Except for the occasional bandana tugging, Mom was motionless for the most part of the 10-minute trip. I attempted to strike a conversation with her a couple of times, but she just wouldn’t budge. All she could afford was the sporadic Mmm’s and Yeah’s. She wasn’t the bubbly, chatty personality that everyone knew. She loved life and lived life to the fullest. But at that moment, it seemed as if life had completely been drained from her.
The sun finally peered through the clouds when we arrived at our compound. My brother was the first one to alight the vehicle and made his way to where my Mom was seated. Understandably, it took some time before she could get off. And when it was finally empty, I remained inside the car and tried to take everything in.
It was so surreal, like watching your life unravel before your eyes. Before I boarded the plane, Mom was in her usual self, sending me the usual affectionate messages. But the moment I got here, everything changed; like someone switched the mode from colored to black and white.
I tried to stifle my screams, but a few tears still managed to escape from my eyes. I couldn’t shake the feeling how unfair this whole thing was – unfair for her and for us.
I observed my mother and my brother walking towards the house; and as I watch him assisting her, I thought about all those families who are still able to enjoy the love of their mothers even when they’re already in their 50’s and 60’s. My brother’s just 23, and with the rate that my mom’s cancer has been progressing, there’s absolutely no telling as to how little time she still has, how little time my brother still has to enjoy a mother’s love.
We proceeded to my Aunt’s house – which was within our compound – for lunch. And as expected, everyone from my extended family was there. We gathered around the table while Mom sat on the couch. Everyone was in their typical lively selves – chatting enthusiastically with each other. As always. Mama, on the other hand, served as the audience in the background.
Ironic, I thought. She was the leader of our band, the tireless chatterbox who used to be the life of any party. She was the one who'd laugh the loudest and the vigorous emcee who would tell rib-tickling anecdotes and jokes about everyone and everything. But now, her illness has reduced her to a mere spectator in the background of it all.
When she was diagnosed, my mother had stage 4 Endometrial Cancer. A few weeks before I arrived, she already had her first round of chemotherapy sessions which were coupled with the required surgeries. Although she was a fairly diminutive lady, the enormity of her personality was inversely proportional to her size, so naturally everyone, myself included, thought she would just breeze through it given her sunny disposition and her admirable optimism. Although my Aunt said she got through her treatments better than the others, I just didn’t expect it to like this.
Despite being so weak, she smiled. She smiled her toothy grin at me, and I realized, “No, this lady’s not defeated. She’s not done. She’s going to fight this.” And it dawned on me that even with just a glimmer of hope, one can be very optimistic about even the most impossible hurdle. And right then and there – when I saw a change in her that was absent while we were on the vehicle – I felt so much better. She smiled. And that’s what matters to me.
Cancer doesn’t just affect one person, it affects the entire family. Cancer creeps through every facet in the family’s life. It destroys a family, ruins relationships, and throws everything in shambles.
And just before midnight struck, when it was time for her to rest, I stroke her wrinkly hands, looked at her and said, “What do you want to do when all of this is over, Ma?” Stroking my head like how she used to, she replied, “Well, for one, I’d like to have my hair back.” We both laughed quietly. Then with a pensive look on her face, she said, “I don’t know, honestly. I haven’t thought about it yet. I just want everyone to be alright, that’s all.”
She fell asleep a couple of minutes later. And while I was observing her, I thought to myself; she may already be bald and skinny, but she’s till the warm, reassuring, optimistic person that I’ve known and loved; she’s still looking out for us even when she’s the one who needs our care. I know how heartbreaking it had been for her to pull her bandana off, yet it was she who offered comfort.
She’s still the same beautiful person. It’s still her. It’s still my Mama. And no Cancer can ever change that.
I still think about her every day. I still feel her presence everywhere. And at times, I often wonder if she still thinks what I’m thinking, just like the old times. But whenever that happens, I always see her lovely, toothy grin somewhere, somehow. Then I smile and tell myself, “Of course she does. Of course. Mama always does.”
I love you, Ma … with hair, without hair, or with shockingly purple hair!
It's been exactly 17 months since you passed on. I'm still thinking about you. I imagine you now sitting somewhere amidst fields of violet, purple, and lavender flowers while you're reading your favorite book and enjoying the sunset.
I love you, Ma. Always.
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For Endometrial Cancer Resources, please visit this link and scroll down to the bottom of the post for useful links regarding Endometrial/Womb Cancer.
Image 2: Tumblr Lilac Fields
Image 3: 123RF
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This post is in memory of Jocelyn 'Joji' Adriatico Aleta, who bravely fought Endometrial Cancer, and is also dedicated to all the brave women who passed from, are fighting, or have survived ENDOMETRIAL / WOMB CANCER.