“Do it in Canberra,” they said. “It’ll be fine,” they said.
Once I had returned to Canberra after a time, it was decided I should be able to start getting some kind of treatment at the hospital there and avoid the costs and stresses to my family of having to travel to Sydney so regularly. Enter the lumbar puncture (if it was also a bone marrow aspirate I’ve blocked it out). I fasted….. And fasted…. And fasted. “They must be giving you gas” my mum concluded: Nope! Hours went by and I ended up on the table with NO ANAESTHETIC OF ANY KIND!!! She could hear me screaming. It was a rare thing to see her furious, but that’s what I saw that day. I still cannot watch such procedures on reality or fictional tv, nor talk of or hear about them without feeling a sharp ache in my hip and recoil from the revisited ‘ouch’ of the 14 gauge needle in my hip.
It seems odd to be able to say that, as excruciating as that moment was, nothing compares to the stabbing in your heart and soul when you lose your beloved mum. As a 21-year-old woman, I needed her as much then as I did as a kid. I needed her to teach me life skills, guide me through my choices as a young adult, vet all my boyfriends, hold my hand through pregnancy and meet her future grandchildren (turns out that one not so much for me). We were only just finding ourselves in that space where we could actually relate on a human, adult level. I had finally let go of the teenage angst and enjoyed her company as the fun, funny, intelligent, generous, golden-hearted woman she was. We had been through so much together, and I valued and loved her beyond words.
I still think of the days in Sydney when I was out of the hospital bed and in Ronald McDonald House with her. As a lethargic 11/12-year-old cancer kid, mum would have to push me in a wheelchair up the hill through the hospital grounds to clinic or treatment. Not an easy feat as I had been on steroids to boost my appetite for some time. The shenanigans were always on the way back though, when she would laugh and let go of the wheelchair on the way down, then appear in front of or beside me. I honestly believe that had it not been for her incredible sense of humour, my story would not have continued to this point.
Then there are the memories of lying in her bed of a morning playing silly rhyming word games and “drawing” on her back…. Something that started when I was a child and continued right up until she was no longer at home. Memories of walking around our little town, arms linked together, her body and skull covered in protruding tumours, yet still keeping up her sparkly-eyed personality and sense of humour. She stole some of my scarves and bandannas, but I didn’t care. Our personal competition was who could get in “I love you more” the most, particularly who could have the final word. Both of us being competitive, it was a great challenge.
Losing my rock was the single most painful thing I have experienced, so much further above and beyond my experience at Canberra Hospital. Watching her deteriorate into someone I almost couldn’t recognise anymore was perhaps the hardest. No matter what I had experienced in my own cancer journey, no matter what I had seen, watching my ma become mortal was by far the most pertinent example of why I lack any kind of faith. Out there I had a narcissistic, sadistic, fucked up father who had morphed into someone I could never really know, and here was my sweet, loving, beautiful mum, surrogate to all our friends, who would never hurt a fly, desperately wanting to make sure we were alright even in her final days and hours.
I have spent a good portion of the last 14 years in a black hole. A deep, dark, black hole. Some days or months there’s been a glimmer of sunshine, but generally, my every experience has been in the shadow of my grief. Family relationships have fallen apart, my poor brother has been my parent, my social life became non-existent. I was too young, only just digging myself out of my own cancerous experience and self-doubt, and then I was back under the waves. This time with no chance to come up and take a breath.
Recognising other factors have contributed to my health over the years, I can’t lay every bit of darkness on my loss. And as I get older I take more appreciation in being told how much I am like her. Though the fundamentals of who I am have ultimately changed, I am still her daughter. I am so very proud when I am compared to her, and take great comfort in recognising my heart is her heart, her strength is my strength. That I take after her in more than wit, rhythm and love of music.
I touch the scar on my right hip, and I know how and why it is there. I recall the absolute pain of bone being tapped into. I cannot touch the scar on my heart, but I know it is there, and I know why. And I am forever grateful to be her daughter.