By Lumepa Apelu
When you watch a person you love suffer something burning red, large and unpredictable, not a disaster of nature, not a turtle in the nets of greedy men, not the babies wailing in abandoned homes either, there is a time to write more of those; This is a story about cancer.
So in your loneliness of such a road, you long for large windows, open seas, blue skies and darker rooms, to hide your pain in there. You ache for the touch of a healing song, and you wage wars with the spelling of heaven, for you are exhausted from carving roads that lead to nowhere.
“Will you write about my cancer?” She looked at me decisively from her undecided chair. She was serious.
“Oh Ok, why?”
“Because I want to help other people with the disease.”
She stopped, looked at her hands for a long time.
“I want to volunteer my story, my struggles, my fight against it.”
In her silence she looked like a spent person would look from a broken page of a book one needs to read but continues to ignore.
The struggle of cancer is many feet deep. Near her as I am most days now, you sense that the she can see the world and knows the truths from where it is made.
You realize that she understands each and every failure in the universe too. The person with cancer is a sea of thoughts, for the life she owns is made more important by the good things she wants to make, for the rest of her loved ones. Her loved ones are not just her family and friends either. She sees the need for love in all the terrible things.
“How long do you think I have left?” she asked a nervous looking doctor.
“Oh just over a year or 18 months at most, or a little more than that usually.”
He shook her hand as if there was a deal made between he, and a god we could not see. She held his hand and gave him a nod of understanding.
She was like the purpose of a soul, made to stand in the middle of a glass, smiling from within it. She had discovered something most people take years to fully own.
“Mepa, I am not worried about me. I am worried about all of you.”
The realization that someone you love may soon die, is ever a rose in a dimly lit room, with petals falling, one by one. But when she wakes up in the morning, eats her strict diet, drinks her sour medicine, smiles at you because she knows you want her to, goes about doing ordinary things that her body can barely hold together, you know she is saying in bold letters and soft exclamation marks, “I do this for you!!” Appreciation of life is a lesson we learn truly from the gravestone.
But she walks through life like a fire ball. Her passion is larger than the WOW in Beethoven’s symphonies. Have you seen the sun rise from the horizon in a rainy morning? Her eyes live deep in there.
If there is a life to end, it is never going to be hers, not yet. She fights to keep the meaning of identity in one’s soul and the freedom in one’s spirit. She fights to make someone else believe that there is more than what we all see in these short meanings. She fights to keep the peace with a wretched life, and charge war with the wrongness in it.
My sister is barely forty years old and lives a true life made of many things her own mother and grandmothers were built from, cyclones and flowers. Because of her breast cancer, our family eats more turmeric, ginger, and many things with roots. We drink more lemon grass, reduce sugar from our beverages and we dig deep for ways to live well with the want to teach more of this to the growing children.
We swap the random need for a drink at the end of the day to have tea with her and some light bread if any. Conversations and research around living a healthier life internally and externally fill our surroundings with more depth of everything. It is like stirring from the bottom of a pot the sweet taste of life in a windy night without a glimpse of the moonlight in it.
Depression is of course felt at times but it is as anything a passing feeling because, like the bravery for a sacred cause, “There is much to be done”, says Robin Hood to his loyal blind servant. Is cancer also a story of hope?
Our paternal grandmother suffered many long months from breast cancer too. She died too early and much to our hurried childhood, she died in pain. Fast forward to 30 years, Samoa is now equipped with expertise and tools to help with the early detection of cancer.
Here is a sticky fact - Knowing the symptoms of breast cancer can help save a life if a lump is detected early. In Samoa, lab technicians have been trained to test for “carcinoma tumors”, a term I learned from her.
But my sister’s most favourite things besides living life for and with her loved ones are to read and be quiet. She has learned from the Samoa Cancer Society and their plentiful resources, that there are a lot of ways to understand cancer, to be informed, and there is no limitation to exploring alternative medicine. The Samoa Cancer Society lobbies for the need to early detection, and has covered corners of Samoa, to raise awareness of the illness, and to give support to the cancer patients and their loved ones.
But if I look at my sister, her angst for living life truly and fully, and finally her pain in cancer, I have to join the World Cancer Day campaign with an adjustment of the words to say, “I can We Can”.
The World Cancer campaign from 2016 to 2018, launching this February 4th, entitled, “We Can I Can”, are worthy words for a disease that urges one to fight from inside. Where their symbolic image is a hand reaching out, it makes sense from this journey we have been given.
My sister has taught me without saying anything, throughout her struggles against cancer, that when she can live through one day in a pain so difficult to fathom with a smile on her face, and an extended hand to save someone else’s life, then we too can live this life with more love for it. We can flower up its loneliness with determined kindness to anything and anyone who needs it.
Thankful as I am, and ever for my own sister’s generosity, may I remind you to never take for granted this life or anything in it. From her I am inspired to hold you close too to say, “If I can, we can, so may God keep you, now and forever.”