On Battling My Mother's Ovarian Cancer and an Entire Belief System

It was the summer of 2011 when I got the call. I unassumingly answered it while I was checking emails.

“Jasmine?” said the voice. It was my mom from India; she could barely speak and I could tell she was in tears.

After I asked, “Mom, are you OK?” for the third time she said, “I am diagnosed with ovarian cancer.”

My mom had been complaining on and off about abdominal bloating and pain. Three months before I received that call she mentioned the symptoms for the second time, so I suggested she see a doctor. She did; however, it happened to be an Ayurveda “doctor” — a practitioner of holistic medicine.

“I feel much better after taking the herbal medication,” she said. I insisted she go to a real doctor but she refused.

Ovarian cancer is an insidious disease, and nearly all of its symptoms can be dismissed as something benign. As a result, none of us realized what she was dealing with. While I was not happy with her choice of treatment I let it slide in an effort to keep peace.

By the time she finally agreed to see a doctor she was in stage 3 and her cancer antigen (CA-125) was at 496; the normal value is less than 35. The cancer cells had spread to her ovaries, peritoneum and the surface of her liver. She underwent a complicated procedure within days. The surgery was successful.

We thought the nightmare was over, but in some ways, it was only beginning.

I grew up in a somewhat non-conforming Muslim family. My mom was the most religious person in the house. She fasted sometimes during Ramadan and read Quran occasionally. Being raised in an upper-middle class family in India is a unique experience. While my mom talked about Islam at home, I went to a private Catholic school and most of my friends were Hindus.

At a very young age I started grappling with the religious differences I was constantly exposed to. Critical thinking eventually led me to become an atheist. However, I was alone in that pursuit, and the rest of my family continued with their belief system.

I wanted to do everything I could to support her. This became a little challenging when she said, “God heard my prayers and watched over me during the surgery. Will you pray for my recovery?”

Some of the family members plunged right in to provide spiritual support. Among other things, they went to a mosque at 5 a.m. to participate in prayers. The fact the prayers were in Arabic (a language they could not understand) did not dampen their spirits.

While I did not partake I did not stop anyone from embracing their renewed faith.

She endured her six cycles of chemotherapy. The side effects were brutal, and she was in a lot of pain, but she believed there was someone higher up looking out for her. In early 2012 the test showed her CA-125 came down to 6.2. I was so happy to hear the news, and I thanked her oncologist. Everyone else’s faith went up a notch.

Months passed and a semblance of normal life returned… but it was short lived. A routine test in fall 2012 revealed her CA-125 was at 38. My mom couldn’t reconcile why this was happening to her. I tried to explain the relapse rate in ovarian cancer patients, but that’s not what she wanted to hear.

She wanted to know why God was punishing her again. I didn’t have an answer.

The oncologist resumed her chemo for another six cycles, and it was beginning to take a toll on her body. “Why me, God?” was something she uttered on a daily basis.

She became miserable and her spirits slowly crumbled. I believe this is what happens when someone believes everything in life is orchestrated by a supreme being and if you played by his rules then he will protect you.

It was painful to see what she was going through and one day when she said, “Why me?” I snapped.

“Why should anyone? What do you think toddlers who get cancer did to deserve that?” I asked.

She didn’t answer, but I could tell she was hurt. I felt horrible but wanted her to realize she was a good person and nobody was punishing her.

The chemo was over, and she started to recover physically and psychologically. She even told me she reflected on what I said and realized nobody “deserves” cancer. She did well until summer 2013 when it relapsed for the second time. Her symptoms worsened, and she could barely walk at this point. To make things worse she had fluids that accumulated in her abdomen, causing intense discomfort. However when removed it caused significant pain and vomiting and within weeks it accumulated again.

It was a catch 22 situation, and there was no way to ease her pain.

One day as I sat there holding her hand I asked her if there was anything that could be done to make her feel better. She said, “I want God to take away this cancer and instead give me something that would let me die with dignity.”

I tried but didn’t really know how to comfort her. I sent my mom’s medical records to another oncologist in San Francisco. She agreed with every decision my mom’s oncologist had made in the past. She also said the probability of any meaningful sustained response to chemotherapy would be 10 percent at best.

My mom was a brave woman who agreed to continue with the battle. Her oncologist put her on another chemo treatment, followed by another until summer 2014. Her condition worsened and she was forced to go off all medication. She passed away during the Ramadan season, which was her last wish.

I was devastated and when I tried to console my dad he asked, “Would you pray for her soul?”

This post was originally published on HuffPost.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by mecaleha

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Ovarian Cancer

Talcum powder on hands

Court Orders Johnson & Johnson Pay Woman Who Developed Ovarian Cancer $417 Million

On Monday, a Los Angeles jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million — $70m in compensatory damages and $347m in punitive damages — to a woman who claimed she developed ovarian cancer from the company’s talcum-based baby powder, CNN reports. 63-year-old Eva Echeverria said she started using Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder when she was [...]
woman sitting on the sofa and thinking

I Was Healthy, and Then I Wasn't Because of Cancer

“For my entire life, I was healthy, until I was not.” – Denny Dequette, “Grey’s Anatomy” I heard this quote last night when I was watching the final episode of season two of “Grey’s Anatomy.” It stuck with me because I can relate in so many ways. In my 24 years of life, I have [...]
Ovarian cancer awareness ribbons

Ovarian Cancer: Turning Up the Volume and Raising Awareness

My goal is to help ovarian cancer raise its voice. Known as the disease that “whispers… so listen,” awareness can literally save lives. Almost everyone has been touched somehow by cancer. We can all think of a handful of common cancer types and what signs or symptoms we’re supposed to look out for. We’re supposed [...]
silhouette portrait of a woman with pink flowers around her head

7 Things I've Learned About Cancer by Age 27

Cancer is one of those things everyone hears about and knows exists, but assumes will never happen to them or their loved ones. Growing up, I was the type of person who was very far removed from cancer. I was lucky. Nowadays, approximately 21.1 million adults have been diagnosed with cancer at one time or [...]