It was December 26, 2014. The day when Tsunami hit the world. Little did we know that a massive Tsunami would hit our lives too.
It all started with a dry cough. Mom coughed every time she talked for five minutes at a stretch. There was no infection or mucus down her throat. So, when Mom and Dad finally decided after two months, to consult a doctor I was relieved. I was getting back from my tuition classes that night and when asked about the diagnosis, they simply said further tests were required and the physician had referred them to another hospital.
Next day, my sister and I were back from school and I received a call from Dad.
“Shalu, Mamma is diagnosed with a minor tumor. Nothing to worry, Molu (dear). The doctor said that it can be easily removed. So, we are planning to admit her in hospital today itself for surgery early in the morning tomorrow. I will call you back soon.” Dad hung up.
It was her birthday next day- December 25. A family friend took both of us little girls, to the hospital early in the morning. I still remember her laugh and smile. She was in her cheerful best. I do not know if she was trying to put up a brave face. May be she was.
She was out from surgery and Dad was back home as they didn’t permit anyone to stay with the patient. We were informed that the surgery had gone well. Being in Grade 12 and with the Board exams around the corner, my Dad used to be my alarm clock. He used to wake me up at 5 every morning so that I study. Out of nowhere, he received a call from the hospital. I saw him darting across the room to reach Mom at the earliest. He told me that there was no one in the hospital and that the Mom needs some medicines. I ironed his shirt and he got ready only to leave home in a flurry.
I helped my little sister with breakfast and in another four hours we went to school. After the morning assembly, I reached the classroom. The teacher entered and announced the class to stand and pray in silence. I thought it was because of the Tsunami that hit in the morning. But no, it was for my Mom.
I felt the world around me spin, the earth beneath shake. I just didn’t know what was wrong.
All my friends knew what my Mom was going through. That she had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, that when the doctors opened her up for surgery they were alarmed at the size of the Cancer that had spread across her heart, lungs and diaphragm. They couldn’t remove even a quarter of these bad cells that were eating her life. Soon after they closed her up, they knew she wouldn’t survive and this morning she showed signs of withdrawal that they had to summon Dad immediately.
She took his hands and said, “Take care of our daughters. I love you”, and she gave up.
She heard her heart beat slowing down to 30…and then to zero. In that trans state between heaven and earth, she saw the smiling face of my Dad and his hand touching her face. She saw Lord Vishnu raising his hand to bless her. She felt a current pass through her and her heart again started beating from zero, back to normal. She was back to Life! She had gone into cardiac arrest and the doctors had given her a defibrillation or an electric shock. But she was in life support system for almost a week. The cancer was still there and her current condition was only because she went through surgery.
The worst was yet to come. The treatment plan included chemotherapy followed by eight sets of radiations. She was shattered. She couldn’t stop crying. She remembered her close friend’s son committing suicide not able to bear the the pain of this poisonous treatment. She lost pounds and reached to a devastating 26kgs. She lost her hair and became bald. Her skin was loose and she looked old. She couldn’t bring herself to face anyone around, not even look in the mirror. She gave up countless times. The excruciating pain, and the hairless head made her scream. But my Dad was patient and calm. He never gave up and always believed in the good, in the best. He force-fed her with different kinds of fruit juices, soups and food every half an hour- the entire diet being prepared by my Dad. He didn’t bother the cussing and swearing. Then I knew what love is. And I swear, I don’t think anyone would have gone through this situation with such grace.
It has been ten years now! She never thought she will get back to her work, or see me get a job or even married. She fought through, just because of my Dad. It’s difficult to live a life in fear forever, not knowing if a mere cold or cough is because of the cancer returning back. She is weak but strong in many ways.
When beautiful Heather asked me if I could write a post to spread awareness on Mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, I felt privileged. Anything to spread a word. Heather Von St. James, a soon-to-be 10 year survivor of mesothelioma is spreading awareness to this ‘silent’ disease by celebrating Mesothelioma Awareness Day every year, on the 26th of September. Mesothelioma is often considered a “silent” disease because it can take decades for symptoms to begin to show and exposure to asbestos very easily occurred because the dangers weren’t known.
On November 2005, Heather was diagnosed with the malignant pleural mesothelioma. As a little girl, she was exposed to asbestos by wearing her dad’s jacket that had been covered in “dust.” How life takes its toll!
Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer which affects the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen, the most serious of all, the asbestos-related diseases. Like any other cancer, this can be diagnosed with biopsy and imaging scans and treatment plans include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
With limited treatment options, she fought hard and survived. When I read Her story, I cried. Tears streamed down my cheeks in no time because I had my Mom pictured in my head. This is one thing in my life that had made us all tied up in the so-called beautiful bond of love, of FAMILY. And nothing can take that from me ever! These tears were also for the sheer will-power that Heather had exhibited and respect for her.
I would sit with Lily alone in my living room and hold her, her big brown eyes staring up at me, studying every detail of me. I would hold her and cry out to God, begging him to not take me away from her. Then I would stare back at her, promising her I would do everything I could to be around to raise her. She needed a mommy. She needed me.
Life changes the moment you hear the ‘C’ word. People look at you with sympathy and your loved ones do not know how to deal with it. It’s a brave fight. You can either give up or fight like hell. You need to hang on. Everyone has a story to tell. Some a victorious battle or others without a happy ending. Some will curl up in a ball and some will stand up and fight. Cancer sucks! But there is always hope to take care of yourself without shame or guilt. The word ‘cancer’ is not associated with death anymore.
Tomorrow is Mesothelioma Awareness Day (MAD). Join the Tweet Chat!
Lata Sunil says
Shalu, such trying days for you and family. I had tears in my eyes. The need to spread awareness of any such illnesses is indeed necessary. Very well-written.
It is really scary.. but we hear so many strong positive stories of how people have fought the dreaded ..
I hope and wish more and more people be aware of ..and are able to catch it early
Archya Sengupta says
Yes it is a traumatic situation for everyone when that C word is brought in. Requires immense courage and patience to sail through. Take care
You have done a wonderful thing by sharing your experience and creating awareness about Mesothelioma 🙂 Keep up the good work 🙂
Thank you for sharing these very private and traumatic moments which give hope to so many…
Gosh, so kind of you to spread awareness through the personal story and I know that’s no easy feat.. You are fabulous.
Roshan R (@pythoroshan) says
a strong strong post that deserves to be shared…
This touched me in several ways — as a cancer survivor, as someone who lost a friend to this particular one, and as a health coach. Thank you
Vidya Sury says
Hugs Shalini! I confess my heart was hammering when I read your post, and i was so relieved to see the love, care and courage in your family! Hugs!
Heather’s husband wrote a guest post on my blog in 2013 🙂 She is very inspiring! Love to you!
I almost choked reading about your Mom’s journey! Great post and such a good thing that you are spreading awareness about Mesothelioma! Love n Hugs!
It might have been difficult to go through that phase when your mother is going through the treatment. Great that you are spreading awareness. Even, I have seen some close people who are cancer survivors and I feel, they need more support from family and friends. Else, the fear itself will make the situation worse than the actual illness.
Shilpa Garg says
We have lost 4 of our close relatives to Big C. It is truly a painful and dreadful disease. Glad that your mom’s fought this disease bravely. Thanks for sharing and creating awareness about Mesothelioma.
Corinne Rodrigues says
Thank you for sharing, Shalini. Your family and Heather’s are so inspirational. I shudder to think of the millions of Indians who must have been exposed to asbestos at some point. Awareness is so important.
Your father is a super hero! And so is your mom.. and this post is incredible! You did a wonderful job writing this one out and spreading the awareness!