August 27, 2015

A Letter to my Mother’s Cancer.

Puja Shah article photo

Dear Cancer,

To personify you like this is not easy. You know, for awhile I couldn’t even say your name, referring to you as the “C word.”

Earlier this year, you attacked a brilliant and strong woman without any warning.

I’ll never forget her phone call, her voice, the way I had to pull over and cry on my steering wheel. I let the world blur as you streaked my canvas of security with pain.

She’s not just any woman, you know, my mother.

She’s a woman of devotion. To her god, her family and her work. She somehow held all three together for all my life.

And so when you came to her in those surprising results, I wondered why you had chosen her. It had to be a mistake.

Your name didn’t run in our family. And my mother, you see, she’s the rock. Nothing happens to her.

“I will be fine, beta.”

Her independence is what people admire the most. She isn’t a lady who relies on anyone, always reading and watching how-to books and videos.

But me, I admire the way she has no expectations. Her happiest smiles were when all her kids were with her, piled up in her and daddy’s bed, fighting over who slept on her chest.

So cancer, when you attacked her actual chest, I crumbled.

It was like being knocked off a surfboard in rip tides—the minutes where you can’t find your breath, the way no matter what you do, there’s no knowing if it will help you, the current of fear, the confusion. The surrender.

I didn’t know what else to do.

There were so many opinions that flooded our home. So many stories of people you had or hadn’t taken, what they did or didn’t do.

And so we did our best to hear it all, did our best to put up boundaries, did our best to stay afloat.

It’s like I was drowning in those rip tides again.

To find my way up, I read a lot about you. Ways to cope, how you worked inside the body, what chemicals you might love and how to detox you away. It was like you were everywhere I went.

There were days we were apart when she would smile at my daughter on FaceTime and the fear of you would grip me. I wondered, will she see her granddaughter grow up?

After she had to chop it all off, my mom said, just close your eyes, that chapter is over and we move forward. So I stayed strong like her.

But when I flew back to my home, I cried. Many times. And often alone.

I remember bathing her. Holding her body, wrapping her scar. My mother’s vulnerability filled me with an emotion I didn’t know.

The drain, the bandage, it was all like a physical representation over what we couldn’t fix. I just wanted to take a magic wand and change it back.

It wasn’t a mistake. You had chosen her, my momma. And the reality of that would find me in my sleep, in the shower, during my yoga practice, while cooking dinner in the aftermath of it all.

I couldn’t find a way to bring it up to my girlfriends or my supportive husband.

The chemo was what scared the crap out of us, maybe more than when you made your first appearance.

She couldn’t tolerate it and the doctors said it was best to stop. So she went back to what she always knew. Her faith.

And maybe that’s what did it, with all that faith in her heart, perhaps you thought, “Hey let’s not get so aggressive here.” And you backed off…

Because eventually she was able to have reconstructive surgery.

She debated it. But woman to woman, I knew my mother was better off without a flat scar reminding her of you across her chest. I knew what it was like to nourish my child from my breast as she did.

I was once that child to my momma. And you…well, you are our nemesis.

The doctor says, “Now we just wait and see.”

Just wait and see.

There’s this quote by Rumi I once read:

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”

So cancer, no offense, but I hope you have been swept out of our home for good. So my mother can feel joy in the fullest most abundant way, with new green leaves, shaking out the old ones that bear your name as she steps forward, my strong and beautiful momma.

You know she still does everything else to combat you. The flax seed and juicing and even a 10 day vipassana meditation.

It was from her vipassana she said, “I didn’t know what the next day would be. I knew I felt better in that moment. And that was it.”

It is all that matters.

The rip tides have settled now and I can finally write this letter to you. I don’t know if we will see each other again and of course, I truly hope not, but leave it up to the universe.

And I never ever thought I’d say this…

But thank you for opening my eyes to the importance of what is, to the presence of my mother’s love. I never in a million years thought I would find myself expressing my gratitude for you, for letting us get through, for allowing us to just be right now, right here.

To have my mother smile from her heart today without you and feel…

This is all that matters.

Hopefully goodbye forever,

A mother’s daughter


Author: Puja Shah

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Author’s Own

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