Why a mother’s strength continues to amaze me
When the doctor informed us that my mom has cancer, I didn’t cry. Around my younger brothers, I simply couldn’t. I remember it was a bright and sunny day. The TV inside my mom’s room is switched on for the daily noontime show. The train passed through the window like a silver snake whose windows gave off a glint of the sun, like golden scales.
My mom was in the operating room, sleeping and unaware of the serious discussion on the floor above her. The whole breast needs to be removed. It’s a procedural thing. They informed us not because we have to make a choice. It’s a statement; If the cyst is benign, we will only remove the mass. If it’s cancerous, we will remove the whole thing. My mom’s cyst is far from benign.
When the doctors left, I pretended I need to pee. There I sat there, glaring at the roll of tissue paper as hot tears streamed across my face. It’s just a breast, I reminded myself. I don’t know why I’m crying over that damn little thing. None of my brothers nor my father in that room would understand and that only made the tears worse.
I forgot to pretend to flush but they pretended they haven’t noticed.
When my mom woke up around dinnertime, she doesn’t need to touch her chest to feel it’s gone. The bandage and the sore sensation of stitches told her as much. She looked at us with shining little eyes and touched my younger brother’s head: “Wala nang dede si mommy.”
My rational, clueless brother replied she still had one more but I looked away from her, as if distracted by the passage of the train in our window for the thousandth time already.
Our family has no history of cancer. When my mom felt a small bump at her left breast, she dismissed it as a common occurrence when you’re about to have your period. She never really like hospitals and needles and a check-up is the furthest thing in her mind. When the bump didn’t go away as it normally should, she confided it to her bestfriend who, in turn, almost pushed her inside a clinic for a check-up.
After a series of CT-scans and biopsy, the doctors revealed that the mass found in my mother’s breast is no ordinary mass. It’s quite big, and even if it’s benign, which they had no way to prove unless they cut open my mother’s breast and take a sample of it, they have to remove it. Immediately. My mom took this news as calmly as she could but I know she’s rattled inside. Before now, cancer seemed to be a foreign idea for all of us. We all know it’s there, it’s happening (or happened) to other people we knew, and we have watched countless shows and dramas about it. We know it’s out there but we thought it couldn’t touch us. We thought a history with no cancer is our shield and we can live in our perfect, little world relaxed and happy, cancer-free. Oh, how we were wrong.
After rounds of chemo, my mom has to undergo 30-day session of radiation. On Christmas morning, she was at the radiation ward, eagerly collecting stickers (passes for hospital guests) and stamping them on the orange file organizer she would carry around as the days go on. Inside the orange organizer are thick files of hospital bills she need to clear up for each day. I have no idea how we got through this, financially-speaking. I’m thankful that God had been with us throughout her treatment. While my mother bore the ordeal, He took care of the rest.
I often accompanied her during her last days of radiation and there I witnessed how my mother handled her illness with exuberant grace. She likes to listen and chat with other people, even strangers she met only a minute before. Everyone in the cancer ward knew her, from the patients to the nurses and med-techs. She even gave presents to them on Christmas and had even shed a tear on the last day of her radiation while bidding goodbye to the friends she made. I have no idea where her energy comes from but it’s certainly not from that shadow of a malignant cyst threatening to take over her body. My mom doesn’t like us to worry and so, she tries to be herself despite all of it. She hates it if I stumbled upon her crying one night even though I kept saying tears are natural and it’s okay to cry every now and then. I wanted to comfort her but more than a few times, I hid myself in my room, buried in books and loud music, to get away from it all.
A source of a mother’s strength, even at the face of cancer, is something you can never grasp until you become a mother yourself. My mom would often say she had to get better for the three of us, but I admit I couldn’t imagine how three “ungrateful” kids helped her got through with this. I guess it’s something my mother cannot explain, but only feel. A feeling I will never know until I had kids and I had to plow against the tides of uncertainty and fear in life and just to understand this special form of love.
Until then, it will remain as that unbelievable and powerful magic I will never understand.