I have been living away from my country of birth for the past eight years. Miles away from the home I grew up in, I am now residing in a country so different and bringing up my own family without people who I consider to be my “tribe”.
A month ago I got the devastating news that the lump I detected on my breast is indeed the Big C. I grew up with the thought of cancer in a not-so-distant sideline mainly because I witnessed it firsthand with my mother. Her battle with breast cancer was not fought in vain because as the last years of her life I finally got the chance to know her better, from a young woman’s perspective and not that of a rebelling teenager. So naturally when the doctor said that it was breast cancer I had to turn to the person who shared my pain of losing a mother who died at a young age of 49. I immediately called my brother.
My relationship with my brother is casual. We don’t have those deep reflective moments but I know if there is anyone in the world that I can turn to aside from my husband, it is him. But blurting out one’s diagnosis over the phone is not that easy. It was lacking of the comfort that I needed at the time. The comfort that came only from knowing and sharing years of experience with such a disease. I needed my tribe but being miles away from home I had to make do with what I have. I am not saying my husband’s support isn’t enough. But how I would have loved to get a hug from my grandma and to hear her say that everything will be fine. Just like that scene with the young mom and the elderly lady at the mamma care clinic. I so envy the feel of a warm hand over me to engulf me with the feeling of “I am not alone with this journey”.
Miles and oceans away from my brother and my grandma I had to take action. I know this is a difficult period and I would need all the support I can get not just for myself but also for my family. Being vocal online with my personal journey to fighting breast cancer afforded me to state my requests and to be upfront with my needs. I did not even have to do so much, the message of support from friends both online and in person flowed like a faucet that was turned.
Then I realized what family means. Family means opening up to people and being welcomed with open arms. Family means not being able to say the right words to give comfort but being there nevertheless through good times and certainly through the bad ones. Family means I can have a house in a topsy turvy state but you can always drop by whenever you feel like it. No pretenses needed. Family is having people around to cook meals, keep company and not be offended when I have to sit still, rest or not even show my face. Family is allowing people to help because it’s their way of giving care even when one feels vulnerable. Family is having your children away from home not because you don’t want them present but because they can have fun and be with people who will treat them as their own. Family is just listening and hearing, noticing and feeling and if words become too difficult or the uncertainty on how to show presence arises, a family member knows to say, “I don’t know what to say or do but know I am with you, praying for you, cheering you on, keeping you in my thoughts.”
A family, as what I have learned during the past few weeks, are the people who fill up our lives with their presence and those who keep us in theirs. I am lucky, no make that extremely lucky, to say that I have found my tribe. I am home and I am surrounded by family no matter where I am, no matter where I go.