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Cancer’s Butterfly Effect

by Sarah Wangarifather died of colon cancerJuly 3, 2020View more posts from Sarah Wangari

392 days ago, my mother died.

In the 3 seconds it took me to read the text from my neighbor only one word went through my mind- alone.

I should have seen the signs. I was 550 miles away when I should have been home. She had tried to tell me things weren’t okay.

But I didn’t listen.

You see, my father had passed on seven years earlier. I was 16 years old and the only thing that kept me together, got me to finish high school, was my mother. I thought I could do the same for her. Get her through her grief.

So when she told me she was struggling.

She wasn’t happy. That she needed to have someone to love. I wanted to scream. I was there. She could love ME.

Was I not enough?

Our little family (my mum, my sister, and I) was all we ever needed. I was there when my father started taking 4-5 bottles of spirit to dull the pain. I was 13 when I yelled at my 6’1 father to go to the doctor and get some help. To find out why he’s getting blood in his stool. Why he gets these terrible tremors. So bad that if he didn’t find something stable to hold on to he’d fall.

My parents held my hand when the doctor said it was colon cancer. Stage three. They told me everything was going to be okay. My father promised he would look after me (financially). My mother said we would get through this TOGETHER.

And on 10th October 2012, my mother kept her promise. She let me cry on her shoulder when the mourners lowered my father’s coffin to his final resting place. And when the ceremony ended, she took us for ice cream and we talked for hours about Dad. All the little quirks we found adorable, endearing, and even frustrating. I’ve never had more ice cream than I did that day. And when we went home, I believed in my father’s promise- we would get through this.

So you understand why I couldn’t accept that my mother wasn’t happy. That she was still struggling with grief. I couldn’t believe I had failed her. I hadn’t seen her suffering.

I wasn’t there for her the way she had been for me. I was 550 miles away. In my last semester in school with three tests in the next couple of days. That Tuesday morning as we talked on the phone. I told my mother I was sorry. I would do better. I booked the first train out on Thursday morning and went to study for my tests. If I had known then what I know now. I would have cycled those 550 miles just to be with her.

But the past is written in stone and all we have is tomorrow’s dream.

As I lay there in my bed and read those three words ten letters from my nine year old sister: ‘Mama is gone’. I felt so alone. So lost. So angry that cancer had taken everything from me. My father just as he was starting to enjoy retirement. My mother right before she hit the big 5-0. My sister barely remembers her father and now the only one she has in the world is me.

391 days later I still feel alone but I’m okay with it. Cancer’s butterfly effect ends with me. The pain. The grief. It ends here.


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