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SURVIVING


Fresh from the shower, Tina hummed to herself as she stood in front of the mirror. She placed her hands on her waist and looked herself over. She raised her hands now and turned to one side, then to the other. She still scrutinized her body carefully.
She had done this every month, since she turned twenty. So, she knew what she was looking out for. Since that scare when she was twenty-three, she had never again found anything to worry about.
Now, she placed her right arm behind her head. Going in small circles, she examined her right breast and armpit with her left arm. Still humming, she repeated the entire exercise on her left side.
Tina suddenly stopped humming. With her heart thudding in her chest, she checked the area around her armpit again. Sure enough, they were still there, unmoving and hard. There were three of them and each was small in size. She might have missed them if she hadn't been careful.
"I bet they are harmless," she told herself. "After all, I've gone through this before and it turned out to be nothing."
That did not stop the dread she felt from sinking into the pit of her stomach. She knew she had to quickly see her doctor so she called the hospital and secured an appointment for two o'clock the next afternoon. As soon as the family had come back from church, her husband had gone with their two children to pick up groceries. Tina knew that they would soon be back so she, quickly, dressed up and went to make lunch. She decided not to breathe a word, of her discovery, to him because she didn't want him worried.

Numb and in shock, Tina drove home. It had been ten days since she discovered the lumps around her armpit. On her previous visit to the hospital, she had needed a mammogram and an ultrasound on both breasts. A biopsy of the lumps had also been carried out. While at work, this morning, she had received a call from the hospital, asking her to come in for a doctor’s visit. She had quickly taken permission from her supervisor and had left the office immediately. At the hospital, her daughter had informed her that the results of the biopsy were out. Cancerous cells were present in the lumps and a few other tumours had been found in her left breast too. Tina had been informed that she needed to start treatment immediately.

"You have what?" Tim yelled, sitting upright.
"Shhh, you'll wake the kids," Tina replied.
"That's not important right now," he said, in a lower tone. " You're joking, right?"
"Sweetie, there's no way I would joke with such a thing. I do have cancer," Tina responded.
They had gone to bed and Tina had been strangely quiet. Tim hadn't known what to make of that. Tina's mother's birthday was in two days or would have been if she had still been alive. Tina always got moody every year about this time so he had assumed that it was no different now.
How wrong he had been. This was so much worse.
She had just blurted out, "I have cancer."
"I have to make a will," Tina continued now. "I have to put a lot of things in order. The kids..."
He cut her off. "Hold on a minute. You just told me that you have cancer. You haven't said anything else to me else but that. How did you even come by that piece of information? And what exactly are you on about when you talk about making a will? You haven't been ill at all. So, babe, what exactly is going on here?"
She told him then about finding the lumps and about the two visits to the hospital. She told him the cancer wasn't in just one location. The tests had revealed that she had multiple tumours in her left breast and around her left armpit. The doctors said she was lucky to have discovered the lumps when she did. They didn’t think the cancer had spread so they thought she had a chance to fight it successfully. But, Tina knew better.
Tim was silent for a while then, he quietly said, “Why are you just telling me all of this now? I've been here the entire time. Yet, you didn't say a thing, to me, about what you were going through. You acted normal. You were even a little bit too bright. That was all an act, right?"
Tim stood up now and went to the bathroom. Tina knew he was hurt. But, she was sure that it had not been her intention to hurt him. When she was twenty-three, she had discovered a lump in her right breast which had turned out benign. She had thought it was the same situation now.  Because she had thought the lumps were nothing to worry about. So, she hadn't wanted him worried for nothing. Unfortunately, this time, it was the real deal.

