Breast Cancer: When Your Cells Turn Against You
Last December, my mom underwent mastectomy (a surgical term for removing one or both breasts for cancer). It was a shock to me when I found out about it. All along, I thought it was just plain lump in her breast. After all, the biopsy said it was benign. Her surgeon, who is the leading surgeon of our country, told her she had nothing to worry. Thing is, we have a history in our family. Two of my mom's sisters already had breast cancer, her youngest sister for 10 years and elder sister for 7 years. Both underwent mastectomy and are still living quite normally until today. So it was this reason why her doctors had to remove her left breast, just to make sure it would not spread.
During her operation, my sister began to panic and started to cry. She said, how come the operation took so long when the doctors said it would only take 4 hours. I didn't know what was happening in the operating room. I wasn't aware of mastectomy as part of the option. But I didn't want to cry. I didn't not want to panic. I had to remain still. I already prayed and I kept my faith all the time. My sister asked, what if something went wrong, how could she live without our mom? I dismissed that thought. Mom would be alright. Whatever happened there, I knew she'd survive it.
If it was hard for me and my sister to wait, it must be harder for our dad, who at the time was in Europe, working thousands of miles away as an engineer. Could he sleep well? Was he focused on his work? What was he thinking, same as my sister or me? Dad used to sweat the small stuff. I wondered how he was taking it. Mom and dad are so close and connected to each other, they feel each other when something is wrong with the other.
When hospital staff brought my mom in her room, I felt relieved. She just turned her head to me and my sister and then closed her eyes. She was still groggy. My sister began crying again and my aunt called me outside, she said she had something to say. This was the time she disclosed to me about mastectomy. A surge of fear and pain overtook me. I felt something was clutching my neck and I couldn't breathe. I was just quiet, nodded to my Aunt, and found myself walking endlessly round the hospital until I realized there was a place for me to go. I climbed the stairs to the 4th floor and knelt down in the chapel. I was face to face with the Blessed Virgin Mary, the loving mother who the world has come to know. Her face was still and her eyes were expressive, her arms were open, perhaps ready to catch me if ever I fell down. I began to cry. I remember praying or asking her, "Tell me, it's gonna be alright. You love me right? You love my mom and my family? Please, please send me your love." For one hour I was just talking to her. But the whole chapel felt silent and the only thing I could hear was my mind, the beat of my heart and the constant soft sobbing. After awhile, I found my feet again. I was ready to see my mom and my sister. They didn't need to see me crying.
On my way back, I began texting my friends both global and local. I asked them to send me and my mom their love, prayers and healing positive energies. After a few minutes, my phone was filled with love and prayers from my friends. I saved them and thought of reading them one by one to my mom. That night, I didn't sleep. I was just beside her, holding her hands, sending positive energies. I said my prayers for her in all religious traditions I could think of: Tibetan, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Islam, Pagan or just anything that I learned from the heart. I called the Gods and Goddesses who I loved. I told them to help heal my mom quickly and to keep her safe and positive.
It only took my mom two days to put a smile on her face, even if her surgery was very painful. She said, "it's just a breast, I still have my life." On the third day, she woke up early, took a shower, put on her make-up and perfume and changed her hospital gown to a regular pair of pyjamas (easier for nursing staff to check her wounds); she was ready to receive visitors. My family and friends came flocking and although her eyes get teary once in awhile, it was easy for her to put her smile back. She said, at the operating room, she was singing "jingle bells" until anesthesia put her to sleep. I read to her all the messages my friends sent her and she was grateful.
Looking back, I remember that a few months ago, I read Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, when Jacopo, one of the editors and main characters, gets cancer. He talks about metastasis and how your cells turn against you. He says:
"And what are cells? For months, like devout rabbis, we uttered different combinations of the letters of the Book. GCC, CGC, GCG, CGG. What our lips said, our cells learned. What did my cells do? They invented a different Plan, and now they are proceeding on their own, creating a history, a unique, private history. My cells have learned that you can blaspheme by ana-grammatizing the Book, and all the books of
the world. And they have learned to do this now with my body. They invert, transpose, alternate, transform themselves into cells unheard of, new cells without meaning, or with meaning contrary to the right meaning. There must be a right meaning and a wrong meaning; otherwise you die. My cells joke, without faith, blindly." (Eco, 514)
My mom is fast recovering and her doctors are surprised and happy that she's healing faster than average women who have cancer, considering that mom is also diabetic and hypertensive. Mom can say to her cell which Jacopo thought it was only the cells who could do the talking, "...(M)ethistemi? It’s the same thing: I move, I transform, I transpose, I switch cliches, I take leave of my senses." (514) Yes, my mom's cells turned against her that's why she's left with one breast and her physical body altered. But when this happened to her, everything around her went on her side--love, love is on her side and that's everything she could ask for.
Cancer du sein : Quand votre cellule se retourne contre toi.
(NB: I originally posted this on TIG web)