Sometimes reality doesn’t start setting in till you have cried your eyes out and bawled in pain, desperately hoping that you don’t have to live with the new reality. It was my uncle who broke the news to me. My heart sank and my stomach hurt from the crying; my bloodshot eyes told me this was happening for real. Clutching my study table, I called my dad to find out how they were. I called him once. Twice. Thrice. On every one of his numbers. It was my mom who picked up. I didn’t have the guts to talk to her so I just asked her where dad was. She said he went out and that our family friends came over. I hung up as words escaped me and I couldn’t fight back my tears.
I found out later that my dad was with his friend and I kept calling till he answered. I had a million questions. I asked how he and mom were, what we were going to do next and badgered him with my questions. ‘She was upset for a bit but now she is with her friends. And I’m not sure about other things yet’, he said calmly. I suddenly realized the stupidity of what I was doing. Instead of making this easy on him, I was torturing a man who was in total agony and as clueless about the future as I was. I told him that we will fight this together and that it will be okay like the first time. But we both knew the situation was far from being fine.
Numerous consultations and discussions later, we decided to choose surgery as the treatment option. The doctors said the surgery could wait till me and my brother got back from college. The tumor was in a cyst and she showed no symptoms whatsoever. Me and brother were at the same college, so we met often. We used to discuss the course of action and how the treatment should proceed. The one month passed in whiff: I attended farewells, enjoyed the last semester with friends and kept talking to mom. I kept myself occupied and tried not to think about the future. And I think that’s what my parents tried to do: spend every day like they did before all this happened.
On the day of the surgery, the doctors called my dad in to explain the complications of the surgery and the medical procedures. Since the tumor was big, the doctors said that they would have to do a physical examination to assess if the tumor is actually operable. The whole process, if surgery was done, would take about 1.5 hours. My dad had to sign the mandatory documents that if anything happened to mom during the surgery, the hospital and doctors shouldn’t be held responsible. We were scared but we believed the worst that could happen was that the tumor would be inoperable.
Mom was dressed in surgery robes and laid on the stretcher, ready to be taken into the ICU. She asked me and my brother to stand beside her and kissed us on the forehead. I couldn’t fight back my emotions when I saw tears in her eyes. She tried to look brave but she was scared. And then, the gravity of the situation hit me: what if something went wrong? My brother on the other hand behaved more responsibly. He asked her not to be scared and made her smile through her tears. She started wiping off her tears and gave the most beautiful and affectionate smile there is, a smile that lingers in my thoughts even today.
We sat outside the ICU staring at the clock- counting every second , every minute and every hour and the wait growing more painful with time. 5 hours. 6 hours. 7 hours for a surgery that was supposed to last roughly 2 hours. The doctor came out and told us that her condition was critical. When they made the cut, her blood pressure fell and they couldn’t operate on the tumor. They were trying to get her back to normal condition. After a tormenting wait, they said she was okay and allowed us to see her for a couple of minutes. She was under anesthesia and seeing her, I had lost it all. But well, my mom isn’t the person who would let go so easy! Something that makes me so proud.
Fighting insane odds, she came back as promised. The next 48 hours we could only see her twice or thrice a day through a video camera in the ICU. She would give a weak smile or nod and it gave us hope that she wouldn’t give up so soon. She was under observation for a few days and we weren’t let in. The surgery left many physical cuts and once we got her home, the cuts started healing slowly. But emotionally it was still difficult for all of us. Imagine having to live with a bomb in your liver that would go off any moment, without the slightest notice. But it was harmless as long as it didn’t decide to explode. So we decided that we won’t let her go through chemotherapy or any other painful treatments,which were only palliative anyway. This decision wasn’t easy for any of us.
But she bounced back, yet again. My parents insisted that I give the joining date for my first job as end of June and I agreed. While the whole cancer ordeal was torture, it made all of us appreciate life even more and brought us closer as a family. We took joy in the most simple things. To begin with, the family dinners, evening conversations by the garden and sibling wars were back. I took up my first job in June as promised and my brother went back to college. Along with all this, my mom also got back into her mom duty mode(get up, you’ll be late!, did you have dinner?) and I was glad I got to hear these rants every single day.
