Updated: Feb 24
"If I'm alive by then"...
This was the WhatsApp message that caught my attention.
Two days previously, we had received a wedding invitation to Sweden. We were both excited. We reminisced about the last trip we took to Switzerland to present your Arochuckwu traditional dance. That was your spirit nne. Knowing you was knowing about Arochukwu. Nene Okoro, your tales brought your village alive for me.
We immediately started planning our Sweden trip, checking for flights and hotels and searching for Marseille on the map. We had no clue where we were going, but we planned to go.
That was your spirit nne... Ever ready and willing to have fun, explore and fly.
In the years that you fought cancer, you never complained, not even when you had a headache. Others would have gone straight to A&E or even a hospital admission for a mere hangover. But not you, Nne. You were an Amazon woman.
You remained quietly in your corner. You were refusing to draw any attention to yourself. Though you were a social butterfly, you were fiercely private and maintained a small circle of intimate friends. You knew how to relate with every single one.
I remembered how difficult it was talking you into agreeing to a 'Go Fund Me' account for your treatment. When you eventually agreed, it only took a couple of hours for the target amount to be reached. You were well-loved, Nne.
As a social butterfly, you were well known. Elegant, professional, loving, accommodating, unassuming. So many wanted to be like you nne. Your diary invitations were historical; your presence at parties is worth its weight in gold—quality and not quantity. And you went out of your way to honour your invitations.
When you told me you had less than three months to live. I didn't cry; I just knew you were letting me into that space, and I needed to support you through this as best as I could.
Over the years I have known you, you have never asked me for anything.
Two years ago, I cried when you told me the disease had returned and needed radical treatment. We (your community of friends and family) threw ourselves into fundraising.
Remember when we participated in the Hyde Park "race for life run". That, too, was a huge success. Cancer went into remission after that event.
We were home and dry after five years.
When the cancer came back, you continued to live your best life. You travelled, you loved, you laughed, and you lived.
Saturday 22nd January 2022
You were discharged from the hospital. You were there for two weeks. You had deliberately planned this respite. You told me that you wanted to prepare your children to live without you. Your love for your boys was unquestionable. You were strong.
On discharge from the hospital, you felt great; you were full of enough energy to honour an invitation to a celebration of life for a friend's grandma. You kept that invitation. That was your way. You always honoured your invitations.
That evening I met up with you. We all enjoyed the occasion. You were unsteady on your feet, and you wore your glasses, and you lived your best life.
Your appetite was back, so we seized the opportunity to go for dinner after the occasion. You loved the pepper soup.
At dinner, you broke the news to me again. You told me they said you had less than three months to live. You knew I would understand. You activated my nursing instinct.
I was overwhelmed.
But I did not cry; it was not a time to cry, but a time to help you plan, to help you cross your T's and dot your I's. You expected me not to cry.
You remained calm as you spoke.
My voice broke as I tried to ask you what I could help with?
I felt so helpless.
That evening when I drove you home, I sat and watched you explain to your children and their friend that the disease had spread throughout your brain. You explained to them that you were losing your sight your hearing, and you now need the support of a walking stick to walk as your balance is affected.
You were so calm when speaking.
You will be leaving them soon.
Nne this is not a holiday trip.
I am heartbroken.
You were so concerned about how your children will cope without you.
You were concerned oh how they would take the news.
That made you sad.
The cruelty of dying slowly, I can never understand—the agony of watching your loved one leave.
I have walked a similar path before, this journey so clear, my mother's death still fresh in my mind.
Nne, we won't grow old together, but you will grow old with me.
Over the years, many people have doubted that you were living with cancer. You didn't appear like someone fighting an illness. You did not portray a person who has a long term condition. You were out and about, living your best life. You are blessed with a loving, lively and wonderful spirit.
Nne, thank you for being part of my life journey. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for understanding me and giving me the time for candid reflection on the most intimate parts of my life. You have been excellent support for me, and I'm sure many around you.
Friday 27th January 2022
This day you had another hospital appointment. But when you came back home, we had a good laugh when you narrated the fact that you went to the wrong hospital.
We couldn't understand the need for a mammogram at this point. But you remained compliant with all your hospital appointments.
Today you told me you were ready to die. You said you've watched at least 5 of your friend die in the past year—people on the same journey. You mentioned them one by one and narrated their story.
I was overwhelmed.
But you remain calm.
You said you are not afraid.
I was heartbroken.
No tears, just ears, as I listened to you.
I remember once you told me that your consultant was more concerned about your family's ability to cope with your diagnosis, psychologically, more than yours.
Nne you have always been strong.
You are strong now.
This day you couldn't go with your son to choose his 'A' level subjects. But you had a friend who could bridge that gap. She also made you dinner. We agreed that we all have a part to play in your life. Nne you were surrounded by people who loved you.
No tears, just ears as I listened to you.
You wanted me to bring my signature yam and plantain porridge on my next visit.
Friday 4th February 2022
First thing this morning, before I started work, I made yam and plants in porridge as you requested.
The plan was to pop round in the afternoon. But when I called, you sounded so exhausted and out of breath. You were barely audible on the phone. I spoke, and you responded with a mutter, agreeing that I should visit later in the evening, around 6 pm.
When evening came, I decided not to visit. I wanted you to rest. You sounded so out of breath. I recognised the signs. Nne, you were deteriorating fast, and I couldn't help.
Saturday 5th February 2022
You had a full house when I arrived. It was great seeing you in the company of your parents, friends and children.
You asked for the yam porridge to be warned up. Everyone was happy because you had not eaten all day. This would be your first meal. You announced that you loved yam.
Five hours go by so quickly in the company of friends and family.
It's time to talk about you. And for me to understand the support you needed.
I observe that you are slower to stand, more unsteady on your feet, and slower to respond.
You were concerned that some people around you did not understand the gravity of your illness. They show little empathy.
You tell me that your comprehension is getting worse. You are finding it increasingly difficult to understand, comprehend and respond to everyday interactions. It was obvious.
The cancer is all over your brain.
I asked about your carers and realised that you were yet to initiate your care package.
You never liked being a burden, but this is not the time.
It would be best if you had support in the everyday activities of daily living now.
Your friend is present as I speak with you.
We agree an action plan for your friend to support you to initiate the care you needed. She will advocate on your behalf, that's the help you needed.
I reminded you I was going away for a couple of weeks. We parted in the hope that I will see you on my return.
My name sake, who else will call me "My Presido"?
Nnèè, obi agbawalam