My mother and I have always been best of friends.I told her all about my crushes and teenage problems and gave her a list of all the boys who were "interested" in me.She would actually listen in all earnestness to everything that I had to say,never once dismissing any of it away as frivolous.She was the strong and sensible one in the family.
So it was like my whole world came crashing down when exactly two years ago,I got the call from my physician-aunt, confirming that the tumor in my mother's breast was indeed cancerous.On the bright side,the cancer was still in the initial stages.So the doctor chalked out a treatment plan consisting of 3 rounds of chemo followed by a lumpectomy followed by 60 days of radiation followed by another 3 rounds of chemo.I had just started the fall term at school but both M and I felt that my mother needed me by her side.So I withdrew from school and jumped onto the next flight to Bangalore.She had just had her first ever cycle of chemo like two days before I landed.When I reached home and saw her lying on the bed in that condition,my heart broke into a thousand pieces.She looked so pale and weak and worn out.Yet when she saw my face,she smiled so brightly that all I could manage to do without breaking down was sit by her side and stroke her hair as gently as I could.Then began an experience that I can never ever forget in this lifetime.
My presence seemed to have injected tremendous hope and strength in her.She was determined to beat the cancer.The first few days after I landed passed by without much ado.In all the excitement of my arrival,she seemed to have forgotten about the side affects of the chemo.But after a week or so,the much dreaded hair loss started to happen.Chunks of hair just fell off every time she ran a brush through it.In just 4 days,she went from having a thick and long mop of salt and pepper-ed hair to completely bald.That was one of the most painful moments of my life.I felt so helpless;there was nothing I could do to make her feel better.On one hand,the chemo was doing a number on her in terms of nausea and headaches and on the other,she was losing hair like nobody's business.That was the first time I ever saw her break down and how.She just wouldn't look at herself in the mirror.But my father and I had to be strong for her.We could not afford to show her how scared we were and how upset we felt on seeing her suffer.
So I bought these really expensive silk scarfs for her to cover her hairlessness.I would make sure that she dressed just as normally as she did before all this happened.She was on a very strict diet;no oil,no spice,no raw vegetables,no fruits and the list just went on.So we also stuck to the same diet as her just so that she did not feel weird or left out.We made sure that we never cried or appeared depressed in front of her.The days following her chemo sessions were the worst.It was gut wrenching to see what the chemical did to her system.And then came the surgery.The surgery itself was a huge success and they were able to get all of the cancerous tissue out.But the days that followed were a real challenge to her and us.You know they have this strange rule.Post surgery,they will show the tumor that was removed from the patient to a member of the patient's family and get papers signed to this effect.And of course I had the misfortune of having to go through this bizzare procedure.
All of us including my mother felt a little upbeat as the surgery had gone off quite well.Just that the poor thing had tubes sticking out of her at the site of surgery to collect fluids which was painful and irritating as hell.It was then that I realized that the roles had been reversed;I was the parent and she was the child.I used to bathe her every day and help her get dressed.I used to cook her special meals.I used to sit by her side and talk to her till she dozed off.I used to give her all her medication.I used to accompany her to the hospital for her routine check-ups.I used to hold her in my arms when she was writing in pain and barfing away after the chemo.And you know what,I hated it.This was alien territory to me.I couldn't accept that my mother had become this weak and scared and dependent on me.I couldn't accept that while she suffered and endured,all I could do was watch in helplessness.I remember crying my heart out to M everyday when he called and telling him that if I had the power I would take her disease and gladly suffer through it rather than watch her go through the torture and not be in a position to do anything at all.
Ultimately,all is well that ends well.She managed to get rid of the cancer and is all better today.But the experience changed all of us forever.It was like I grew up overnight.I never had to shoulder this much responsibility ever but I somehow managed to do so.We as a family fought together.We stuck together and never gave up.M was a huge huge support and my fall guy basically.I could not have managed if it were not for him.My father was so strong and poised and was always there for my mother.Even after I left,he managed to take real good care of her, singlehandedly.I still remember that proud and tender look on his face when he saw my mother in a saree for the first time after about 3 months into her treatment!We used to go to the hospital for her chemo and sit on the chairs outside the doctor's office, waiting for him to take a look at mom.And the three of us would crack jokes and laugh until we had tears in our eyes just so that my mother would not get affected by all the suffering around us.And all the others waiting there would stare at us like we had lost it!
I still do not comprehend why she of all people had to go through all that she did.Apparently there is no answer to such questions.Whatever.I am just glad she is healthy and happy today and just pray and hope that she stays this way forever.And I am so proud of her for displaying tremendous courage under adversity.She went all by herself to the radiation center for her 60-day radiation therapy.And she would have animated discussions with the technicians about the process and the machinery as her thesis in college was on Nuclear Physics.Not only did the entire staff know her by name,they weretotally fascinated by her and she was of course their most favorite patient!And I am so proud of my father for being the most ideal companion one could ever ask for.
The funny thing is when certain people got to know about her condition,their very first reaction was,"Oh,so this means that I am at risk too.And what about my precious daughters?They could be at risk too." And their warped emotions manifested in such a way, that my mother,despite being a Physics major,was almost convinced at one point of time that breast cancer could be contagious!