered. I didn’t know what else to do.
There were so many opinions that flooded our home. So many stories of people you had taken, people you hadn’t, what they went through, what they did or didn’t eat, products they used or didn’t use.
And so we did our best to hear it all, did our best to put up boundaries, did our best to stay afloat.
It’s like I was drowning in those rip tides again.
To find my way up, I read a lot about you. Ways to cope, ways to help, how you worked inside the body, what chemicals you possibly loved, and how to detox you away.
I remember walking into a lecture at an Ayurvedic conference I attended for our company and ironically, it was a plastic surgeon speaking. The one who mandated breast reconstruction for post mastectomy patients in the U.S. and who had used Ayurveda to heal many of her breast cancer patients. Whose mom had also suffered by you. Suddenly I was in tears.
It was like you were everywhere I went.
Take care of yourself too, I read in an article once during my mom’s doctor’s appointment in the waiting room.
It made me laugh. If I think back, it was pretty funny, how I burst into laughter when reading that.
Myself? All I wanted to do was take care of my mom.
There were those days we were apart where she would smile at my little daughter on FaceTime and fear of you would grip me. I wondered will she see her granddaughter grow up?
When she had to chop it all off, I know she must’ve cried to her sister.
After the surgery, my mom said, just close your eyes, that chapter is over and we move forward. So I stayed strong like her.
But when I flew back to my home after being with her, I cried. Many times. And often alone.
I remember bathing her. Holding her body, wrapping her scar. My mother’s vulnerability filled me with an emotion I didn’t know.
The drain, the bandage, it was all like a physical representation over what we couldn’t fix. I just wanted to take a magic wand and change it back.
It wasn’t a mistake. You had chosen her, my momma. And the reality of that would find me in my sleep, in the shower, during my yoga practice, while cooking dinner in the aftermath of it all.
I couldn’t find a way to bring it up to my girlfriends. My supportive husband, he held me and just let me cry when I let him.
My brother, my sister, they knew.
Sister-sister love is like nothing in the world, my mom told me.
My mothers sisters, My masis (as we say in my native tongue) took turn by turn, being with her, flying to her for weeks at a time, staying by her side in all of it.
The chemo was what scared the crap out of us, maybe more than when you made your first appearance.
She couldn’t tolerate it and the doctors said it was best to stop. So she went back to what she always knew. Her faith.
And maybe that’s what did it, with all that faith in her heart, perhaps you thought, “hey let’s not get so aggressive here.” And you backed off…
Because eventually she was able to have reconstruction.
She debated it. But woman to woman, I knew my mother was better off without a flat scar reminding her of you across her chest. After all the years of teenage angst on what my mother didn’t understand then, to getting married, birthing a child and relating to her, then this…well now, I truly felt we were women in this together. I knew what it was like to nourish my child from my breast as she did. I knew what it was to hold my child close to my bosom when she ran a fever.
I was once that child to my momma. And you…well you are our nemesis.
I dreamt once of my whole family, even aunts and uncles, wearing pink paint on our faces smiling and kissing my mother at the thought of overcoming you forever.
The doctor says, now we just see.
There’s this quote by Rumi I once read.
“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”
So cancer, no offense, but I hope you have been swept out of our home for good. I want my mother to feel joy in the fullest most abundant way. To fill her life and heart with the new green leaves, shaking out the old ones that bear your name and step forward as she always taught me to do, my strong and beautiful momma.
And I’m also thinking, there’s more to it than just stepping forward.
It’s more about the simplicity of love for this present moment.
You know she still does everything else to combat you. The flax seed and juicing and even a 10 day vipassana silent meditation.
It was from her vipassana she told me, “I didn’t know what the next day would be. I knew I felt better in that moment. And that was it.”
It is all that matters.
The rip tides have settled now and I can finally write this letter to you. I don’t know if we will see each other again and of course, I truly hope not, but leave it up to the universe.
All I can do is embrace this moment and you know, I never ever thought I’d say this…
But thank you for opening my eyes to the importance of what is, to the presence of my mother’s love. I never in a million years thought I would find myself expressing my gratitude for you, for letting us get through, for allowing us to just be right now, right here.
To have my mother smile from her heart today without you and feel…
This is all that matters.
Hopefully goodbye forever,
A mothers daughter, Puja