Heeding the warning signs

I still find it amazing how so many people approaching the end of their high school careers just know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. They then go off to college and are so admirably focused on their goals and direction. I’m afraid I wasn’t one of those. I fell into the category of people who have to either bang their heads against the wall repeatedly or are forced to face their mortality head on to wake up and realize what they’re meant to do with the rest of their lives. This begs the next million dollar question. Are we really put on this earth to fulfill a certain role? Are our paths and destinies predetermined? Yes, we are all certainly born with talents…gifts that the vast majority of us feel obliged to share with the rest of the world and hopefully help someone along the way or at the very least, make a valuable contribution to society. I have to be completely honest with you all on this note and tell you that when I was diagnosed with my breast cancer, my faith in the higher powers that be were shaken to the core and tested to the limit. I’m still working on restoring that and I don’t know for sure if I’ll ever get all of it back. I’m not going to tread the very delicate ground of religion here and I’ve always prided myself in being able to respect others religious beliefs and cultures, but is there not a remote possibility that sometimes some things just happen at random. That sometimes the universe sees fit to mercilessly throw us a serious curve ball?

Whatever the answer to all these questions, in the midst of picking up the pieces after my treatment was over, I realized that I should’ve listened to my father all those years ago and gone to study Journalism. As usual however, I thought I knew better and proceeded to waste a year of my life studying Beauty Technology which I decided in the end wasn’t my forte. I then wanted to start earning my own money and entered the banking industry where I remained for 10 years until we left South Africa for the UAE. Once I’d achieved some sense of normalcy in my life I decided to give a writing course a go and realized that my father was indeed right. I’d finally found my niche. Pity it took me 35 long years to realize what I was supposed to do. Talk about slow!

Rochelle at school

A very sad Rochelle on her first day in grade 1.

In the midst of all this frenetic activity, my eldest daughter Rochelle began grade 1 while her twin sisters went into kindergarten. I failed to see the warning signs. Rochelle’s teacher phoned me about a month into the school year and asked me to go in and see her. I immediately knew something was up. Right before my treatments were due to start, I had told Rochelle very briefly what would happen to me when I took the medicine. I didn’t want to give her too much information at the time as I didn’t want to scare her. I had made it clear to her that if she was ever worried or had any questions that she could always come and talk to me. I firmly believe that most of the time a child asks questions when they’re ready to hear the answers. However, I underestimated my child’s astuteness and I don’t think she was capable of articulating herself well enough at 5 going on 6 years old. After the meeting with her teacher, I realized that Rochelle was completely traumatized. She wasn’t participating in class activities and wasn’t talking in lessons either. She would go to school and not say one word the whole day. On the day that the teacher had asked me to come in and see her, she had sat Rochelle down and asked her what was wrong. Her eyes just welled up with tears as she started crying saying she wanted to go home to be with her mummy because she was afraid that mummy was going to leave forever. It became a very emotionally charged meeting as I also started crying upon hearing that. It broke my heart.

I was so grateful for the teachers swift action in contacting me and getting Rochelle in with the school counsellor. I beat myself up for weeks after that, but in my defense it would have been very difficult for me to pick up on the signs, as she was a completely different little girl upon arriving home. Her teacher wouldn’t have recognized her at home in all her rambunctiousness. After starting with counselling, Rochelle slowly but surely improved and a year later she was functioning normally in her school environment and interacting with her teacher and friends on a normal, healthy level again. Since then, she has gone from strength to strength. In hindsight I had originally done the right thing in telling all the girls teachers about my situation, and in asking them to report any signs of stress in the girls. I think it was that proactivity that paid off in the end.

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