When sickness strikes a family member, it is almost as if everyone close also gets sick. Sickness has a way of blowing through the family and affecting everything and resulting in deep, and individual wounds.
So much so, that when it blows though one last time and a loved one is laid to rest, those left behind although standing often carry deep wounds that may not always be evident, but can linger on years after.
June Isige, 37, who runs a renewable energy consultancy company, Scarlett, knows this all too well having lost both parents to cancer.
In 2000, June Isige was in Second Form, and the typical doe-eyed was teenager finding her way through life, when she learnt that her best friend and confidant- her mother- was very ill.
“At the time no one told me it was cancer; I just knew that she was constantly in and out of hospital. I am the last born in a family of five and the sibling I follow is ten years older than me, and so I understand that my family was just trying to protect me. In fact, the first time I had someone describe my mother as having cancer was hearing family friends and relatives discussing her condition. Back then cancer as still very mysterious and no one really wanted to talk about it,” explains June.
“I later found out that my mother had stage four cervical cancer that had spread to her spine, and being a nurse, she had decided to spend her last days at home instead of doing chemotherapy which she described as ingesting poison into her body.”
According to June, her mother’s last days on earth were painful. That she lost so much weight and was in so much pain that at times she would not recognise her or other family members.
“I remember vividly the last time I saw my mother. She was so frail, and in so much pain she could not even eat. She was also in and out of lucidity. When she was lucid, she would constantly say that she was going home and wanted us to be fine. I remember feeling hopeless as I watched her and having this feeling that she was going to leave us, and two weeks later she passed on,” she says.
June explains that her mother’s death turned her life upside down.
“It threw me off completely, but our culture demands that we move on, and so I did. In order to survive and protect myself I just shut down and had this raging anger, I was angry at life, everyone and God. I really felt singled out and persecuted. This is where I learnt how to throw myself in my school work or anything else that would just keep me occupied this helped me avoid talking and interacting too much. However, the result was that I slipped into depression, and since nobody spoke about it, I learnt to bottle things up. It was one of the darkest times of my life.
“Looking back now I have learnt to give grace to my father because I believe that he did not know what to do with this teenage girl he was left to raise alone who was not only withdrawn, but also very angry at everyone and everything. This was also probably the beginning of our strained relationship because for the first time our bridge- my mother- the one who helped us communicate and understand one another was no longer there.”
Cancer came knocking again while June was in campus, but this time it was her father who was diagnosed with cervical cancer. However, because it was caught early an operation ensued that gave him another ten years before it reared its head again.
“It returned in 2016 and it came back with a vengeance. This time round I was completely hardened in an attempt to protect my heart from breaking. I had seen this before and I promised myself never to be broken and found flat footed again. I was not going through that again. on top of that my father was ill at a time when marriage was coming to an end,” says June.
“So, I watched from a distance as I already knew where this was going so for me, it was better to just reinforce the walls that I had put up and taken the hits as they came. It was all in an attempt to somehow try and protect my heart from breaking the way it did when my mother passed on, but it was futile because you cannot stop a heart break.”
June father also lost a lot of weight, and towards the end he could not eat or even move himself, and passed on in 2017.
“When I look back on my father’s last days, I am glad that I was able to put our issues aside and be my father’s little girl. I was able to spend time with him. We got to talk and make peace, and I got some closure from him. Also, my daughter who was six months at the time got to bond with her grandfather. That meant the world to me.”
According to June there is no happy ending in her story, and that it is okay because sometimes that is how life happens. She is quick to point out that there are valuable lessons she has learnt through the experience. “Losing both my parents to cancer is something I would not wish on my worst enemy. Although, time has passed it does not take away the pain or loss, but death has come with many revelations that I now hold dear. I realise that these bodies of ours are so weak, death is inevitable, and so every moment we are alive is a gift and a moment to celebrate. Also, it has taught me to live my life fully, to speak up for myself and that it is okay to say no.”
June says that learning to say “no” was especially important for her because her natural inclination is to be agreeable and to accommodate everyone and their needs no matter the personal cost to herself. “After losing my dad I realised that we only get one life, and so when I say yes today, I make sure I mean it. I am also now able to say no and to be comfortable with it and as a result I now have healthy personal boundaries.”
In addition, June says that loss has given her an urgency about life and purpose.
“I am intentional about being the best mother to my daughter, and being present for the ones I love. Secondly, I hope that I can find a forum to help people be more aware of their health and how to keep healthy not physical, but also spiritually, mentally and environmentally,” she continues.
Lastly, June hopes to use her work platform to help as many people as she can. “I am working towards establishing a company that will help improve people’s lives through renewable energy.”