“The cancer is in the brains.” The doctor paused, and then she said it again, “We found some tumours there.”
I’ve always imagined that the moment would be more climactic, perhaps with a thespian filter and a stage setup. I imagined there’d be headaches and dramatic nosebleeds. Doctors rushing everywhere, perhaps even in surgical robes, with solemn expressions. There’d be a lot of crying and phone calls and somebody, perhaps a distant, weepy aunt, would faint on cue. I imagined something that was worthy of Grey’s Anatomy or House or even a scene from a B-class movie.
But life wasn’t a cable network writer looking to amp up ratings, and there was none of the electrifying tension, none of the sensational camera zoom-ins and facial close-ups.
We were seated on plastic chairs in a nice, cool room, the doctor in a practical shirt and skirt. The night before, we had fish for dinner and watched dramas on cable TV. This morning, we took the train, jampacked with office workers, and walked ten minutes up to the center. It was just a normal day, we were just normal people. Except that it wasn’t normal, that my mother was suffering from terminal cancer (people always use that term, but is there a cancer that wasn’t terminal?), and that it had spread to her brains.
The cells that she made, that she fed and watered and oxygenated, had turned on each other. The cells she created and gave life to were slowly killing her. She would continue feeding and watering and giving them life, and they would continue multiplying and spreading, demanding her absolute energy in their slow destruction of her body. It was a cruel, cruel existence, an involuntary act of self-annihilation, and it happened in plastic chairs.
We didn’t cry. No doctors rushed in with blood on their gloves. No aunt fainted. There wasn’t even an immediate action plan. The doctor said, “We’ll come up with a plan. See you next week.” We paid out our consultation fees in cash and then went home to eat lunch. It was the least dramatic climax ever. We didn’t even give good reactions. If it was a drama series, all the media executives would be up in arms, shaking their meaty, Rolex clad fists and demanding a re-write of the entire episode. Throw in the blood, they’d say. Where are the tears? Where are the anguished cries?
But it was not a drama. It felt like a drama, but it was not. It was our lives, it was my life, and I was living it.