Rachna Singh’s new book, Mum’s Gotta Live, is her diaries written during her battle with breast cancer. An excerpt:

I do a breast-self-examination. Just like that.

Tiny. Hard as a marble. Painless. Can’t see it from the surface. But I can feel it. Deep inside. Right breast. Definitely, there is something.

‘Let’s get that lump checked first, okay? Probably, nothing. But, still…’ says the husband.

Snaking through traffic. The watch glints in the slant of the 9:00 a.m. sun through the car’s window.

How long will the check-up take? Office by 1:00? Water tanker ambles in and plonks itself in front of my car. Uffff. Tap my fingers on the arm rest. Come on. Come on.

The radio is in a jaunty mood. Chittiyan kalayian Re. Meri white kalayian re. I make mental checklists. That’s my hobby.

Need waxing. Need to lose weight. Need a new maroon lipstick.

Christmas tree needs to be packed. R.S.V.P. to that brunch is pending. Kids’ uniforms and bags have to be checked. Daughter’s 13th birthday coming up in three weeks. Theme. Theme. Theme? A teenage popstar theme? Damn! I am clueless.

Dr Archana Sanjiva Shetty. Young and pretty. Fresh as a daisy. Examines me.

Hmmm, there is a lump. Yes, I can feel it. But, it could mean many things. Get an ultrasound. We will see then. She smiles.

I smile. Business-like.

Ultrasound wait. Lots of people. Stomach churns a little. Could it be c_ _ _ _ _ ? Hush! Bad word ! Bad word! Don’t even think.

My name is announced. I don the silly robe which could put an entire nudist colony to shame. Cold blobs of gel are squirted on the breast. The hard, cold probe follows. An indifferent sonographer. A bored nurse. About four minutes of snooping around mammary-land.

Okay – it looks like cancer only.

Phlegmatic, indolent announcement. Loud. Care-a-damn loud.

What? WHAT? What did she say? Landmines explode in my ears.

I stare. I start shivering. I don’t know why. But I am shaking like an overloaded washing machine.

I could have cried. Maybe, yelled. Or, shrieked. Held her by her shoulders and done a filmy, ‘kyon, kyon, kyon, keh do ki yeh jhoot hai!’ So many options.

But I choose to shiver. Violently. The voices in the background grind into an invisible mixie.

Rrrhrrrhrrhhrhh.

“Now, don’t cry-vry here. Only a biopsy can tell if it is cancer.”

She dumps some paper towels on me.

Rrrhrrrhrrhhrhh.

I try to get up. Can’t feel my legs. I am shivering. Wiping globs of gel from my chest. Breaths refuse to play along. I am choking. Not sure how but I manage to get back into the yellow jacket. I push the door open with trembling hands. I walk out. My husband is standing, armed with my files, in the distance. He looks blurry.

I push the door open with trembling hands. I walk out. My husband is standing, armed with my files, in the distance. He looks blurry.

She says it looks like – (I just can’t say the C-word) uhhhh – she says it does not look good.

I clutch his arm with cold, frozen-chicken fingers.

My legs are giving way now.

He holds me firmly. Does not say anything. He has been like that only for the twenty years that I have known him.

Rrrhrrrhrrhhrhh.

He walks me to the Mammogram center. My heart is silent. Very quiet. No pounding. No hammering. Just quiet. Sinking. Sinking very deep. My legs have grown new joints. They are bending every which way.  He holds me from under my arms and helps me walk. We don’t talk.

Breathe deeply. Breathe deeply. He tells me.

I breathe noisily through the shivers.

We wait on those rows of chairs. Chairs stuck to a single, long rod. People sitting on them joined by fate. It’s a long wait. How long? Don’t remember.

Rrrhrrrhrrhhrhh.

Your report will be ready in three-four days, she tells me.

The world looks faded as if washed in cheap detergent. I am in a daze. Where has all the colour gone? We pack in movies. Outings. Dinners. Distractions. Malls – the trusted panacea. We take our children (12 and 8 years old) along. They don’t know anything. We don’t tell my parents, either. Rrrhrrrhrrhhrhh.

Rachna Singh

I make some phone calls, now and then. To my sister. In-laws. My rakhi-brother. Friends. I cry. I howl. I laugh bitterly. Assurances pour in. Prayers. Some blame the doctors. The medical system. You are fine. They are doing all these tests-vests only to make money. Thieves. Should be jailed.

I await the imminent. It comes in four days. Dr A holds my hand and assures me again:

It is totally treatable.

I don’t want waxing.

I don’t want to lose weight.

I don’t want a new maroon lipstick.

I just want to live.

Excerpt published from Mum’s Gotta Live with permission from Rachna Singh, priced at Rs 250.

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