Cancer is one of the greatest killer diseases in the western world. It seems as though everybody knows someone who has or has had cancer. Perhaps even more remarkable, it appears as though you hear it more and more. It is a terrible disease that comes in so many different shapes and sizes that it is hard to fight. It spreads. It destroys your body. And the only thing you can do is fight it with all possible means, even though these destroy your body as well.
When I was 14, my aunt died of cancer and a year later, my mother was diagnosed with a different form of cancer. At first they thought it was benign, but obviously it wasn’t. It was however packed tightly together in a big lump, so it was easily removed. Mom had chemotherapy, which helped to destroy the cancer, but it was hard on her body. I can remember her hair falling out. She stubbornly refused to wear a wig, so she wore a cap or something else to cover her bald head. Most of the times she was OK, she’d still go to the korfball field to watch me play. One of the best memories I have is of her coming to see me play on a very hot day. She was teasing the son of a good friend of hers, who was also in my team. All of a sudden she had this sparkle in her eyes. She took a cup of water and threw it over my teammate. He was dumbfounded, but that didn’t take too long. He took a cup of lemonade and started to chase her. Mom was running over the field, laughing all the time, the cloth that covered her hair waving in the wind. Of course my teammate got to her, but it took him some time.
In the same way it took time for the cancer to chase her. She had been clean for over a year when she called me and told me not to come over to the camp-site, because they were going home. Her stomach was swelling again, and she already felt they wouldn’t be able to fight it this time. So when I came home from work, we all sat together and cried. And then my mother decided to make the most of it. That helped so much! She couldn’t work anymore, but she was always asking about the things my brother and I did. Slowly she got weaker. We had to put a bed downstairs because she wasn’t strong enough to climb the stairs. She wanted to anyway, and went upstairs to her own bed once when I couldn’t stop her. She was so much worse after that, it had cost her so much energy.
The end wasn’t far away. On a Saturday evening, when I was playing my game, my dad called me to come home (my phone was with the coach). So directly after the game, my coach told me and I went home (which, apparently, was a problem to the referee we had, because I was the captain and had to deal with the formalities… my team and I couldn’t care less). My entire family was there, they were all contacted to come as quickly as possible because it was likely to be over soon. Mom was already in a coma, and everybody was sitting around her quietly. I came in and sat next to my mother and I cried. Then I made a comment about how I hate the drips that go to the tip of your nose, because it tickles so much, and we all started laughing. We had known this moment would come ever since the holidays, so we had had plenty of time to say our goodbyes. Even so, it’s never easy.
That evening she was starting to have trouble breathing, and she would probably not make it through the night. My brother and I went to sleep, Dad watched over her. We had decided that he would ring one of these automatic doorbells if she was gone. Amazingly enough, we managed to get some sleep and woke up around 9.30. We stayed in bed, we didn’t want to go downstairs. An hour later, the bell rang…
It was very hard on us. We have had so much support from the neighbourhood and our club. My classmates didn’t understand how I could go to school the next day (though I only came in at 11) and laugh. But that’s just how I was. We had had plenty of time to say goodbye, we knew this was going to happen, and we were at peace with it, because now she wasn’t in pain any more.
Both my brother and I wanted to put something in her coffin. I can’t remember what my brother put it, but I know what I put in. Like my mom, I am very fond of reading, and we both used to read a series from her childhood, of which she didn’t have the first two books. The camping I worked at when she called me did… so then we had the first two books. I had taken them for her, and so I decided she had better take them with her. It was good to see that there were so many people at her funeral.
My mother died almost 4 years ago, when I was 17, and we have gone through with our lives, as she would have wanted. She has missed so much, though, there have been so many occasions on which I have missed her. She wasn’t there on my 18th birthday. She couldn’t congratulate and hug me when I graduated later that year. She never saw my brother’s girlfriend. I was already with my boyfriend when she got sick again, and I am so glad she hasn’t missed that. It was tough when we got engaged last Christmas, because we called everybody to tell them the news and I couldn’t tell my mother. She won’t be there in the summer when we get married either, which is perhaps even more difficult.
This is my story, of my experiences with cancer. My grandfather would probably tell the story differently after losing two of his daughters to this terrible disease. My brother will have experienced it differently as well, mother’s boy as he was. For my father it has been extremely tough, but he is growing over it now. Unfortunately, there are so many more cases of cancer, even just within my korfball club. A father was diagnosed with a brain tumour and died just 2 weeks later, his kids barely had any time to say goodbye. A mother also had cancer and couldn’t fight it, leaving her husband and 2 young children behind. A cousin, so very young, struggling with leukaemia, but unable to win. He would have turned 7 this year…
The stories of cancer are numerous, but there is hope. A healthy lifestyle can lower your chances of getting cancer. Quit smoking and lower the chances of lung cancer, watch out for the radiation of the Sun and the skin cancer it can cause. And look out to the vaccines and medicines under development to treat cancer and make sure fewer people will die of this terrible disease.