Against All Odds

Kingwell By Kingwell, 22nd Feb 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/2sr8x2mz/
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Personal Experiences

My mother's battle with cancer in 1956 and her subsequent recovery

Against All Odds

It was June of 1956, just a few days before her sixtieth birthday, and clearly my mother was ill - and it wasn’t your ordinary run of the mill cold or even the flu, mom was getting weaker every day. At 16, I’d always taken my mother’s working a 14 to 15 hour day for granted. Now she needed help getting a meal ready. We lived on an island and there was no doctor, there was however, a boat that made the rounds of the bay carrying a doctor to the various outports in sequence. The day came when Mom no longer had the strength to get out of bed. Fortunately, that evening the boat with the doctor arrived in our community.

We knew that there would be no clinic until the following day, but my eldest brother was determined to ask the doctor to make a house call that night. After learning of mom’s condition the doctor came at once and announced that he suspected a tumor and would telegraph St. Johns in the morning to request that she be admitted to hospital immediately. The doctor was true to his word and an answer was received within hours asking that she come at once. Soon a boat was procured to take her off the island and to where she could get the train to St. John’s. A lady friend had agreed to travel with her and would stay with my sister in St. John’s until she could make the trip back home – about three or four days.

At the hospital it was quickly determined that she had Stomach or Gastric Cancer. Even today the word cancer strikes fear into the hearts of most people, in the 1950’s it was an almost certain death sentence. Added to this was the fact that mom was anemic, due to the growing tumor and would need several blood transfusions before the doctors could operate. Everything was explained to her and the doctors suggested that she discuss the matter with her husband before having the surgery. They also made it clear that without the operation there was little chance that she would live more than four months. Yet there remained another obstacle – dad was blind and could not make the trip to the Capital city and mom was reluctant to make the decision without him!
Now that she’d had the blood transfusions, mom was well enough to travel, but going home would mean delaying the surgery by one week! The doctors finally agreed and mom once more made her way home by train and coastal boat.

I was not privy to their conversation but know now that it must have been very difficult for both of my parents. They had seen hardship before, having lost a son and a daughter and both had been married before as well, each losing their partner at a young age. Dad had of course left the final decision with mom and with a determination that she wasn’t going without a fight, she opted for the surgery and the chance, however small, that she would beat even this and return home to her family once more.

There weren’t a lot of dry eyes the day she left for the return trip to the hospital. With the ridiculous idea that boys and men don’t cry being the code of the day, I’m sure I kept my tears inside, but I must have cried when alone. Even at 16, I’m not sure that I could get it through my head that mom might not come home again, that she might die. Being the youngest, I’d led a sheltered life and during my own short time on earth, no one close to me had ever died. Since my brother who still lived at home was working, it fell to me to do the cooking and at least a little housecleaning. A sister-in-law who lived next door did our washing. Perhaps having something to do did help to keep my mind of the cloud that was hanging over us as we waited for news from mom – and having me at home must have helped dad as well.

A telegram from my sister in St. John’s confirmed that mom had indeed made it through the operation, but everyone knew that the next few hours would be critical. With nothing further the following day we were breathing a little easier – after all no news was good news. The second night following mom’s surgery was to prove her most difficult however, and being unable to contact my father the hospital had called my sister with the news that mom was not expected to make it through the night. With dad, my brother and me sleeping contently at home, unaware that mom’s life was hanging in the balance, my sister with no way to notify us, paced the floor and prayed for a miracle.
The telegraph office opened at 9AM and dad was immediately notified that although his wife was still living, there was little hope for her recovery, and he was to be prepared for further news at any time. I remember reading the telegram for dad and seeing the look of resignation that crossed his face. I remember too that I walked into another room, there to kneel in silence. I guess I must have said something because we had always been taught that words were prayers, but I have no recollection of saying anything. What I do remember is that right at that moment, maybe for just a second or two, I KNEW that mom would recover and return home! Did I worry after that? I sure did. I doubted the experience the moment it had passed. I told myself that it was just wishful thinking and I stuck close to dad as we waited for a second telegram.

Three more days were to drag endlessly on with no further news. On the fourth day came a telegram from a cousin who had visited mom. She was improving! Today it defies imagination that it would take so long to get news. I wonder now how we survived these days of waiting. There continued to be some minor problems which kept her in hospital for several more weeks but in late October she was well enough to return home. Two-thirds of her stomach had been removed, but the cure was complete. Mom lived for another 26 years to the ripe old age of 86!

Tags

Against All Odds, Brother, Cancer, Dad, Doctor, Hospital, Island, Kingwell, Mom, Newfoundland, St Johns, Telegram

Meet the author

author avatar Kingwell
I am 75 years old and retired.I like writing short stories, poetry as well other articles of interest.

Share this page

moderator Steve Kinsman moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know

Comments

author avatar C.D. Moore
22nd Feb 2013 (#)

Your writing flows like a chat beside the fireplace.
Thankyou, Kingwell

Reply to this comment

author avatar Kingwell
22nd Feb 2013 (#)

Thank you C.D.

Reply to this comment

author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
23rd Feb 2013 (#)

What a touching share, Kingwell. I too went back over half a century to live the reality of the times. And you were blessed to have a large family to help out and share in the happiness and anxiety. Though technology has advanced, I am not sure whether in human values! I can very well understand what you went through at such a young age as mother's love cannot be replicated - siva

Reply to this comment

author avatar Kingwell
23rd Feb 2013 (#)

Hi Siva, We were so isolated at the time that it seems unreal now that we could have gone days without news but it is all correct. My brother read the acount and could hardly keep back the tears. Thank you again.

Reply to this comment

author avatar Buzz
24th Feb 2013 (#)

How touching a personal account this is, my friend. Thanks for sharing.

Reply to this comment

author avatar Kingwell
24th Mar 2013 (#)

Thank you Buzz. The changes that can take place in one lifetime are unreal.

Reply to this comment

author avatar Songbird B
24th Mar 2013 (#)

Another amazing page where you share your family life so eloquently..So glad that you had your mum for so many more years my friend. I lost my mum to breast cancer all too quickly after she was diagnosed..

Reply to this comment

author avatar Kingwell
24th Mar 2013 (#)

Thank you Songbird, I guess it just wasn't her time but she lived to see my three children. My youngest was nine when she passed away and all have fond memories of her.

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Username
Can't login?
Password