By Aarti Johri
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. For most women, as they see this advertised, it is a mental reminder to schedule their next mammogram or doctor’s visit. For many others, it is a bitter reminder of loved ones lost, or battles fought against this dreadful disease. I am relatively fortunate that in my immediate circle of friends and family I have not yet directly witnessed the struggle against this or any other cancer. But even I have met many a victim of this disease; I am also part of the shared pain it brings.
I met Madhavi at my friend Swati’s home about 10 years ago. We hit it off immediately, and each time Swati threw a party, I looked forward to enjoying some good laughs with Madhavi. I soon realized that Madhavi knew a lot more about my life than I did about hers. I learnt that Madhavi had been diagnosed with breast cancer when her younger child was three, the older was about seven. For the past fifteen years, Madhavi and her family have lived successfully with this dreaded disease. As the years have rolled by, life has continued, and normalcy has prevailed, in spite of the extraneous inmate at home. Madhavi’s oldest child has joined Yale University; the younger is a senior at High School. Madhavi worked through most of this, and by the way, also earned a PhD in Computer Science.
About four years ago Madhavi was teasing me about our infrequent get-togethers. She mentioned my annual Diwali get-together; she said she wanted to attend at least one. I promptly invited her, but the dates did not work out for her. Last year I learnt that her cancer had begun to take a serious turn. I thought about all our meetings, perhaps ten in all. I remembered them being full of laughter and jokes, but could not recall the details of even a single one.
Earlier this month, I learnt that Madhavi was sinking fast; Swati told me “the doctors don’t give us much hope”. I struggled to hold onto some of my memories with her, I suddenly remembered quite a few. I recalled that Madhavi once brought an enormous flan for Swati’s party. While I could make one too, I had wondered how she made such a large one hold. I had made a mental note to call and ask her- I never did. I recalled a dinner conversation at Strait’s Café. I was questioning the wisdom of an upcoming construction project we were embarking on. Madhavi dismissed my misgivings that it might not be “worth it”, because my children would be heading off to college a few years after the construction was scheduled for completion. Don’t be silly, she said, your children will thoroughly enjoy their home for the five years that they will still be home. Madhavi and her husband had also completed a major reconstruction to their home.
My annual Diwali event was less than a month away. I knew, when I sent out the invitation, that Madhavi would be unable to attend. I still prayed that a miracle would occur; she has won before, why not this time. But miracles don’t always occur, and Madhavi passed away on Oct 7th. I struggle to come to terms with this. It is hard to accept that we will not share any more laughs, that I will not be able to seek any more nuggets of wisdom on bringing up teens from her.
As I calm my grief, I think of some lessons I have learnt:
1. I may never learn to make a flan for forty.
2. Life’s toughest challenges can be met, and met well.
3. Savor each and every moment, they are all worth it.
4. Everyone who touches your life touches it for a reason.
I know why Madhavi’s touched mine.