You are my Wonder Woman!
I was 15. My school broke-off for the summer and I immediately set out on a 13-hour drive from Nainital to Chandigarh. My mother had just returned home from her second session of chemotherapy and I was going to see her for the first time since the surgery. I walked into the house and spotted my mother in conversation with my grandmother on the terrace. She heard my footsteps and turned the other way. I stopped in my stead and watched her pick up a cap to cover her head. In an impulse, I turned my back to her too, pretending that I hadn’t seen her yet. My eyes glazed at the instant. I was aware that she was nursing a bald head because of the chemical effects of her treatment, but she didn’t want me to see her like that, so I made her believe I didn’t. She later called out to me and I ran to give her a tight hug. It was 2008, my mother was suffering from Breast Cancer and all I remember from that whirlwind of a year is how she kicked its ass.
I never understood what my mother was going through. I was an ignorant 15-year-old, so absorbed in myself, my friends and my reckless teenage that cancer was just another disease as far as I was concerned. No one even tried to change that concept in my mind. In fact, as Indian societal taboos go, I wasn’t even informed about the diagnosis till it was time for the surgery. “The children are too young,” I’d heard a relative say. So, in short, I didn’t put much thought to it and was made to believe (and very diligently believed so) that all was under control.
I met my mother for three weeks during my summer break and not once did I realise the possibility of never seeing her again. I mean, it just wasn’t possible, right? She’s my mom! The world can leave me, but not her. Duh! Why else would I say anything and everything in anger or joy to her without a filter? Because the world can leave me, but not her. So what’s cancer? It was obviously going to get cured. Ten years since, and when I look back now, I feel like whacking the daylights out of myself. Perhaps, I never did try, back then, to grasp the extent of her suffering because I saw none. I didn’t see my mother suffer. Not one day. All I ever saw in front of me was a lady who was unwell, but not sick. She was never the patient in the house. She was instead a breath of fresh air each passing second. A rock that wouldn’t erode. Chemo one, chemo two, chemo three… six rounds of this torturous treatment that breaks a person’s immunity in ways you can’t even imagine. Six months of eating tasteless, slimy food. Six months of nothing but a mere struggle to survive. But she never let the glow leave her. At least, not when I was around. I was a little ignorant teenage brat, and she was a bouquet of fresh flowers unwilling to wilt.
The next time I saw her after the summer break was in winter, when all her chemotherapy sessions were over and radiation was in process. She was healthier by then and I, more sensitive. But my realisation came too late. She’d been through the worst and emerged glorious without an iota of my support. She had kicked cancer’s ass and how. A few months later she looked like nothing ever happened to her. So much so, that many people even forgot that she’d been sick. My guilt, too, had transformed into relief.
Ten years later, when I look back, I can only try to imagine the kind of mental and physical strength it took for her to put up a happy face in front of us. How she managed to always smile and glow and look beautiful even though right beneath lay pain, suffering and possibly even fear.
Therefore, this Women’s Day, I raise a toast to a woman whose strength and indomitable spirit has defined my outlook to life. Here’s to you, Mom! Cancer was just one of the things you smiled your way through, but your spirit has crushed many hurdles in the past and you still smile today as bright as the sun. You are the real-life Wonder Woman!
Originally published at http://iknoorkaur.wordpress.com on March 8, 2018.