Waiting for the cancer to go away so we can laugh again

A sadness-inducing trust, but am just hoping we can have sundowners some years down and find humour in the hunt for nurses


Nivriti Butalia

Published: Sun 18 Jun 2017, 9:49 PM

Last updated: Mon 19 Jun 2017, 1:58 PM

My friend's mum has cancer. My friend's mum, as it turned out, became my friend, too. This was a couple of years ago. The cancer came later. Friend lived a nine-hour flight away. Friend's mum lived closer, a five-minute walk away (past Spinney's, take a right).

Initially, possibly in the spirit of friend-duty, I would check on the mum. But because friend's mum, S aunty, was 'cool,' not rigid or ageist or boring, it became routine to catch up on weekends over sundowners. We must have been okay with each other's company. Because hanging out was no longer in the spirit of friend duty. It was just relaxed evenings on the balcony, airing stories, having a bite.

Whenever I'd swing by, I didn't have to ring the doorbell. Likewise, whenever she dropped by for a coffee after her morning walk on Fridays, and for toast and egg bhurji with a non-overripe avocado, she would simply enter. No knock needed. I always liked that. You can't do it with everyone. And I'd rather not have everyone just enter.

Eighteen months ago, S aunty moved to another city, with one foot still in Dubai. Work promised to bring her back once in a while. We didn't know the frequency of 'once in a while' so we toasted the new move at a tapas place, took photographs, hung out more because she was leaving, and finally said god speed and toodle-oo. Docs said this was the time the cells set up shop in her body.

The cancer news dropped last month. Friend pinged, middle of a workday: "Are you busy? Can you talk?" It sounded irregular, urgent. We spoke. Her voice was steel. She told me her mum was landing that night and if I would please go see her, because these biopsies done last week showed da da da.

That was last month. Of course, I met her. She came over. We hugged.

She opened the front door, no doorbells rung, not needed. I said my God, for someone walking around with cancer cells, you're looking unbelievably good! She laughed. I looked for signs of tiredness. She didn't have sugar in her coffee - doc's orders. We went and got pedicures. She needed the nail polish removed before the surgery. They had said Stage 1, lymph nodes not affected... so they said, at first.

Yesterday, S aunty called. She needed me to do something. This was 10 days after the first surgery - breast cancer. Lymph nodes removed, treatment options discussions in full sway. I had got the lowdown from my friend - can't expect a recovering-from-surgery person to type the same tiresome medical updates over and over on WhatsApp.

Aunty used the word interview. I was in the metro. I had my earphones plugged in. I could hear exceptionally well. Me: Hellloo!! So good to hear your voice!

She: Hi! How are you?

Me: Forget how I am? How are you feeling?! What's the latest?

The latest is that she's going to be back in Dubai. And is shortlisting nurse candidates to help her out. And she wants me to 'interview' the shortlisted to save her time and energy. Obviously, I'll do it. I've never done it. But I'm guessing, capability, experience, compassion are all right up there in the list of requirements, right? What else? Pointers will be useful. In a warped-ish way - or is it all that warped? - I'm honoured she would ring to ask me. It implies a certain trust. A sadness-inducing trust, but am just hoping we can have sundowners some years down and find humour in the hunt for nurses. At the moment though, hilarity seems a few stations away.
A sadness-inducing trust, but am just hoping we can have sundowners some years down and find humour in the hunt for nurses.


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