When my mother was diagnosed with Myeloma, I was nine, and most of our long night in the hospital was, in my case, taken up by the personality test on Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Blue Version. I was having a difficult time getting a Squirtle that night, and at the time I never realised how significant that hospital visit would be, and just how many times I would visit that hospital in the weeks and months that followed.
My mom had been sick all Christmas, vomiting up most of what she ate and spending most of her time asleep on the couch. I was worried about her, even then wondering at how often she had been sick, and the time she had spent in the hospital a few months before. She had been complaining of severe leg pain and no amount of CT or MRI scans had revealed the source. After that, she was fine for a while, but around Christmas she was extremely ill, and eventually she allowed us to bring her to Tallaght Hospital to see if something was seriously wrong.
Something was seriously wrong, but I would never, not in a million years, have thought that it was cancer. I remember when they finally admitted her and I went in with my dad. Seeing her in a hospital gown, looking so ill, scared me.
I’m the kind of person who, when I choose to love someone, I love them fiercely. It was very difficult for me to watch what the chemotherapy did to her. I used to visit her every day, even when things were bad and she would vomit all the time. That stuff, it didn’t bother me, as much as the thought of living without her. I used to think that she would never be the way that she had been before, she was so emaciated, so fragile and sometimes I wondered if one day I might come in to find her bed empty. If one day she might just disappear from my life and the house would always be as quiet as it seemed when she wasn’t there, as though someone had ripped out its heart. I used to imagine having to watch my dad crying over her body, and imagine how my brother would have to grow up without a mother, how I would have to grow up without her.
|My Mum on her first day home from hospital after her stem cell transplant. Pic credit: A family member
Before her diagnosis, I never questioned that my mam would be there for my first day of Secondary School, for my graduation and for my wedding. I never realised how much it meant to me until the cancer threatened to take it all away, threatened to make me that girl whose mother died, the one that teachers always look at with sympathy. It made me realise what she meant to me, what mothers are to girls.
I was afraid of losing her, having to try and tell my, at the time, two year old brother that mammy was never coming back, to show him that video of her in the hospital, saying she missed him. I didn’t know how he’d ever understand, how our little mammy’s boy ever could understand that the centre of his universe was gone forever.
I was afraid that I’d be a teenager with no mother to argue with, no-one to drive to the shop when I needed female products. I didn’t want to see my dad cry, to see my brother come home from his friend’s house and realise what he was missing in having no mother.
Her cancer has made me treasure what I have, the people I have and though I can imagine the life where the cancer won, I also can’t imagine my mother without cancer. I mean, I don’t think of her as being my mother who has cancer, or anything, but so much of my life has been influenced by her having cancer, I can’t think of a world without ‘My Myeloma’ and ‘The Big C and B’.
Myeloma is a part of my life, and though I hate it, hate what it’s done to me, the realities it’s made me bring into existence in my mind, the tears it makes me shed even as I write this; it is a part of my mother.
My mother the cancer survivor, the creator of ‘Twitter Xmas Single’, the co-ordinator of the Cill Dara Writers’ Circle, the co-coordinator of the WriTeen Scene, the presenter of Religion Matters on KFM.
My mother, my hero, oh captain my captain. She gives meaning to Carpe Diem. She is the bravest person I know. Atticus Finch once said that real courage is not a man with a gun, “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do”. My mother won the fight against cancer in 2007, she could have just resigned herself to the eventuality that this cancer will kill her, but instead she now strives to live her life to the full and I don’t think that anyone could contradict me when I say that she has.