The fleeting storm
I distinctly remember it was raining when I found out that my mother had cancer. And I feel like it hasn’t stopped raining ever since.
That day, I recall idly sitting outside my apartment, staring at the sky as the sun slowly vanished from the picture. Time had stopped. I didn’t know what to do, or what to feel. All I knew then was that it hurt. For a moment, I wondered how it felt to have dementia, like my grandmother, who always seemed so calm in the face of bad news. I tried pinching myself a couple of times, hoping that it was all just a bad dream. But I saw the red marks on my skin and shed tears that blended with the rain. It wasn’t a dream, it was real.
When you learn that your mother has stage 3 breast cancer, you just find it a little harder to breathe. Every day is a struggle between trying to be happy and feeling guilty over it. Blue skies become that much bluer. Sad songs make all the more sense. And the smile you used to present to the world so easily becomes nothing but a distant memory of when everything was “okay.”
Cancer is probably one of the most well-known diseases of this generation—the “Big C,” or the “killer disease,” they call it. Through the years, practically everyone has come to know about cancer, what it does to the body, and how perplexingly convoluted life becomes after one is diagnosed with the affliction. It has found its way into books and movies; it is used as a dramatic plot, a reason for that final kiss between the lovers in the end. And I’ve found that everyone seems to want to hear about what happens to people with cancer.
Everyone just seems so interested.
But that’s just it; no one appears to want to know about the husband who cries himself to sleep, or the son who writes to God every night, asking Him to make his mother feel better. What about the stories of these people? I am writing this because of that. I want to embody the sentiments of the invisible, of those who may not have cancer but suffer no less from its pain. This is the world through our eyes…
This is what happens to a kid whose mother has cancer.
Waking up becomes the hardest part of your day. Every morning, just for a few seconds, as you absent-mindedly open your eyes, you give a hushed sigh and you think to yourself, “Phew, what an awful nightmare! It’s a good thing none of it was real!” But the relief slowly fades away, as you realize that every single part of it was and is absolutely real. You wish you can do something, but you realize that it’s out of your hands. You are here, and your mom is there—two dots on a map that would need more than just a leap of faith.
You become temporarily and selectively deaf. You don’t exactly know why, but when someone mentions the word “cancer” as it relates to you, you automatically lose your ability to hear the rest of the sentence. You remember segments of the conversation. You remember how it made you feel and who you were talking to. But ultimately, as you decipher the word “cancer” from the person’s mouth, you just seem to be transported back to the first moment you heard about your mother having cancer.
I remember my father talking to me a few days after we were told. He was telling me to be strong for Mama, but I felt like I was at the bottom of the sea and he was shouting at me from above the surface, his voice garbled and distorted.
Your mother becomes a big fuzzy, bald teddy bear. You will feel the need to hug her every chance you get. The first time I saw my mother without her hair, I just lost it. She was trying to smile, as if to reassure me that she was okay. But as her calm voice began to crack, I knew that she wasn’t. I couldn’t find the right words to say so I did what was left for me to do: hug her. That night, I ended up in my parents’ bed, crying silently in my mother’s arms. (It was a scene that would recur far too many times over the next few months.) She patted me and reassuringly told me that everything was going to be okay, as if I were the one with cancer. Ever since that night, I made sure I hugged her each chance I could get, even when that meant putting alcohol all over my body so she wouldn’t catch my germs.
You get monthly periods minus the blood. Well, not really. You just become effortlessly irritable and overly emotional. You will feel the need to punch the wall or yell at your roommate because you just want to let it out. You will just lose it and cry instinctively as you walk in the mall, because you saw someone her height, with the same chubby cheeks, and the beautiful, long, black hair that she once had, wearing that same Victoria’s Secret perfume…
You become addicted to inspirational quotes. For hours in a day, you will hoard the computer and look for as many inspirational quotes as you can, eventually becoming a fountain of random needlepoint sayings. You will surprise yourself saying things like “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or “God wouldn’t give you anything you couldn’t handle.” And soon enough, you begin to believe the words that you are telling yourself over and over.
It actually gets better. I feel that this is what every cancer patient wants to hear, and it’s true: It does get better. As you look back into the past year, you realize that you’ve become closer as a family, you’ve made more memories, and you finally felt what it’s like to be truly held. And it’s a beautiful thing.
It has been almost a year since that unfortunate day. My mother has just completed her treatment, and things finally seem to be going back to “normal.”
At times, I look at her as she drifts off to sleep. She is bald now. She looks so delicate, like a baby. And as I look at her shiny, bald head and see the little points of hair beginning to grow, I realize that this is just a phase. The parts of my life that were on hold will begin to play again.
And I think, hopefully, that the storm has passed.
Daniel Al B. Delfin, 19, from Roxas City, Capiz, is a senior psychology student at the University of the Philippines Visayas. He says he “felt the need to write this after I read the news about Sen. Miriam Santiago being diagnosed with lung cancer.”
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