My dear brain tumour,
Wow! 11 years to the day in March 2004. What a journey we have had together.
When I first met you, I didn’t quite understand what it would mean to have you in my life. With passing time, I have gotten to know you better. Eleven years later, I can’t promise love for you, but I am grateful for what you brought me.
Initially there was the shock element of course. That “Why me?” question to which there is no answer. Meanwhile, modern medicine got busy curing me. Surgeons cut my brain open, then sewed it back together. What was left behind was a listless mass of flesh and a foggy future. My wife and children, thirty two, four and six months old were left to pick up the pieces. I don’t remember much of that time, except feeling determined. At thirty five one has a family to support and better things to do than to crumble under you.
I went back to work quickly and hoped that my nightmare meeting with you was over. My friends and family called me a hero, and to be honest I felt like one too. The trouble with humans is that they let their mind generally override the truth they know and feel in their hearts. For me this overriding was so complete, that I blanked the fear I felt in my heart out. So during the following year, as I fell prey to more loss of health, my mind goaded me to be phoenix-like, always rising from the ashes to be my glorious self—not wanting to hear the knowing in my heart. Life was changing, and I was the last one to see.
Not surprisingly, we met again in a year. This time the cure was surgery and radiation. And the aftermath? A stroke that left me paralysed on my right side and took away my ability to talk cogently, or remember much. For a long time, I lived like a stranger amongst my own. The house, the car, the job, the family, the friends—all constructs we populate our worlds with and define our lives by—quickly melted in the horizon. Once again, my wife and children were left to pick up the pieces.
My dear brain tumour, you introduced me to loss like no one else could. At first, I hated myself, I hated you, I hated loss and everything else around me. I spent hours, days and years being angry and feeling hopeless. Surprisingly enough, I did not disintegrate. Slowly, very slowly, I began to understand that at the heart of my suffering was not what had happened to me. At the heart of my suffering was how deeply I had identified with constructs of what life should look like and what my role in that life should be.
As my wife took over the reins of earning the bread, putting herself through long hours of poorly paid work to sustain us, I began to understand what vulnerability felt like. As my children created joy that only children can do, I understood what joy looked like. I began to understand the value of things, in people, in life experience. I understood how too many of us know the price of everything, but the value of very little, almost nothing.
An inner steadiness, an inner quietness began to take over. I realised how little we needed to be happy. So we adopted a rescue dog, re-homed hamsters and guinea pigs, smiled broadly at complete strangers. I find that our home is full of objects of value—not expensive furniture or paintings, but things with memories stored in them. The pebbles from the Hastings sea front, the poems that the children have written on birthdays as gifts, boxes of old photos and cards and souveniers. We laugh heartily, cry easily, forgive quickly, hug tightly, kiss softly and thank gratefully. I remember my friends from my childhood and youth fondly. We treasure each moment, this Now that we are experiencing.
And when challenges arise, as they are bound to, we remind ourselves of all that is good, noble and beautiful. We focus on music, on birdsong, on humour…even if that is the hardest thing to do. We ensure that we cook together, eat together and wash up together. And in the middle of all this, if one of us gets overwhelmed by fear, by anxiety, by grief, we allow that to happen. We hold hands and sit with the knowing that this too shall pass.
Loss has made me, made us, more real, more humane. It has made us kinder, braver and more understanding. We now try to judge less. We understand that life experience is full of myriad harmonies, and we hum the one that sings to our heart. What doesn’t is for someone else. I have since made friends with the sky, with the birds that visit my garden. Even the fox who wants to go through our trash bins at night. I talk to the moon at night, asking her to take the love in my heart to a childhood sweetheart miles away. I allow the winds to play with my hair and spread the scent of far off places in my being. I hug trees and stroke flowers. And when I feel low myself, I talk to rocks, seas and mountains sharing the understanding of their strength and persistence.
My dear brain tumour, you have reminded me of our inter-connectedness with everyone and everything in creation. Loss has taught me what it is to be truly human and truly alive, like we were as infants. My friends now come in all shapes and sizes. The human ones tell me how well I look, the stars remind me that I am infinite and eternal.
So if you who is reading this has a friend or a family member or you yourself, are perhaps undergoing challenge and trial: keep the faith. There is great beauty in this moment. There is always something to be grateful about. And everything, yes everything, passes.
Thank you brain tumour. Blessed be.
Author: Rekha Vijayshankar
Editor: Caroline Beaton