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Mom has a Brain Tumour

by Meggan Brummer(more info)

listed in cancer, originally published in issue 136 - June 2007

Celebrate when you are alone and celebrate when you are with people. Celebrate the silence and celebrate the noise. Celebrate life and celebrate death. Celebration is the 11th Commandment!
– Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Some of you will know me as one of PH’s  regular contributors over the last five years. My articles have typically focused on health and wellbeing from an Eastern perspective. Recently I had to draw on all of my skills and ‘practise what I preach, when my mother was diagnosed with an inoperable brain-stem tumour. This is my Mom’s story:

13th October 2005 – Zimbabwe

Dad carefully raises Mom into a sitting position and lifts her to her feet. With her arms interlocked around his neck, he hugs her gently and they sway from side to side, Mom gathering strength for the journey to the bathroom. Lowering her, she collapses in his arms and passes out. Dad panics. Calling her name and stroking her head, he attempts to revive her. She stares blankly, unable to speak; her breath is faint. Not soon enough the ambulance arrives.

4th December 2005 – Sydney, Australia

It is another gorgeous Sydney day and I am enjoying a divine sunrise swim at Balmoral beach. My brother Grant calls from London to tell me Mom has been diagnosed with a brain-stem tumour.

10th December 2005

A gorgeous golden ball of fire sets against the African sky as my plane touches down. Dad looks weary and we both cry as we hug. Although it’s long after visiting hours, we go straight to the hospital. Grant is there with Mom. I try not to show the shock I feel on seeing how much she has deteriorated since our UK holiday, just four months previously. I feel saddened by the blankness in her eyes and her low-key acknowledgement of our arrival. It is heart-breaking seeing her this way; she has always been such a strong, energetic woman.

Semi-paralyzed down her left hand side, face contorted; speech strained and distorted, for some time Mom has been unable to eat anything without vomiting. This had led to a previously incorrect diagnosis of labyrinthitis.

14th December 2005

The hospital nurses do the bare minimum, so to get anything done we really have to do it ourselves. We
are reluctant to complain; afraid of upsetting the nurses in case they neglect her more when we are not around. Thank God dear family friends June and Brian arrive from South Africa. It is perfect timing. June, a nurse by trade, has survived a tumour herself! And Brian is a well-respected surgeon. He alerts us to the urgency of the situation; the prognosis is highly alarming.

He inserts a special feeding tube through her nose, down her throat and into her stomach. It is highly
uncomfortable, and together with the constant flow of mucus and phlegm, even breathing becomes difficult. Dear Mom is living a nightmare. Through a syringe, processed food is gently ‘injected’ into her stomach. Sometimes things go horribly wrong. If processed insufficiently, the food blocks the tube resulting in a colourful gastric explosion of soup, fruit juice or Insure.

16th December 2005

Brian and June leave us with strict instructions to monitor her solid and liquid intake and output. Taking care of Mom is a full-time job; we do what we can. I and my very dear friend Bhamini sing devotional songs to Mom. It lifts the heavy atmosphere in the ward and Mom rests deeply afterwards. As there will be no radiotherapy staff to give her treatment, we decide to take her home for Christmas.

Christmas Time

This decision brings some major challenges – not least the bed bathing! The prospect of washing Mom’s private parts fills me with dread. It is one role reversal too far! But as is often the case, the reality is far more manageable than the thought.

Christmas starts in Mom’s bedroom, but she insists on being moved to the living room to watch the Queen’s speech. This almost kills her, the moving not the speech! Propped up in a rickety old Zimbabwean wheelchair she rocks precariously. She vomits and coughs up streams of phlegm. We make up a bed for her in the living room so she no longer needs the various bells and pots we had given her to bang for our attention.

Yoga for Mom

Drawing on the yogic practices I know, I formulate a routine for Mom. Watching the physiotherapist, I have a good sense of what she is physically capable of – it isn’t much.

Our light yoga routine begins with ujjayi breathing. Mom’s breath, short and shallow, is accompanied by deep and heavy sighs. She struggles with the breathing technique and complains she can’t do it. Is she genuinely tired, feeling lazy or simply being stubborn? Louisa Hay, author of many inspirational works on healing, connects brain tumours with stubbornness, certainly one of Mom’s less endearing characteristics. With a combination of frustration, anger and disappointment at her shunning of my blend of spirituality, I feel like giving up on her. Today it ends in tears. Previously I would withdraw in frustration – this time I hold her. I come to realize that just loving and accepting her is as healing as all the yoga, meditation, breathing and medication.