When Tim came back to the room, his wife was seated on the bed with her legs drawn up to her chest. She looked at him and discovered he was silently crying. Tina quickly got up from the bed and went to him. Standing, they held on to each other and cried together. Eventually, they sat on the bed and quietly held each other.
"Babe, don't ever shut me out again. I'm here for the long haul. For better or worse, remember?" Tim said, breaking the silence. "And you're not making any will. You're beating this thing. You're going to bring out that woman that wouldn't back down in an argument. You will unleash that woman that wouldn't cower and let me win when I'm wrong. You're going to let her out and fight this thing. You've always been a stubborn woman. You will be stubborn now."
She started laughing. "Me, stubborn? Never!" Sobering up, she said, "Sweetie, the odds are stacked against me. I lost my mum and her sister to this monster. I watched the people I loved very much succumb to this disease. They were both strong women yet, they couldn't beat it. Sadly, it's your turn to watch me die."
She continued, "This morning at the hospital, I met a grieving family who had just lost their six-year old to leukaemia. They said that he had been ill and in such agony for over three years. Do you have an answer as to why a child has to suffer in that manner? His elder brother had been a bone marrow donor because they had been a match but for some reason, a bone marrow transplant had not been enough to save his life. The only thing they are happy about is the fact that he’s finally free from all that horrible pain.”
As Tim started to talk but stopped when Tina raised her right hand to halt him, “Hold on sweetie, let me finish. After I spoke with them, I wanted to know exactly what I would face so I went round the oncology ward, looking for someone to talk with. I met a woman who had just been discharged from the hospital. She was waiting for her husband to settle the bills so that they could go home. She had been in remission for two years only for the cervical cancer to return and more aggressively too. She's been told that, this time it has spread very extensively so basically, she’s going home to die. In her case, because she hadn’t done regular pap smears it hadn’t been detected early the first time. However, an aggressive course of radiotherapy had destroyed the cancer cells that time. Can you imagine all she went through just to get well? Can you imagine how elated she must have been to have beaten the cancer, only to be told two years later that the disease has returned? Do you realize how distraught she is now, knowing that she’s on borrowed time? That woman cried as she told me of her three young children who are going to have to grow up without a mother. She was a stranger before today but not anymore now because we’re connected by this madness that has taken our lives over. After I spoke with her, I didn’t have the energy or the will to listen to someone else’s pathetic story. As I left that department, I saw patients of different ages and obviously different social statuses. I quickly realized that cancer is no respecter of persons, really. Can’t you see, my love? This disease is a killer. I don't see how I'm ever going to beat it."
"Listen to me, sweetie. I'm not letting you leave me and our boys. You always complain that I don't know how to make Nathan's diapers leak-proof. Just last weekend, we had a huge fight because I didn't give Damian enough food when you left him with me," Tim responded. "There's so much about our children that I don't know. How do you expect me to take care of them properly, all by myself? Do you want to look down and see your boys smelly and hungry, eh? Do you?"
Tina started laughing again. "You do know how to make me laugh, sweetie. It is true that there's a lot about taking care of the boys that you don't know," she said. "But, I will teach you. About the diapers, we'll start toilet-training Nathan. We can't have him leaking yucky stuff all over himself. We have to be prepared just in case I..."
Tim cut her off. "Please, don't speak about dying to me. You mean the world to me and I truly can't imagine how my life would be if you died now. We are fighting this together and that's final. You've told me about these people that didn't or won't survive cancer. I bet there are still those who did and those who would. You will be one of them. Please, tell me exactly what we have to do to beat this thing."

The doctors had told her that because the lumps were not in the same location, a lumpectomy would not be an appropriate treatment for her. She had to undergo a mastectomy. They said she was lucky the tumours had been discovered before they went deeper and into her chest muscles. She would also need a course of radiotherapy after surgery to completely eradicate any remaining cancer cells.
"Babe, if I'm going doing this, I'll do it right. I discussed with my doctors, the option of having a double mastectomy," Tina said.
"A double mastectomy? That's like chopping off two of your breasts, right?  No, way! It's bad enough that one has to go. But, even that is understandable because it's making you sick. Why would you want the doctors to take off a perfectly healthy breast? I don't agree with you on that, babe."
"Sweetie, it has nothing to do with what I want! I don’t even want to lose one but it is what it is. I'm at high-risk for cancer, considering my family history," she responded, "Two women in my immediate family lost their lives to breast cancer. A mastectomy of the breast with cancerous cells means I have a higher chance of beating this thing," she said, "But, if the other side is untouched, I could get it again. I already had a benign lump on the right side when I was young. I told you, right? So, what’s the guarantee that I won’t get cancerous tumours there later on?"
"Babe, this is a lot of news for one night. I am still to wrap my mind around the fact that you have been diagnosed with cancer and you’ve already fast-forwarded the story to the part where your doctors are going to hack off two of your breasts. Is there nothing else that could be done to make sure you don't ever get cancer on the right side?"
“Hack off? They are not pieces of wood, you know?”
“I’m sorry, love. You know what I mean.”
"Sweetie, I could get breast reconstruction, after surgery, if I wanted to. That option is available at the hospital. I already discussed this with the oncologist and he plans to get a plastic surgeon on my team of doctors. If I survive this, I truly can't live with the fear that I could get hit again. Please, try and understand that."

