My Mother’s Diagnosis

Trigger Warning for anyone who suffers from PTSD after experiencing domestic violence. Please read with caution.


It was a grey May afternoon, three days after Mother’s Day, and winter’s icy foot had already stamped down. After a frustrating game of phone-tag, I was finally able to get a hold of my mother, who was walking breathlessly out of the hospital. We self-consciously exchanged small talk briefly, before she became silent abruptly. I held my breath.

“It is. It’s cancer” she said.

She remained stoic, while I broke down into child-like sobs.

My mother’s health has been on a steady decline for many years. Sometimes, I wryly think she resembles a dog-eared medical dictionary. She’s had a late miscarriage, ovarian cysts, hypertension, stomach ulcers, Bell’s Palsy, a couple of slipped vertebrae discs, and in the last 10 years, a diagnosis of MS. And now she has breast cancer. My mum’s mother died suddenly of bowel cancer at 52, and the mere word cancer was not allowed to be uttered in our house for many years. My mum even avoided talking about the astrological sign Cancer; such was the stigma that this evil word possessed.

All I can do is stand outside her fragile glass bubble and slowly watch this beautiful, caring and wise woman, with her fierce mind and relentless drive, succumb to her weakening body.

My father was a very cruel, violent, selfish and narcissistic man, who made it his life’s purpose to inflict pain and misery upon my mother. He was also a rampant and dangerous gambler, who has squandered my family’s entire life savings in only a few years. It has never baffled me that a woman who was ruled by a savage fist also suffered from so many illnesses. God has a fucking horrible sense of justice.

My father not only abused us mentally and physically, but he withheld essentials such as food, clothing, electricity and school supplies from us. Oftentimes, he would lock us outside overnight to punish us for whatever arbitrary thing he could think of. He punched my mother in the stomach when she miscarried her first child, blaming her for its death. He made her sleep on the sagging, broken couch in the living room instead of the marital bed after each one of their children were born, so he wouldn’t be disturbed during the night by a crying baby. He never held us, he never played with us, he never cleaned us or fed us. He would just return home from work every night, to take out the frustrations of the day on my mother with a closed fist. The pain and trauma my mother suffered at this sadistic monster’s hands are unbearable to repeat, and could easily fill dozens of pages. And I had to idly watch her as a child; this woman who was so much stronger and better and kinder than anyone I knew, be routinely humiliated and reduced to a whimpering shell of a human by a mad man who would wear down the most courageous of minds with psychotic attrition. And he left her with the cruel legacy of a daughter, my sister, who suffers from catastrophic depression, agoraphobia and anxiety.

But now my mum is about to embark on the fight of her life; arguably more difficult than anything she has ever faced. All I could think of when I heard the news is that it is simply not fair that she has to go through this. That her life is in danger, and may be stolen from her in the cruelest and most painful way. That her body has turned on her, and that it might kill her. That she simply can’t exhale after such a miserable existence, and live out her remaining years healthily and in peace. I have to come to terms with the idea that this cancer might take my mother away from me. The person who is always a phone call away when I need help, someone to cry to, someone who always can dispense sage advice that is far more wise than anything I will ever know myself. Someone who laughs at animal’s cute faces, who loves my stupid songs that I sing to her, whose observational humour is hilarious and cutting, whose heart and love and expression of kindness to everybody she’s ever met is beyond any scope I can ever fathom.

I don’t want to see my mother’s face become ashen, I don’t want to see her waste away, I don’t want to watch her lose all her hair, I don’t want to see that gorgeous smile disappear from her face. Because in spite of all the trauma she has endured, she still manages to laugh such a sweet laugh that it transcends all the pain and all sadness in the world.

What is my world without her? Empty, dark and barren. God help us both. Wherever he is.