Wednesday, June 03, 2009

family support for breast cancer

The TKC-OGA organisation is compiling a book on breast cancer. It includes my mum's written speech which she gave at their last gathering two weeks ago. In addition to that, they have asked us as family members to share with others our experience during this challenging time.

I am so glad I took some time to do this, as I realise that it is important to document this significant time of our lives and that it would be useful for others who might have to go through the same experience in the future. Have I not written this down, these memories might just vanish with time - which would be such a shame. Here is my piece for the compilation.

My mother and I have always had the fear of breast cancer due to the many lumps that we have in our breasts. These lumps have been confirmed as ‘benign’ during our annual check-ups since 1996, but when both my parents related their worry about a suspicious lump in Mama’s right breast in May 2007, I suddenly felt intensely that my fears were becoming real.

It was the worst possible timing too as my parents and sister were visiting me and my own little family in France where we were located for a year. We were having such a nice family time when my father, who is a Pathologist, told me about their anxiety. His instincts are usually accurate, so when he expressed his worry to me, I couldn’t help but think of the worst scenario. But when the diagnosis was made soon after they arrived back in KL, no matter how I was preparing myself for the bad news, I was still devastated.

Since I was so far away, this devastation was made worse with the feeling of helplessness and even guilt for not being with her and the rest of the family during these trying times. Fortunately our summer break was only a few weeks away. I then decided to wait for my husband to finish his classes, so we could come back together with our then 8 months old son to give Mama the support that she needed. Initially we had planned a few trips around Europe before heading back for the holidays, but we quickly canceled all these plans to come back home as soon as possible.

For a small family like ours, just being around must have made a lot of difference to Mama. The presence of our baby Imran was definitely most therapeutic. Mama started the chemotherapy treatment soon after we arrived, and since we were staying with her at the time, our company was an automatic support for her. Not only had Mama needed our support, but for Papa and my sister Nelly, it was a huge relief to be able to distribute the load, and for all of us to hold each others hands and remain strong as a family during this daunting experience. Our youngest brother, Ashed who was studying in Australia at the time also came home to lend his support. From the first chemotherapy session to the second and then on to the subsequent cycles, we stood by her physically, mentally and emotionally.

Our company, and especially Imran’s gave her a reason to wake up every morning and be strong, just so that she could play with him. When she felt too weak, my insistence for her to sleep and not to worry about things around her gave her an assurance that everything would be alright. During this time, she was still going through the process of regret and fear before getting to the acceptance stage, so just lending my ears and shoulders to cry on was helpful. More importantly, our words and insistence for her to snap out of the despair and anxiety, slowly but surely guided her to a more positive spirit.

Us being there also meant that we could ‘spoil’ her and ask her to name whatever it is that she felt like eating, especially when her appetite was down. At one time, when she did not feel like eating anything, we were scratching our heads to find some food that would trigger her appetite, when my mother in-law (a TKC-ian herself, and an especially caring person) arrived from Perth with nine avocadoes. Voila! Lo and behold – it was like manna from heaven – it was the only thing that tasted good to her, and that kept her nourished for a few days!

My uncle and aunties also came from India to spoil her and since she has a weakness for Gujrati food, it was truly a blessing to have them cook all her favourite dishes. She also experienced some soreness in her feet as one of the many side effects of chemotherapy, and so my aunty would massage her everyday without fail with some special oil that they had brought from India. Bless their kind hearts and sincerity, I was so moved by their unbounded love and generosity, and learnt so much about family commitments from them during this time.

Another point where our support came in very handy was when her hair started to fall down. Nelly and I convinced her that she should get a trendy short hairstyle and that she would look great in it. Indeed she did! And when she shaved her head, we held her hands and told her that it’s the best thing to do rather than seeing her long strands of hair disappearing into the bathroom drain. Nelly researched to find the best wig shop in town and we had a great time choosing one which suited her best. We did go overboard though, and tried on all the wigs ourselves. Even Papa had the cheek to get one for himself, but we told him NO!

We also encouraged Mama to involve herself in a project, as she was not used to being idle at home, having had a busy career all her life. Since she not only enjoyed, but was also good at sewing, she thought it was a good idea for her to make a patchwork blanket like she used to do during her younger days. We were enthusiastic about it as the blanket not only would be nice and useful (we had used the old ones until they literally fell apart!), but more importantly it would be such a meaningful piece of work that in the future would remind us of this significant time that we were going through. I took her to get some fabrics and we chose the ones with brighter colours to uplift her mood. Making the blankets (she made four pieces in the end, each one bearing an embroidered date to commemorate the cycles of chemotherapy completed) occupied her time when she was well enough during the four and a half months of chemotherapy and lifted her spirits when she felt down.

After her fourth cycle of chemotherapy, we had to return back to France as my husband’s classes were starting again after the summer break. I contemplated staying back for her, but she resisted saying that he needed me and Imran, more than she did. With a heavy heart, we left but only with a plan of her coming to visit us soon after she finished her treatment, which would be about 6 weeks after we left. Looking forward to the trip boosted her spirits and our daily ‘Skype’ calls made her challenging days go by faster. Soon enough, she arrived just seven days after her last cycle of chemo to celebrate Imran’s first birthday with us. She had even handmade personalized little goody bags for Imran’s friends at his birthday party!

Looking back, one cannot deny the challenging ordeal that we had gone through together. Despite being the strong person that she is, Mama would surely attest to the fact that her journey was made easier by having the physical, mental and emotional support of her beloved family. We pray everyday that she would remain cancer free forever, Insya-Allah.


At 9:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely write-up Sha! And your mum is indeed very lucky to have all the support that she needs!

Btw, she looks good in the pic, and I have just realized you look so much like her! ;)

At 3:06 AM, Blogger miss-cream said...

Haha. Yes, apparently I do look like her.. but perhaps seems even more obvious in this pic as I was trying to 'copy' her wig's fringe! :)

P/S Glad you took some time to read it... it's a pretty long post!

At 6:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

u have written such a beautiful, meaningful piece of the whole journey (and I read it twice). your mom is strong, but you guys are stronger


At 1:22 PM, Anonymous Rina said...

your mom is very lucky to have all of you around her when she needed you most. i believe that at the end of the day, family is most important during difficult times.

i am glad she's cancer free now and in the best of health.

At 9:55 PM, Blogger elly said...

this is a beautiful piece, sha! it just show how important family is and how lucky all of you are to have each other!


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