A KEY TO SPEEDY RECOVERY: REBUILDING SENSE OF PURPOSE:
Sangeetha Nair Alapat
My mother had always been the strong pillar of my family. Her cancer diagnosis came over as a strong blow to our sense of security which we felt under her arms. On 08 June 2014, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was at that time 64 years of age. She was enjoying good health and a fulfilling life till the diagnosis was made. I was taken by surprise when she received her diagnosis with great poise. She absolutely had no tears in her eyes and she played no blame-game with God. She was the one who gave us courage to go ahead with her treatment.
Her mastectomy was done within two weeks of her diagnosis. The surgery was followed by six courses of chemotherapy. Each of these courses were twenty-one days apart. Chemotherapy was followed by twenty days of radiation therapy.
Her first chemotherapy session was not as dreadful as we imagined. The first three days after a session of chemotherapy were the most difficult ones. She felt extreme weakness and nausea during this period. Lining of her oral cavity became very sensitive and started to peel. But she elegantly overlooked the initial glitches of her maiden treatment. Her first drop of tear found its way out only when a tuft of hair came loose in her hands. We painfully realized that she was losing her long and silky hair. But, she successfully dispelled her emotional burden in a few days and started caressing her bald head playfully. She was indeed a great woman of substance and I felt proud to be her daughter.
As treatment progressed, I realized that she was losing her morale. She did not remain to be the same bubbly person whom she used to be, even during the difficult early periods of her treatment. I felt an urgent need to talk to her about her transformation.
From my side, I thought I was putting my best effort to keep her comfortable. To my bewilderment, it was the “comfort” given to her that was annoying her.
Before her cancer diagnosis and treatment, she was the all-in-all in her family. She was the one who looked after each and every one. She now felt passive and useless with no food to cook or dirt to clean. She succumbed to the dreadful thought that she would no longer be loved by anyone, as she does not cook or clean anymore.
It was then I realized the grave mistake I had committed by doing “everything” for my mother. I understood that most of the individuals value themselves on the basis of their “usefulness” to others. Earlier, my mother always had a purpose in life- to cook good food for her husband, children and grand-children, and to keep her house neat and tidy. Giving her “comfort” and no work to do, I deprived her of her basic rights.
Change in response:
Recognizing my mistake, I gradually began to involve her in minor household chores like washing vegetables and chopping them, folding clothes, braiding my little girl’s hair (actually a tough job to do!) and the like. I began to ensure that children discussed their school tales with their grandma when they are back from school, as they used to do earlier (before my mother’s diagnosis and treatment). I had discouraged them from doing so for fear of my mother contracting infection from them. I also did not want to disturb her afternoon nap. But I had never imagined that it would multiply her feelings of loneliness. We also planned occasional outings with her (ensuring that the place chosen was not crowded), which helped her breathe some fresh air and feel refreshed. We collected movie CDs and planned family movie time, which proved to be an ultimate stress buster for all of us. Cooking had always been her passion, and I realized that she felt incomplete without that. She was thrilled when I requested her to help me with the preparation of Onam feast. I (intentionally) told her that it was a difficult task for me to manage it all by myself. We all had a delicious meal together and I could see my mother enjoying all the praise and attention. It was a great learning for me. Matters which appear trivial for us might be very important for someone else. I was becoming more and more sensitive to the feelings of others, and could sense a spiritual growth within myself. Soon I found my mother pacing back to normalcy. Within no time, she took over all the household responsibilities from me and is active and cheerful than ever before.
We often fail to heed to such cries for help from our ailing or aging dear ones. All of them would have painted glossy mental pictures of themselves and would naturally oppose any of our attempts to tarnish them. This was what exactly happened to my mother. Her self-worth was built upon her sense of purpose in life, which got crumbled under the restricted patient role.
I strongly believe that the restoration of her sense of purpose did aid her speedy recovery. The purpose of life of every individual differ from one another. Individual definition of purpose depends on their values and life experience. To my mother, her purpose in life was tobe theultimate caregiver. She hated to find herself at the receiving end. It is very important for us caregivers to understand our ailing loved one by stepping into their shoes. We are often guided by sympathy, but what our loved ones are yearning for is empathy.
Allow me to share another experience. One of my mother’s friends who was diagnosed with breast cancer around the same time is still battling with her emotional trauma, as her family is reluctant to support her to let go off the patient role and accept a renewed responsible role.
Remember, as a caregiver, helping an ailing person to rebuild a sense of purpose in life in order to fight against all odds and emerge victorious, is the best you can do for the loved one.