Zindzi’s mum Adele was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007, when Zindzi was 12. Adele is now one of our 'walkmakers' supporting The Ovarian Cancer Walk this year. Now 20, Zindzi has written about her experience for us.
Growing up I never had to worry about anything in my life really, other than going to school, when I had plans with my friends, or when I was next going on holiday. No matter what your circumstances you still find things to complain about, but many people would probably have looked at my life and said that I had it all. I probably would have agreed. I was twelve years old.
Then all of a sudden things changed. It was September 2007 and we had just come back from a Central American cruise, and my mum found out that she had ovarian cancer.
Putting on a brave face
My mum and my family's ability - at least in front of me - to put on an extremely brave face allowed me to not feel that worried. I went about my life as normal. I went to school, saw my friends and saw my family. Then the chemotherapy started.
My mum - if my memory is correct - had chemotherapy before she had the operation and then some after. It was only then that it really hit me that she had cancer. I think it was mainly the hair loss which made it sink in. I looked at my mum and she now looked different. It made her look like a patient. Prior to this she had all her hair and even while she was ill she still resembled the well person that I had grown up with.
Even while all of this was going on and I was scared and felt bad for her, everyone, especially my mum, my Aunt Yvette (mum’s sister who is a doctor and came down from America periodically during the time my mum was ill) and my dad, all assured me that she was going to be okay. I believed them of course. I was a child and they were adults. Even when I went to visit my mum when she had just had her operation and was in Intensive Care, I believed it. Thankfully it all was!
I look back, being much older now, on that 2007/2008 period, with quite a bit of regret. I think because I was told everything was going to be fine, I carried on as normal. I only ever took a few moments to think, perhaps about once a week or so if I could put a time on it, "oh gosh my mum’s going through this awful experience". I feel terrible now for not spending more time worrying. However, I think that came two years later in 2010. This was when my mum got ovarian cancer again. I was much more aware. My friends and I were older. I was angry this time.
I wanted to know why life had done this to my mummy. My mummy was the person who does everything and beyond for me. She always, in every situation puts me before everything. So why her? She is a good person. Why not me?
It was confusing initially when my mum told me. She told me in the car. I can vaguely remember the conversation. I think she had known for a few weeks. I remember questioning her about why she kept it from me. I felt guilt that I had been going on with my life without knowing that she had cancer once again. I had also put out of my mind the fact that reoccurrence was a possibility. Once my mum had recovered in 2008 I thought ‘that was it, ovarian cancer is now out of my life’. I was very confused when I was told that she had it again.
She told me that, this time, because the cancer was not as big, she would be having keyhole surgery. However, in theatre, the surgeon changed his mind and opted to do a bigger surgery than keyhole. Mum woke up to another stapled and stitched up stomach rather than a tiny keyhole size. I felt so bad for her having to go through all of this again.
I remember when I told my friends that she had cancer again and I just burst into tears. I always brushed off the seriousness of it though, saying "it’s only a small one this time”, partly because this is what I had been told by mum and also because it made me feel normal - it was a way of reassuring myself. The less people pitied me the more I could feel as though nothing in my life had changed.
Reflecting on my experience
Hospital visits became a part of my routine but not in bad way. People often assume, I think, that if you have a parent in hospital that your life becomes disrupted. Mine did not and fortunately for me my mum was never in hospital when I had really serious exams. Once again, my mum put on an extremely good show. She was always very happy and positive with me. She did everything any mum would do and more. This made me feel even sorrier for her. Why did this have to happen to such a kind person? I still wonder this now.
Reflecting on my experience I’ve realised I am writing from a privileged perspective. There are children who will not have the support network that I did. They will also not be fortunate enough to have a parent who despite going through such an ordeal, was able to be the same parent they always were.
I always wonder, did this happen to my family because we have such a good life? I could not fault my life. It was as if this was punishment because life was too good. I say ‘we’ but I did not experience what my mum had to go through: the needles, the chemotherapy, the operations. I just sat and worried – that’s the easy job. But this is not to brush off the many children who are worried about their mothers who are in hospital as I write this. It is very hard but the best thing you can do is ask questions - you have every right to. Children need reassurance. Do not be afraid to ask.