On Cancer Victims And Those Who Are Left Behind

January 13, 2024
2 mins read

A Daughter Mourns
By Wambui Mwangi
Even the word is ugly, isn’t it? It has a sort of unhealthy alphabetical cast to it. But there it is. And there we are. I’m fairly sure that everyone reading this has known someone, or known someone who knew someone who lost someone to cancer. I have.
My mother had breast cancer, and even though she was a f—ing doctor and a f—-ing surgeon, she couldn’t save herself. Can you imagine what she went through to become a surgeon in the 1960s at Nairobi Hospital?
Can you imagine? And then what? She dies of cancer. I mean, really, what’s the point?
She was such a star that she had buildings named after her, she had scholarships in her name – whilst still alive – and when she went to the U.S. for treatment she was treated like a queen.
All kinds of doctors were traveling huge distances just to say that they had met her, had shaken her hand. It’s true, she was a big deal. But you know what? The woman went and died on me. Just died. Like that.
One day she was there, the next day I was thinking about coffins and fighting with my regrettable family about headstones.
Isn’t that the pits? No, really, how are you supposed to work that?
This is so far beyond sucking, that I may have to invent a new word. Yet, I know a lot of people go through this every year, and what place, what places and spaces, have we created for people with this kind of grief.
Do we care? Do we know?So. I’ve been thinking about those who are left behind. Those who do not have the disease but suffer just as much, if not more, as the one who does, whom they love.
You know what? They get to worry — and pretend that they aren’t. They get to freak out — and pretend that they aren’t. They become cancer — of whatever type — experts and have to listen to doctors who have forgotten more than they know.
They fight the world, but they can’t fight your body. They read every book there is about diet and exercise and treatment regimens, and they become experts in subjects they didn’t even know existed.
They swot up on the relative iron contents and anti-cancer properties of various foods. They research oncologists and hematologists. And they are the ones left with this incredible hole in their lives after the funereal.
Where are their praises? Their accolades? Their prizes and awards? It’s relatively easy to be ill, seeing that the choice has been taken out of your hands. It is hard, hard, hard, to love someone whose cure, comfort and pain is beyond your best efforts.
Thus, to all those who have loved and lost — the being loved part was the best. I speak with authority and with research. I am paid to have both authority and research. Love as hard as you can, whilst you can, because you never know when it isn’t going to be possible any more.
Wambui Mwangi is an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, Canada. She blogs as Mad Kenyan Woman
Are you looking after someone with cancer? Or have you nursed someone with cancer? Please share your experience and educate readers so we can all work together to break the taboo surrounding the subject in the Black community.
Please e-mail comments to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com

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