Me and my brother planned a surprise party in August for her birthday. Both our parents were shocked to see us home and their reactions were priceless. Their smiles are contagious and even now when I watch those videos, I end up laughing. We had a lovely family lunch and celebrated with friends in the evening. I got as many pictures as I could (it’s nearly impossible to get my mom to pose for a picture, she is not a fan of pictures or posing!), not knowing this would be our last happy family moment. ‘Happy birthday to you…’ we sang as she blew out the candles for her last birthday.
After about a month, she showed symptoms of the liver metastasis and had to see a doctor. The doctor recommended she start palliative chemotherapy to ease the pain and other symptoms. My grandma recalls even today how my mom held tightly to her and cried that she doesn’t want to undergo chemotherapy again. But after our persuasion, she agreed. Within couple of sessions they had to discontinue chemotherapy as the morphine given for pain relief caused constipation. She was admitted to a hospital for further treatment; her abdomen swelled with the built up fluid.
I went to visit her again and after a couple of days my dad asked me to get back to work. This time I adamantly refused and fortunately, I had a high fever and was admitted in the same hospital. And a bed right next to her. I told her ‘See I told you I won’t go’ and she laughed. I just loved being there with her and annoying her with my brilliant mom-daughter future plans. It was hard for dad, grandma and family friends to see both of us there but soon they laughed it off too. Now I had an excuse not to get back and I was making the most of the time with her. But after ten days, when doctor said I was okay, my dad firmly told me to return to work. She came out of everything and he was confident she would fight this too.
Every day after I came back to Bangalore, I would call and ask if I should come back. ‘No’, he would say and laugh at times. But after a week, he said ‘If you can get leaves, why don’t you come? And get Harsha too’. This wasn’t good news. Me and brother went home. She was in the hospital and barely had the energy to talk. She was on salines and having minimal food. My dad hired a helper to be with her at all times. Me, my brother and dad took turns for staying up with her at night and in the mornings.
Things were slowly hitting the rock-bottom. No matter what the doctors did, she wasn’t recovering. Her body swelled up with fluids and removing the fluid didn’t help after a point. Soon, they put her only on Salines and stopped her food intake. It didn’t stop there. We were allowed to give her water only a spoon at a time, once every hour. She would plead for food and water but we remained heartless. How I wish we let her do what she wanted!
She was dehydrated and unconscious most of the time. Agony and pain can’t describe what I saw. At nights, she would hallucinate and see imaginary things in the air. My brother would pat her head gently and tell her nobody was there. Sometimes we couldn’t reason with her, other times she would listen like a kid and fall asleep. It was my brother’s birthday and she could barely speak and remember stuff. I told her it was Harsha’s birthday; she gave a feeble smile and said she knew. She tried to say something but we couldn’t understand. After a while I got it: ‘Where is the new shirt?’ she asked my brother.
The next night I was with her at the hospital and she had a problem breathing. I called the doctor, who told me to call my father asap. He then told me and my dad that her condition is very serious and we couldn’t do anything about it. My dad and brother refused to believe him and knew she would still fight this back. That night a nurse called me and said ‘Look at all the pain she is going through, why are you putting her through this? Pray that this ends’.Two days after this my dad wanted us to go back. He said she will be fine soon , and that he will call us if needed.
That morning, I went to see her before my flight and she barely recognized me. I cried and my heart refused to go back. I went back to work the same morning and occupied myself with work I had to finish. I was tired from the sleepless nights. So, I went home early and fell asleep. The phone rang; it was my cousin. I knew it was really late and I ignored the first call hoping it was a regular call. The truth was I didn’t want to answer the call. The next time he called, I picked up, still sleepy, confused and scared. My bhabi spoke to me and I asked ‘Did you have dinner?’ and some routine questions. Talking at 3 A.M about this stuff is normal I told myself. Then, my cousin spoke: ‘Mom’s condition is serious, you need to be there’. I asked him if something happened. But I knew what was happening and I felt numb. I called my dad who told me that her condition was serious. After my repeated yelling and crying, while our world was being torn apart, he said ‘What do you want to know. She’s gone, she left us forever.’ and hung up.