A couple of months ago as part of my work team building activity we were asked to write down on a piece of paper one of our fears. I wrote:
And it is true. I am scared of being embarrassed as it is a sign of weakness and I don’t appreciate being humiliated, as I’m sure most people don’t. But what I really wanted to write on that piece of paper was:
“My mum dying”
My mum is the rock of our family. She is the strongest person I know. And I don’t want her to die.
This is my mum.
Yes, she is bald. She has no eyelashes, and her eyebrows are hanging on by a thread – almost literally. My mum has lived a challenging life since she was a teenager, and her latest struggle (apart from the recent death of her dad, my Koro) has been a battle with breast cancer.
Towards the end of last year we found out she had clinical stage 2b breast cancer that was spreading fast. In November she started chemo and this past week she’s had her last treatment. She now waits for an operation to remove the tumour, surrounding tissue and the lymphnodes which the cancer has now spread to – but yay for no mastectomy! Then she is on radiotherapy for 3-4 weeks and then taking medication for the next 5 years.
The medication she takes is to help fight the bad side effects of the chemo but the medication itself has it’s own side effects.
I wanted to write this post because I needed to get down how I feel but also as an effort to help others who are watching someone they love go through the same experience.
I went along with mum to her second chemo treatment in December last year. The room was full of old people. And I watched a man die right before my eyes. He was obviously getting his chemo done and just like that he closed his eyes and never opened them again. It was in that moment that I realized that could be my mum.
She keeps telling me to stop worrying about her and to focus on me and baby, but ha let’s be real, mum. I’m fine. Baby’s fine (obviously. one week late). But you’re not. And I can see it. For anyone who doesn’t know, you see them deteriorate before your eyes and it’s out of your control. And that’s hard to face. I’ve seen mum tired, grumpy, sick, sore, weak. My baby shower was 2 days after one of her chemo treatments and it was the worst day she’s had. But she was smiling and no one even knew something was going on with her. The very next day she ended up in hospital. I hate seeing mum go through that and not be able to do anything to make it go away.
But she has had the best attitude of anyone I’ve ever met. Of her experience with this battle she says:
“I’ve learnt a lot through this new chapter of my life, a lot about myself, a lot about Paul, how I deal with things, my attitude, what is important, what I can do to make a difference and more importantly, where I want to be. Each day I try turning this experience that was once ugly into something positive.”
Because of the chemo her head feels like it’s burning and she’s lost all of her hair, she’s lost her sense of taste (which, let’s be honest, might not be a bad thing aye mum 😉 hahaha), she’s weak and cannot lift things, she’s sick most of the time, and my little brothers are still getting used to her “prickly” scalp. And here she is with a smile on her face.
Throughout this experience I’ve really learnt about the power of positive people. Mum has had so much support. She’s had a support person with her at every chemo session so she doesn’t have to do it alone. Her work friends are constantly checking up on her. Her family call and message her to make sure she’s looking after herself. And my dad has stepped up and taken care of the family. It’s been a touching experience to see the way my dad loves my mum. It’s something I’ve never seen before but I’m sure grateful to witness it now.
To anyone who is watching someone they love fight cancer, it’s okay. Everything will be okay. You can cry and worry about them and growl them if they are not looking after themself. Remind them that it’s okay to rest all day and not have to clean the house or make the bed. When you see them without their hair for the first time, remember they are sensitive to it too. This is all new to them just as much as it is to you. Listen to them. You might not know what to say but sometimes not saying anything at all is just what they need. Sometimes they just need someone to sit there and listen. Most of all, love them. With all the things they are going through, with all the medication they have to take, with all the side effects they are dealing with, what they need most of all is to feel the love of the people around them. That’s what strengthens them.
This is my mum. Sharisa Marsh. The woman who bore me and the woman who taught me. Because of her I have life. I have gifts. And I have straight teeth (because have you seen my dad’s?). She is battling cancer and she’s fighting it with all the grit in her Ngati Kahungungu bones.
What do I fear? I fear losing her.
We are all cheering for her to beat the big ugly ‘C’ word the same way she beats those eggs for her Chocolate German Cakes.
P.S. Ladies, look after yourselves and get checked. You might just save your own life.