When my mom had her relapse of breast cancer, I was pursuing my sexuality studies in San Francisco in 2007. I sensed something was amissed when one of my relatives messaged me on Facebook, "Do take care of your mom." She wouldn't elaborate. I learned later that my mom had given everybody strict orders not to distract me from my studies.
Upon my return for that semester, I found out through my dad that my mom had stage four breast cancer. The cancer had spread to her lungs and bones. While chemotherapy was one of the options, she was advised to avoid it because of her age. She was first diagnosed ten years ago and been declared cancer-free. Within two years, she had to go for radiation plus chemo pills to fight the cancer. All through this time, I was really distant from her. I didn't give her much emotional support. I didn't really talk with her because I didn't know it then but I was really, really scared.
A part of me just thought , "I don't think she can make it. Not this time."
Even though she was (and still is) alive, I was just so sad of the idea of losing her. I didn't talk to her. I didn't want to make her feel worse or be responsible for upsetting her in any way so I avoided her. I focused on me and my work and it really didn't dawn on me that her cancer is really about her and I should focus less on myself.
That is until she went for surgery last year — a left thigh surgery completely unrelated to her cancer. A lump had started to develop near her hip, resulting her to lose her sense of balance, and causing her to fall a couple of times. After the surgery, she went for physiotherapy because she had to relearn how to walk as well as perform the relevant stretching exercises.
I saw her lying in her hospital bed, struggling to move but tirelessly and diligently doing all her stretches so that she could get better quickly. The nurses were asking, "Who's going to take care of you when you get home? You still can't walk. You can't even go to the toilet. How are you going to cope?" He replied, "Oh, everyone is busy. Everyone is working." There was nobody at home during the day to take care of her. I felt so sad.
That was when it struck me. My mom wanted to live — despite all the odds, having a breast cancer relapse, with it spreading to her lungs and bones, and going through radiation, and now surgery. She just wanted to live.
And what right did I have to take that away from her? What right did I have to not support her? Was I just full of myself that I can’t even see that all she wants is not for me to be scared? She needed my support.
From then on, I gave her as much time as I could. I massaged her leg when it felt numb. I moisturized her feet for her. I massaged the scar wound so that it would form less lesions. I did my best to spend more time with her, including taking her out for meals.
Our relationship hasn't completely healed but I have began to make efforts to bridge the gap between us. I'm sharing this story to let you know that I’m not perfect. I am evolving though. My relationship with my mom is getting better and I hope to inspire you to look into your own relationships with your parents or the people in your life who have been there for you.
Like me, perhaps it's time to wake up and not take our parents for granted.
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Dr Martha Tara Lee is Founder and Clinical Sexologist of Eros Coaching in Singapore. She is a certified sexuality educator with AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists), as well as certified sexologist with ACS (American College of Sexologists). She holds a Doctorate in Human Sexuality from Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality as well as certificates in practical counselling, life coaching and sex therapy. She is available to provide sexuality and intimacy coaching for individuals and couples, conduct sexual education workshops and speak at public events in Asia and beyond. For more, visit www.ErosCoaching.com.
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