After writing my last post about Children living with cancer, I got amazing feedback about real life cancer situations and how they changed the lives of the affected and the infected. Some feed back is here on this blog post while the other is in my Twitter and WhatsApp inbox.
The feedback was so touching. So much so that I was prompted to consider sharing my experience with cancer here.
It had been long since I had seen my aunty Jane Francis. It had come close to two and a half years now. I always asked mum to let me go and see her but she always postponed my visit saying I should wait for the next holiday. That my aunty lived far from Kampala so I couldn’t just visit her for one day and come back, for someone that far I had to spend a night or two. “Mityana is way out of Kampala,” she said. That I had to wait for when my two sisters had had their holidays so that we go together.
I knew this was my mum’s way of saying no. But somehow, I kept trusting that may be next holiday she would let me go and visit. She didn’t. She seemed to notice how much I missed my aunty from the way I nagged her about the visits so to reduce the nagging, she bought Airtel airtime for UGX1500 loaded pakalast and let me talk to aunty until the minutes got done. After that I forgot all about nagging her about the visits until towards the end of the holidays.
Mum said I grew so close to aunty because they look alike. That when I was still in lower primary boarding school, she was sick during my visitation day so instead, aunty came to visit me. I was so happy thinking it was mum. Aunty noticed it, but she didn’t want to disappoint me by telling me the truth. She let me be.
At home, I had told mum that in the event that God forbid she dies, I would always remember her through aunty. I noticed that her eyes became watery whenever I mentioned this. She quickly looked down, as if she had seen a snake. I knew it was to hide her teary face. “Nze sijja kufa,” she joked.
It had come towards the end of the first term holidays of senior four and I had hardly heard from aunty. Mum said Aunty’s phone was stolen from Kikuubo when she had gone to buy merchandise for her shop. She was saving up money to buy another phone while processing papers to replace her simcards. It was a lengthy process which required her to keep coming to Kampala.
But mum told me not to worry. That aunty was doing fine. She knew this because they used to talk once a week using her neighbor’s phone. I missed aunty! “May be I would see her next holiday as mum said,” I thought.
I saw aunty at the beginning of my first term holidays, only I didn’t visit her, she visited us.
That Saturday afternoon as I came from the shop to buy airtime, I noticed unusual shoes at the front door of the house. We never used the front door unless we had a visitor. We always used the back door or the garage to access the house. And if you were a regular visitor, no one would go through the trouble of opening for you the front door, you used the back door like the rest of us. I wondered who this visitor could be. I flung open the curtain and there I saw aunty Jane Francis sitting in the living room with mum.
My face lit up when I saw her. Mum said I looked like Umeme had shocked my face. Aunty got up from the chair to hug me. But this time she did not give me those brief Kinyarwanda hugs where the cheeks touch. She clasped me in her arms and held me tightly against her soft body. I could tell that she missed me too. Even though her body was hot and sweaty from all the travelling under the sun, I did not mind. Her Kitenji dress smelled exactly like mum’s.
I sat down and we talked. She exclaimed about how I had grown so tall. She told me stories of how she had baby sat me and how I had become a man in no time. And she went on and on.
But while we talked I noticed something about her wasn’t okay. The color of her eyes. Brownish yellow. It looked like the color of urine from a dehydrated person. I had last seen such eyes with the head prefect at school. Students rumored that he used to use drugs. But he could not be expelled because he was a prefect. How over rated prefects were!
But clearly, my aunty wasn’t using drugs. Something was wrong. I asked her and she said it was because of too much sun’s heat as she travelled to Kampala. She then asked that she takes a nap in mum’s bedroom because she felt a bit of migraine. She would get up in an hours time and we would pick up from were we had stopped. She said she had to get back to Mityana the following day to attend to her shop.
It had been three weeks since aunty had visited. She did not go back to Mityana as she had expected. The migraines had intensified. They had weakened her whole body so much so that she could not get out of bed by herself. Her brownish yellow eyes could barely open. I could see that she forced them to open. She didn’t want to look weak. She didn’t want to be pitied. “Nja kuba bulungi,” she said.
“How fast life can change!” I thought.
Sitting in mum’s bedroom beside aunty, I let my mind drift away. I thought about how much pain aunty was enduring and how much strength she lost trying to hide the pain from us. About the things she had planned to do when she went back to Mityana after the visit. Her shop had been closed. A woman who earned her own money had been incapacitated by a stupid migraine.
One morning as I was in my bedroom, I had a loud noise coming from the bathroom. It was a noise of something that had fallen. It sounded a humongous ripe jackfruit falling from the tree. I ran to see what it was but I found that mum had reached before me.
It was aunty. She had gained some strength to walk to the bathroom. She had supported herself by holding on to the walls but the strength had betrayed her when she reached the bathroom. She fell down heavily and hurt her right ankle. She was sitting there on the bathroom floor, groaning in excruciating pain.
At Nsambya hospital, the doctors said that aunty was not supposed to exert pressure on her legs, which when translated meant she was not supposed to walk. Mum asked when she would be able to walk again and the doctor said,”Until further notice.” My heart skipped a bit. When would that be?
We had to buy a wheel chair for aunty when she was discharged but before that, the doctors had to do a few more tests and scans to make sure there was no other injuries. I thought about the Muslim beggar on a wheel chair who was pushed by a boy through cars at the traffic lights at clock tower every evening. I wondered how it felt, pushing around someone in a wheel chair. And here I was about to experience it with aunty, only I did not want to.
We would leave hospital the following day. I prayed that we left soon because the smell of a mixture of medicines was making me sick.
Mum and I slept on a mat on the ground while we watched aunty on the bed all night, lest she wakes up and tries to walk. The ground was so hard. There was a second bed in the ward but the nurse had said that it was hospital policy not to let care takers sleep on the beds. After all, she was doing us a favour to let us spend the night because again, it was hospital policy not to let caretakers spend a night in the hospital. The way she said it was so annoying but I did not react for fear of her mistreating aunty. I would be responsible.
When mum felt sleepy I suggested that we take turns. She would sleep for one hour while I watched aunty and I would sleep for the next one while she watched. I dosed off on my turn.
The doctor returned the test results in the morning, he sat down and asked us about how the patient behaved. He went on and on about how she would be fine. He seemed to be delaying the announcement of the test results. Something in his eyes spelled fear. I started to fear.
As if he had sensed my impatience, the doctor called us away from aunty, opened his file and looking up, he pushed his oval spectacles up the bridge of his nose and said,”Aunty has a foreign body in the brain” “What does that mean?” mum asked. He said it meant aunty had a brain tumor. The room went dead silent.
After what seemed like an hour of mum pacing all over the room, with me muttering words trying to calm her down without being able to calm myself down, mum asked the doctor who was calmly watching us from the chair he was seated on, “What is a brain tumor?” I knew kum understood exactly what a brain tumor was but may be she hoped that the doctors might have made some kind of mistake.
The doctor walked out of the ward and returned with what looked like a tin of lotion almost as if he had kept them at the door way. “Here, let me show you what a tumor looks like,” he said. He dropped a small grain of sand into the run of lotion and told us to imagine the lotion as the brain matter and the grain of sand as the tumor. He added that this kind of tumor was cancerous, and that with in a short time it would multiply into the brain.
I turned to look at mum and caught her gazing at me. But her gaze seemed so distant, like she wasn’t really looking at me, almost as if her soul had wandered off to a different universe. The doctor walked out and shut the door behind him. Mum held my hands in silence, with the distant gaze still in her eyes. I felt that our lives were not going to be the same again.