But I know the yoga practices make a difference. As she feels nauseous when she sits up, our sessions consist of mostly lying down asanas (poses). I focus on poses which will move the prana (life-force) up towards the brain, and include asanas which will relieve the discomfort that has built up in her lower back. She has also been consistently constipated, a long-term complaint exasperated by her physical condition and mental retention. Mom dwells excessively on the past – so many things she seems unable or unwilling to let go of. Her memory is immaculate, but sometimes to our detriment, like when she recalls, and still blames me for, incidents from my childhood. I decide to incorporate poses to help unblock her digestive system!

This is how it goes….

Mom’s Yoga Programme

Shavasana (Corpse pose)
Lie on your back, relax your whole body, and keep your awareness on the breath;

Supta Pawanmuktasana (Leg Lock pose)
Lying in shavasana, bend the right leg towards your chest. Hold for up to five breaths and then repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Strengthens the back and loosens the spinal vertebrae. Massages the abdomen and digestive organs and is effective in relieving constipation.

Shava Udarakarshanasana (Universal Spinal Twist)
Lie flat on your back and stretch your arms to the side, in line with your shoulders. Bend your right leg and place the back of your right foot behind your left knee. Breathe in and as you exhale, take your right knee over towards the ground and look towards your right hand. Hold for up to five breaths and repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Tiredness and tightness are relieved, especially in the lower back. The pelvic and abdominal organs are toned, improving digestion.

Kandharasana (Half Bridge pose)
Lie on your back and bend your knees. Place the soles of your feet hip distance apart and flat on the floor. As you inhale, lift your hips and hold for up to five breaths.
Benefits: This asana stimulates energy in the spine, massages and stretches the colon and abdominal organs, improving digestion.

Vajrasana (Thunderbolt pose)
Sit on your heels with your spine straight and your hands resting on your thighs, palms to the sky.
Benefits: Increases the efficiency of the entire digestive system.

Shashankasana (Child’s pose)
Move your torso forward from Vajrasana until you can rest with your head on the ground, arms either outstretched or by the side of your body. If your head does not reach the ground then rest it on folded hands. Hold for as long as you can.
Benefits: Releases back pain and constipation. When practiced with ujjayi pranayama (breathing) in the final position it is very cooling for the brain.

Advasana (Reversed Corpse pose)
Lie on the stomach. Stretch both arms above the head, palms facing downward, forehead resting on the ground. If breathing is difficult, place a cushion under the chest. Let the breath be natural and rhythmic. Hold for a few minutes.
Benefits: Relives stiff neck and corrects stooping figure.

Ardha Shalabhasana (Half Locust pose)
Lie flat on your stomach, arms by the side of your body. Inhaling, raise your right leg; hold it there for up to five breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Alleviates constipation and strengthens the legs.

Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)
Lie on your stomach, hands flat on the floor beneath your shoulders. Inhaling, lift your head, looking slightly upwards. Hold for up to five breaths.
Benefits: Helps relieve back pain and general stiffness of the spine. Improves circulation in the back region; stimulates digestion and relieves constipation; tones the liver and massages the kidneys and adrenal glands.

2nd January 2006

Mom is back in hospital, and although she has completed most of her radium treatments, the radium machine, (previously the only working one in the country) breaks down and we bring her home again. She is increasingly difficult and demanding.

4th January 2006

After yoga I pass out on Mom’s bed. I feel I am sliding downhill, and go into survival mode. I need a break from Mom’s distress, but leaving her for even half a day brings up intense feelings of guilt. Looking in the mirror I see a very tired, hardly recognizable face. I am reminded of how important it is to take care of yourself when taking care of others. Ensuring I make time for my own personal yoga practices is an essential part of being able to help Mom.

I decide to give Mom a treat – instead of a bed-bath we run a real bath, adding essential oils and fresh lavender leaves from the garden. With a plastic ice-cream container I scoop and pour warm water over her body. She moans ecstatically. It is profoundly moving to see how much pleasure she gets from something so small.

