My daughter's birth could be called a miracle. Having been told I'd never have children, I defied the doctors by becoming pregnant at all. Sadly, that first pregnancy ended in miscarriage (as also did my third), but I was thrilled to find I was pregnant again, just a few months later.
At the 12-week stage, however, the doctor declared the baby dead in the womb. I was rushed into hospital for the removal of the foetus, although the procedure was delayed because I had developed kidney problems. While those were being treated, the foetal heart restarted — an extraordinary event no medical man has been able to explain.
The worry wasn't over, though, since throughout the pregnancy, the baby never moved or gave so much as a reassuring kick. In those pre-scan days, the doctor feared it might have been damaged, and was maybe even paralysed. So the birth of a normal, healthy baby on New Year's Eve, 1965, was the best moment of my life. My ecstatic smile, as I gazed down at my perfect child, deserves a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
Fast forward 40 years. My vivacious, energetic daughter, now married to an American and living in Seattle, was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue — one of the rarest and most brutal of cancers and usually confined to heavy smokers over the age of 65. Pauline was in her prime and had never smoked in her life.
After a seven-hour operation to make her a new tongue, followed by months of gruelling chemotherapy and disfiguring radiation, I dared to hope she might survive. Indeed, the surgeon said that if she went a full year with no return of the cancer, the odds were highly favourable. So, as the last weeks of that year played out, I and all her family seemed to hold our breath from hour to hour. The year passed — we celebrated.
A mere five days later the cancer returned, as if to mock our jubilation. Then, slowly but inexorably, it spread to her lungs, liver, pleura, blood and bones. In August 2008, my once-beautiful, vivacious Pauline — now reduced to a pallid wraith — struggled for her life again, as she had done in the womb, but this time lost the fight. Her two sons, aged ten and seven, displayed huge courage during those last days: holding her hand, cooling her forehead with cold flannels and, finally, bringing in their toy animals to share her hospital bed.
She was buried on Whidbey Island, off Seattle, on a perfect summer's day. The setting was pure Hollywood in its grandeur and magical beauty — cruelly incongruous, I felt. I was burying a beloved child, yet the smug sun shone all day long and the Pacific gleamed and sparkled, as its carefree waves purred against the shore. Some of the guests brought sunflowers, perhaps unaware that, in Chinese lore, they are a symbol of longevity. Their bright, happy faces reminded me of Pauline's cheery radiance before she was cut down. I can never see one now without a pang.
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