In two weeks, it will be three years since I lost one of my dearest friends. We were always close, but I didn’t realise we were the best of friends until I had become more like her, and realised how much we shared. She became the woman I would call at the drop of a hat, the woman who would understand my deepest struggles, find joy in my happiness and give loving advice that would guide my life-long decisions.
Together, we were a recipe for trouble, any outing or day would inevitably end with sweets – bakery treats covered in cream or custard, ice cream, cheesecake, cupcakes, you name it, we loved it. One of my favourite memories was midnight, on New Years Eve. Everyone was asleep, I had wandered downstairs to watch the fireworks on TV… okay, okay, okay… honestly I was just after an excuse to have some left over trifle… I’d been sitting down a few minutes when my partner in crime crept down the stairs in her nightgown and slippers, passed me on her way to the kitchen, and then joined me on the couch. It was just us, alone, in the dark, eating trifle, watching fireworks.
I loved the way her laugh made a room full of people stop and smile, the crinkling sound of lolly wrappers in her handbag and the way her eyes glistened when she was happy. I miss her – often. I know I will see her again, but I do, I miss her. I miss her when I reach to call her, when I step into her home and feel that she’s not there, I miss her when I lace up my sneakers and when I whisk pancake batter with my four year old. I miss her.
It was almost ten years ago when I answered the call. Emergency surgery. Suspected appendicitis… no… that would have been great… no…it was cancer. I was in Perth, Mum was in Sydney. They were shocked. I wish I had been there, to rush to the hospital in the middle of the night, and sit by her bedside, to hold her hand.
I wish I had been there to sit, together, at the cancer clinic, to slip her socks over her feet and pass her magazines and snacks. My dad is a rock. My mum was blessed to have him by her side, for every treatment, every check up, every scan. He’s a great man, a great father, a great husband.
She took it in her stride, I remember, with me she was always so positive, cheerful – she took cancer in her stride and fought it head on. The chemotherapy was shrinking a secondary tumour in her lungs. I flew over a few months later when she had surgery to remove this tumour. It was keyhole surgery. It was still hard. She was courageous, she was strong.
She went into remission. There were a few quiet years, maybe two, where life was normal. Mum worked, Dad worked. They travelled. I had another baby – mum and dad flew over to hold their precious grandson. My brother got married. Mum and dad moved house. It was a new beginning.
2010: The cancer came back.
Back to chemo. I won’t pretend to know what it was like, I wasn’t there. I know she was sick, she was in pain, there were good days and bad days. She was brave, she didn’t whinge, even though the rest of us would, if we were in her shoes. In January 2011, I sat on her lounge room floor as she talked with me about what lay ahead, she knew she didn’t have long. December 2011, they came to visit, to meet their little granddaughter, who was three months old.
December 2012: We all flew over for Christmas. We knew it would probably be her last. She was worse than I realised. She was in pain. Walking was difficult. Sitting was difficult. Lying down was difficult. Pain changes people, without their consent, it steals the happiness they could cling to, it darkens the day with a darkness that won’t go away. There were pain meds. They didn’t always work. There were side effects. The nightmares. They were terrible. To not have relief through sleep, to have that solace taken away, it would have been the last straw for me. She taught me how to have courage, and how to be brave.
Mum came downstairs on Christmas morning. She even managed to dress up and have photos taken. It must have been difficult. I can’t imagine how she was feeling, emotionally, knowing she would never have Christmas photos again, that my child would not sit on her lap next year.
The next day, the pain was too much. Dad took her to hospital, she had surgery to give her time. We visited – she was back to her old self – she was smiling, she was happy, she was talking. It was beautiful, to see her again.
Before we flew home, we visited mum. My children didn’t know it would be the last time they saw her. I did, Mum did. Mum looked at me, like she knew, she shuffled towards me, and hugged me. It was our last hug.
March 2013: It would be soon. Fly over, fly over now, I was asked. The morning my flight was leaving, my dad sent me a text, the doctors said she didn’t have long, a few days, or a few weeks. Tears flowed as I loaded my luggage and drove to the airport. Alone with my toddler, I cried at the service desk, I burst into tears. We made it to Sydney. My brother picked us up and drove us to the hospital. Palliative care. My first time there, but dad had spent many hours there. I sat at mum’s bedside, I placed my hand on hers, and told her I was there. She opened her eyes, only for a moment, her face lit up, she beamed, it’s as if she knew we would come. That was the last time she saw me.
The nurses, they amazed me, with their care, attention, patience. We were so grateful for them. There is much more that could be said, perhaps another time, perhaps not. Mum was no longer fighting this disease. She was ready to rest.
Mum was only sixty. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Australia. 1 in 4 Australian women, and 1 in 3 Australian men will be diagnosed with cancer before the aged of 75. Cancer affects people of all ages. Cancer affects people all around us. Too many have fought, too many have said goodbye. So many are still fighting.
This disease needs to end. Omika has joined the fight to end cancer – we support the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF). The ACRF is “dedicated to finding cures for cancer by funding world class cancer research in Australia.” Research is essential in helping us find better ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer. You can support the fight by donating at www.acrf.com.au.