The call came through on one of those days when I had the second dose of malaria medication flowing in my veins; the time when I was hovering between sickening nausea and weakened limbs. The last thing I craved was answer a call and expel the last vestige of energy I had left. No, I’ll pass.
I picked it up. What the caller (a former colleague and friend) had to say made my sickly situation grossly inconsequential. My response, instinctive as it was, was equally news to her as her pronouncement had been to me. A former supervisor (a truly beautiful soul who morphed into a friend, sounding board, co-conspirator and big sister) had died…of breast cancer.
I had been aware of her condition and her subsequent relocation to the US for better, further treatment. The reports of her situation sounded good. Last I heard, she was in excellent health.
Not anymore. The cancer had won.
And I thought she had won. Going to the States and all. Getting the best of care – chemotherapy, constant monitoring, mastectomy even. I thought she had won.
I was not privy to the prognosis of her affliction but whatever it had been (early/last detection, the stage at which it was, metastasized or not), I was confident it wouldn’t win. It might have defined some aspects of her life; it never crossed my mind it would take it eventually.
After all, a family friend’s wife had a double mastectomy two years ago and was still a breathing proof of her fight and win against this beast that attacks one of a woman’s discerning traits.
The comedian, Tig Notaro, bared it all (her double mastectomy sans reconstructive surgery) to her audience, completing the remaining part of her set Boyish Girl Interrupted topless, unashamed and glad to be alive. Breasts or not.
I never thought N. wouldn’t make it out. The news of her death hit very closely home.
Until now, I have paid no more than the required attention to my mammary glands – keeping them clean, often times encasing them in snug – fitting equipment, using them as feeding devices for my children or pleasure goblets for my beau. Once, six years ago, mastitis came calling but it was treated, and I moved on to other things; thankful for the removal of the slight annoyance. Two years ago, another pain emerged and I underwent another round of treatment which involved a scan of some sort, quashing and discharging the pain into oblivion once again.
Bashfully, I don’t even recall the last time I performed a physical, self – examination on my breasts for possible lumps. Maybe that day, eons ago, while on an afternoon school run, I listened in on a discussion about it on the radio.
But now, now with N.’s one-year anniversary looming and a memorial to commemorate (which I plan to attend) it, taking place this weekend; it’s about time I take one of my pleasure spots’ health seriously.
Presently, on this last day of the breast – cancer awareness month, I write this from the chilly lounge of a laboratory.
I am first on the list, and it would be my first mammogram and breast scan…
Medical statistics advise women between the ages of 44 – 50 to get a test done at least once a year, especially if they were prone to the cancer.
A bit early for me, you’d say, but I’d rather err on the side of caution after years of reckless neglect of this part of my body.