When I was 17 years old, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I vaguely remember seeing x-rays, visiting doctors, and hearing the words chemo and radiation fly about but it was not until I saw her breasts post-surgery, that the news really hit.
Unlike many young women, I was never inclined to learn, study or research breast cancer, probably because I felt she was in safe hands. Coming from a family of pharmacists who is well plugged into the medical world, I felt secure seeing my aunt take charge of her case.
That was my first mistake. To blindly trust and follow, rather than doing my own digging in search of new possibilities.
I remember feeling really sad, rejected, and confused when she angrily refused to get out of bed to join me for our weekly tennis match followed by a dip in the pool. I remember her anger so viscerally, etched in my memory forever. Little did I know that she was changing forever.
This was my second mistake. To take her mood changes personally rather than empowering myself with knowledge about how cancer impacts the emotional wellbeing of its patients.
Somewhere down the line, her hair began to fall and she was devastated. Soon enough she had the courage to shave it all off and got a couple of wigs. The sight of seeing my mother unwillingly losing all her hair was very painful.
I wish I had the courage to shave my head too. I did not.
In that same year, I went to Canada to begin my academic studies at McGill University. I heard that medical care was better in Canada and so I embarked on the monumental task of taking my mother with me to complete her treatment there.
Being the primary caregiver to my mother in a foreign country without yet establishing myself within a supportive community, was not a good idea.
This was my third mistake. To not be adequately prepared for the consequences before agreeing to take her with me.
Though I did the best I could, her episodes of refusing to go out increased. While I was in search of companionship, someone to enjoy a glass of wine and cheese bites (her favorite treats), she was often too nauseous and her mood was not so great.
I wish I had more compassion to understand the suffering that she was going through.
At the end of her treatment, it was announced that the cancer cells were gone and she was free to live life as she once did. Hooray! Slowly but surely, her love for life returned, she began a rigorous exercise program, enjoyed her favorite foods, and traveled around the world.
I wish I had encouraged her to start a vegetarian, alkaline diet free from processed foods and to begin intermittent fasting.
Five years later, I received the shocking news that the cancer had returned even more aggressively than before. She had only six months to live.
Since I was in Canada at the time, I had to swallow the shocking news on my own and there are not enough words to describe the mental and emotional state that I was in.
I wish I had started therapy.
The last six months of her life were bitter-sweet. In the hardest times of our lives, we often found ways to use humor to cope. I remember my father always coming home from work with the joke of the day, in that time it was about the overthrowing of Mubarak. Laughter is medicine to the hearts of all.
Laughter ceased when she became bed-ridden, unable to even walk to the bathroom on her own. Very quickly the cancer spread from her liver to her bones and soon to her brain. Hearing her groans all day was enough for anyone to drop into the abyss of depression.
I wish I had talked to someone about how I was feeling deep inside.
Ironically, it was in those six months that I started practicing yoga for the very first time. Undoubtedly, it was this practice that helped me endure the hardship of watching my mother deteriorate day after day until she passed in June 2011.
When I look back and ask myself, what did I learn that can be of benefit to others?
Here is what comes to me:
- Oncological treatment is not enough and must be complemented with oncological rehabilitation, behavior health, naturopathic support, nutritional support, mind-body wellness practices, and spiritual support.
- Foods, herbs, and plants have potent healing properties that should never be overlooked.
- An alkaline body is the best body to fight cancer. Consuming foods that contain synthetic sugars, animal products, processed foods, and other acidic foods while undergoing treatment is counterproductive.
- Emotional eating is temporary relief. Learning to feel, process, and listen to emotions is the true remedy.
- Never listen to those who say – stop exercising. A little movement every day Is essential to a healthy body, mind, and spirit.
- Attention means no tension. Do you pay attention to your thoughts? Do you listen to how you speak to yourself? Are you compassionate? Forgiving and Accepting all that life brings? Or do you resist and fight back with yourself, with life, and with others
- What gives your life meaning? Without meaning in your life, what is the purpose of living? What will you live for?
- Caregivers must care for themselves without feeling guilty. Creating a healthy support system for caregivers is crucial. I was lucky to have my two aunts, sister, and grandma.
Originally from Cairo, Shama Kaur is Egypt’s first Kundalini Yoga Teacher & Trainer. At the age of 25, Shama completed the Level 1 Aquarian Trainer Program in New Mexico. Ever since she has been devoted to spreading the teachings throughout Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Palestine, Dubai, Morocco, and Tunisia. Shama is a Professional Trainer in the Aquarian Trainer’s Academy. Currently, She is training as a Yoga Therapist with the Guru Ram Das association and is pursuing a degree in psychology and counseling. She is also the founder of YallaYoga Center. She’s a graduate of Business Strategy and Commerce from McGill University, Montreal, and holds a Masters degree from King’s College London.