22nd January 2006

It is late at night. I am lying in the dark next to Mom. She is hallucinating and calling for her Mom. Repeatedly she cries out, “I want to go home!” I hold her and tell her she already is. She doesn’t seem to hear me and the tears roll silently down my cheeks.

25th January

The doctor says it’s highly improbable that the tumour will ever go. Mom sobs, feeling utterly helpless and frustrated at her lack of progress. She keeps saying that she doesn’t want to die; that she’s got three months left and is not ready to go. I ask her what she wants to do with whatever time she has left. “Just be me,” she cries.

10th February

Dad is next door having tea. Mom and I are alone. I lift her from the wheelchair and press my knees against hers for support, I hold her as if we are waltzing together and slowly, step by step, counting as we go, walk her to the toilet. Suddenly she cries “I’m think I’m blacking out!” Her body drops into my arms. She is like lead. Her face contorts and her breath seems to have stopped. I’m terrified and sob helplessly, frozen in the nightmare of this moment. Then, not knowing from where the strength comes, I pick her up and carry her back to bed.

11th February

I board the plane at Harare International Airport with a group of excited Zimbabweans. We are on our way to the Art of Living Silver Jubilee celebrations in Bangalore, India where we will represent our country in the largest group meditation ever held. Between two and two-and-a-half million people come together over three extraordinary days to meditate and celebrate harmony and humanity. I carry my family with me in my heart and think of them often.

17th March

I return home greatly refreshed. Mom seems to be doing better. She looks really cute with a crew-cut hairstyle (bald at the back with a little savannah landscape tuft on the top), which I bathe with coconut oil. The work she has been doing with the physio is paying off. She now walks with the support of two rails. I will stay with her till my birthday, before flying back to Australia, and be ready to return when the time comes.

8th May

Mom’s health deteriorates rapidly. Dad doesn’t want Mom to know she is losing the battle but there is little hope now, and repeating the radiation treatment could cause irreparable damage, leaving her a cabbage.

19th May

The tumour is taking over fast. Mom is fully paralyzed. She cannot eat, is very tired and wants to sleep all the time – a sure sign that she doesn’t have long. Doses of Dexone make her comfortable and pain-free. The thorny old question keeps coming up – to what extent are the more natural remedies and treatments nullified by the prescribed medications such as steroids, high blood pressure pills, hormone pills, Dexone, etc. I prepare to return as soon as possible.

20th May

Mom probably won’t live more than a day or two. She cannot communicate at all; she has gone into a coma. I call dad and ask him to put the phone to her ear. I tell her I love her and am coming back. My dearest friends Ivan and Sarah are with me. Sarah and I sing to her down the phone. I hear her make small and gentle murmuring sounds.

21st May – Australia

The next few days are strange and surreal. I sit alone around an outdoor fire. Although Mom is thousands of miles away, thoughts of her saturate my mind and I feel her presence very strongly. With closed eyes, I chant the name of the Divine. The sound of nothing and everything fills the space. With all my love, I silently give her my blessings to leave this earth, this lifetime. Within the hour dad calls; Mom has died.

Christmas – UK

It is now a few days before Christmas and I am writing this from the UK, where I have met up with Grant and Dad for our first Christmas without Mom. It feels almost surreal – I keep half expecting her to walk into the room. The rawness of her death has subsided, and I am left with just that strange, awesome, life-enriching experience that comes with accepting a loved one’s passing, and recognizing our own mortality. I like to believe I made a difference to her final months – that I faced my own fears by being with hers. I cannot imagine my life without the sanctity and blessings that my spiritual practices bring, and Mom’s death has just deepened my gratitude for them and reminded me of just how profoundly blessed I am.


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About Meggan Brummer

Meggan Brummer (BA Hons) is a health writer, Hatha Yoga and Meditation Teacher, teacher of The Art of Living courses for the International Art of Living Foundation (, singer and traveller. Having taught yoga in Africa and Asia, Meggan now lives and teaches in Sydney, Australia. Although she specializes in Yoga and Ayurveda, Meggan is dedicated to exploring and sharing the myriad of alternative ways in which we can live happier and healthier lives through her writing. She can be contacted on

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