It’s even scarier when it’s accompanied by the word ‘pancreatic’.
I had rushed home from work, knowing that mum was having tests that day. It was Tuesday. I was playing with my baby nephew when my parents walked in. “Girls, it’s not good,” dad’s voice shook. Here he was, telling his two baby girls that their mother has cancer.
We saw the gastroenterologist together. My mum apologised to him for having to break that kind of news to someone’s family. Because that’s just the person my mum is – she has cancer, and she says sorry.
Mum underwent a dozen cycles of chemotherapy and one course of radiation therapy. Through it all, I worked – five days a week. My role was to get up and head to work, giving mum a smile and a kiss as I left the house. It was important for mum’s emotional and mental state that I brought a sense of normalcy. But what I was going through was so far removed from normal. It definitely took its toll. I started to hate that I had to go to work. Nothing about this situation was fair, least of all the fact that while I was in the office, I was missing out on precious moments with my mum.
After about six months, I made the decision to work from home a couple of days a week. While still very difficult to view anything except mum as important, work was still there and it still had to be done. But it was a hell of a lot easier to concentrate on it when I could see mum with my very own eyes.
When my husband proposed to me, my mother and I both burst into tears with the realisation that she would be with me as I walked down the aisle – a very realistic fear that we had both been struggling with. While nothing could stop me from dreaming about my wedding day, the planning process was bittersweet. I knew that my mother would move mountains to be there with me every step of the way, but knowing that she may not be able to spend the whole night on the dance floor, like both of us had spent years planning, constantly made me sad. Knowing that she may not have the energy to hang out with my bridesmaids and me for the morning while we were pampered head to toe was heartbreaking. A bride is not meant to plan her wedding around whether her mother will be well enough to take part.
The hardest thing I had to hear through the whole planning process, was ‘do you think we need to move the wedding.’ I don’t think I’d been in denial, but mum had been doing so well in the lead up that I put my blinkers on and never even considered this as a possibility.
Mum did exceptionally well on the wedding day. She was the most beautiful person in that room. She had on a fiery orange dress that made you doubt whether she was even sick. She was radiant and magnificent. And despite the pain she felt all day, she never stopped smiling. And true to form, she was on the dance floor all night.
The year 2014 will always be the year I got married. But it will also always be the year I lost my best friend, my rock, my protector and my idol. And to have to see those side-by-side breaks my heart.
As a child, there comes a point in your life when you become the carer. It’s never meant to happen at the age of 27.
At 27 years old, you’re not meant to be rushing your mother to the emergency room. At 27 years old, you’re not meant to be imagining how the hell you’re going to raise your children without your greatest teacher by your side.
For the first six months I refused to entertain the idea that mum would never recover. I refused to look long-term. I refused to acknowledge that there was a possibility that my children would never know their nana. While some people may say this was silly, I had to take things day-by-day, hour-by-hour, otherwise I would have fallen apart.
For me, dealing with this illness that took over my family (yes, family), everything else in life seemed so trivial. Why should I go to work every day when I should be soaking up every second that I have left with my mother? Why should I be around people who don’t make me happy? Why should I pretend to live a normal life when nothing about my life was normal? It’s not normal to be asking your father how many times mum threw up today. It’s not normal to be helping your mother shower when her chemo bag is attached to her. It’s not normal to go wig shopping. It’s not normal to be driving your mother to the hospital to get the chemo detached.
It’s not normal to be facing the rest of your life without your mother in it.
For me, I felt quite alone, even within my family network. Because it’s impossible to understand how it feels to be looking a future, with a little family of your own, without your mother by your side unless you’re living that reality. At times I was jealous of my sister and all the time she was spending with her son and my mum. While I relish the fact that my mum got to meet at least one grandchild, it’s not fair that she will never get to meet them all. It’s not fair that my nephew has loads of presents from his nana, and my children won’t even get to feel her embrace, or give her kisses, or run into her room in the morning to jump on her bed. It’s not fair that my children won’t have the privilege of knowing their wonderful, loyal, funny, generous, loving, talented, beautiful nana.
Every day, I take comfort in knowing that when I was speaking to her in those final moments, she was squeezing my hand. I know that she heard me. I know that she is with me as I navigate my first year of marriage, as I make my new house a home, and as I figure out my career choices. And I know that she will be with me as I learn how to be a mother. I know this because I am the person I am today because of her. She has taught me firsthand how to be the most incredible mother. I take comfort in knowing that she will be looking after me from wherever she is. I take comfort in knowing that in so many ways, I am just like her. And I take comfort in knowing that she will never be far away.
When she passed away, I made a vow. Come hell or high water, my children will know who their nana is. I will give them 12 kisses a day to help them grow, just like she gave me. I will fill my home with photos of her. I’ll play them videos so they know her voice. I will sing them to sleep and I will giggle infectiously with them. I will tell them every day how much they are loved and that there is a very special person looking after them. And I will tell them that their nana loves them too.
I pray that one day, I’ll be able to turn to my child and say, ‘you’re exactly like your nana’, because to me, that’s the greatest compliment of all.