Mum was diagnosed with cancer. Then coronavirus arrived.


At the beginning of the pandemic, The Feed reporter Marty Smiley’s mum, Dalal, was diagnosed with cancer. While the rest of us were learning about the risks and restrictions of COVID-19, she was considering her treatment options. With Mother’s Day just gone, Marty sat down to interview her.

Finding out someone close to you has cancer is never easy. In this case, it was my mum, and it was at the beginning of the lockdown.

I didn't want to be locked out of the family home, unable to offer support. So I locked in instead.

First, I self-isolated for two weeks in my old childhood room. Then I worked from home, producing stories and helping mum around the house, doing the shopping and taking her to appointments.

Along the way, we documented her experience. This is a transcript from one of our conversations, between mother and son, about what it's like to face cancer during a pandemic.

After you were diagnosed with cancer, a global pandemic was declared. How did you react?

I thought, okay, first it's my cancer. Now I have to worry about this new virus that is very deadly, and if I catch it I'm in trouble because I already have a compromised immune system.

I have to be very careful about exposure with other people because I can catch things very quickly.

I shouldn't even get a normal cold. It may not kill me to have a cold, but it will delay the chemotherapy sessions. I certainly don't want to delay it at all. I just want it over and done with.

If I were you, I'd feel like this is unfair. Don't you think that?

No, I don't feel a sense of unfairness about that. I mean, we're not any better than anybody else. People get illnesses. We get our share of illnesses and being unwell and our health challenges.

And we just have to make the most of the life we have. I mean, knowing that cancer runs in our family, we've always done things in terms of prevention, but you can only do so much.

Besides having me around to make you hummus, has anything positive come from the isolation?

One positive thing is that I'm not disappointing people who want to come and visit me. They don't ask as much. Everyone knows this is the way things are at the moment. What I'm deprived of, we're all deprived of. Which is comforting. We're sharing in the misery!

Mother's Day was on the weekend, but this year we couldn't get together with family to celebrate. How does it feel to be a grandmother and a mother during this pandemic?

I love Mother's Day because it's not just about me. It's about the mothers in my life! My sisters, my mum, even my nieces who are mums. We usually all get together and celebrate what's best about being a mum.

I'm still a mother and a grandmother whether coronavirus or no coronavirus! That doesn't change.

I just do it differently -- instead of getting the kids toys and taking it to them, I'm buying online and sending it to them. They'll get a knock on the door and they'll know there's another gift from Teta.

It keeps them, you know, engaged with me. They know I'm thinking of them. The gifts haven't stopped and the little surprises haven't stopped.

So you're still spoiling your granddaughters then?

I've sent them a Moana doll. I've sent them a Mulan doll. Some educational books.

What kind of mum and grandmother do you aspire to be?

I always think about, when I'm not here, what would my granddaughters remember me for? What would be imprinted in their memory? What impression have I made on their life?

My father died when I was young. I was seven, so of course I had my mom who was the key person in my life.

She raised a family of six children single-handedly. She made a big impression on me and influenced my upbringing because she had to overcome so many barriers, so many hurdles. So that's what I try to do with my granddaughters, you know, to be a good example.

How do you feel about the future at the moment?

People have said to me -- you know, people who have gone through chemotherapy and had cancer before -- one of the things they said to me, is "you'll have good days and you'll have bad days".

"And when you have a bad day, you keep saying to yourself 'this too will pass, and there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, and you're going to see yourself on the other side'", and that is so true, that is so true.

You just keep thinking that "I'm going through this at the moment, but it's going to come to an end. It's not going to be like this all the time. I will be better and I will get to the end of it".

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