It was a cold winter morning. I answered a phone call from my mother and she said she had been diagnosed with stage-four ovarian cancer. It was just over six years since she had had a mastectomy for her very early stages of breast cancer. I googled ‘stage four ovarian cancer survival rate’ straight away and it said there was only a ten percent five-year cure/remission rate.
Since Mum lost her husband three years ago, she has been saying that she does not want to live for long, “Five years, if I get five years, I don’t need any more”. It was really hard to listen as a daughter who loved her so much. I sometimes cried and begged her not to say such horrible things. However, it didn’t change her at all.
Although Mum still says that all she wants is five years, now she has decided to undergo chemotherapy after the doctor told her that she would not live a year without it. However, one afternoon, I found out that she was still smoking. I cannot explain how furious I was at the time. “Taking chemotherapy and still smoking? Do you want to live or kill yourself? Why would you suffer this much to go through chemotherapy if you want to die? Don’t you know how serious this situation is now? You have only ten percent chance to live five years!” She made some silly excuses. A few days later, I found Mum was still smoking.
Mum became really weak and fragile after a few months of chemotherapy. Her skin colour became dark, her nails became black, and she lost most of hair including her eye brows and eye lushes. She had pins and needles in her hands and feet all the time, and could not even walk on the tiled floor as it caused pain. She started using a walker to perform some easy house duties and for going out. She could not sit up and play with her laptop computer anymore like she used to do all the time. All she could do was hold an iPhone and play games. ‘It’s good to play games all day. That way I don’t have to think about anything. I would start crying otherwise’.
It struck me, all of sudden. I realised how horrible an experience she had gone through. How hard her life has been. I thought I knew it, but I didn’t really understand it until she had become this weak. It must have been tremendously hard for Mum to face the harsh reality. Probably, that is why she tried to avoid facing it, saying ‘I don’t want to live for long’, smoking, and playing games all day. It is easy to say that Mum is silly. But this is the way she tries to ‘live’. I realised we fear death and that is why we attempt to look away from harsh reality of death. Ignorance and denial of death is sometimes an effective safety blanket to overcome our fear of death. I also realised I tend to reflect my own fear and denial of death upon my mother. It was a journey that I tried to cope with this emotionally hard time and tried to understand her more through the camera lens.
Exhibitions and research outcomes:
- 2015 Not So Soon: dying with denial, fear and acception, Death, Dying and the Undead Conference, Central Queensland University
- 2015 ‘Not So Soon (work in progress)’, CreateWorld 2015 Conference, QCA Griffith University