Three weeks later, her drains and bandages were removed. Tim could see how strong his wife was trying to be as she asked the doctor questions about what to expect during her recovery period. As soon as the doctor left the room, Tina looked down at her new chest for the first time and wept brokenly. She now wished she hadn't opted to have a double mastectomy because with her new look, she didn't feel like a woman anymore.  She was sure she would have felt better if she still had one of her breasts to remind her of the woman she once was.
Tim had been warned by the hospital counsellor that she might break down in this manner but, he still wasn't prepared for it. He was still dealing with the situation himself. She looked so different, somewhat broken. He didn’t recognize this completely altered woman who stood before him, crying. Tina turned away from him and walked to the bed. She quickly snatched the blanket off her hospital bed and covered her chest.
That gesture reminded Tim of how shy his wife had been when they had been newlyweds. "She's still my Tina, no matter what she looks like now," he reminded himself. "Inside, where it counts, she's still the same."
He went to her now and held her while she cried. He didn't know what to say to her but he tried now, "You'll get reconstructive surgery done on them. The doctors say..."
"They won't be mine!" she cried, as she cut him off. "I want my breasts back. You're only being supportive, for now. What's going to happen when the novelty of this wears off? Would I still be desirable to you? When you don't pity me anymore, would you even want to look at me? Am I the only one that sees these horrible scars? I'm so ugly now. I'm only thirty-three years and my life has just ended."
"How can you even say that, sweetie?" Tim asked, tilting her face up to his. "Your life did not end. Instead, you got a new lease of life. Thank God the tumours were discovered early. I love you and always will do. I'm grateful for the fact that I've been given the opportunity to have you in my life for longer. You do look different but you're on your way to healing. So, I truly don't mind the scars. You shouldn't too. They tell a survivor's tale. For your information, the beautiful woman I married would never be ugly, even when she’s old and grey."
She smile then and he continued, "Think about our boys, sweetie. They have the opportunity of growing up with their mum in their lives. I need you to stay positive, okay. We still have six weeks of radiotherapy to get through and then, reconstruction. Think of the good side, you get to choose exactly how hot you want to look."
Tina laughed now, "Trust you to always point out the positives. Yeah, there's that."

Radiotherapy had left her very tired and incredibly nauseous. Tim had taken some time off work to help her get through the entire process and her only sister had moved in with them for a while to help in running their home. That had left Tim with a lot of time to spend with Tina.
Their friends had been amazing, as well. Someone was always dropping by with food for them or to simply sit and chat with Tina.
Tina hadn't been able to lift their children since the surgery and she had missed that. However, she had been very content with having them placed on her laps, while she gently held them. Somehow, the boys had understood that their mother could not handle any rambunctious play so they had been really gentle around her.
A nanny had been hire to take care of the children but Tim had also learnt how to take care of the boys and was now actively toilet-training eighteen-month old Nathan.
Tina and Tim had definitely grown a lot closer too. This experience had opened their eyes to just how important they were to each other.

Humming to herself now, Tina looked in the mirror and gave a little dance.  She had worn breast prosthesis since her chest had healed. As she put one into her bra now, she thought to herself, “Soon, I won't need you anymore."
Her pathology results had come back and she was finally in the clear. She knew she still had a long way to go in the recovery process but she was ready to start. She was starting the reconstruction procedure today. It would be months still, before it would be finished but, she was very excited.
Tina knew that she would always have scars but she thought of them now, as battle scars. She had fought the best way she knew to and she had conquered. She was grateful that she had been given a second chance at life and she was determined to make the most of it.
Smiling now, she turned to Tim who had been watching her little show with a smile. She stretched a hand to him and said, "Thanks for being my rock, sweetie. I'm ready to leave. Let's go get more beautiful."

P.S.

A lot of women, all over the world, are diagnosed with breast cancer. Early detection and treatment plays a major role in curbing the spread of the cancer.
If you are reading this, it means that you have access to the internet. Please, arm yourself with the right information. Learn how to examine yourself, how and when to get tested. No knowledge is ever wasted and this, could save your life.

Comments

  1. colettoo1:07 am

    This is a good man! Thru thick and thin! A big awareness too! Let's always check our breast always! Get to know abt ur breast urself so that if any thing strange crops up , u will pick it! Thanks Ola! Muaaaaahhhh!!!!!

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  2. Achykes4:04 am

    Ola dear, this is a great read. A lot of women need to be aware and kowledgeable about this vital and deadly disease.Most women trivalize the issue of checking or doing the self examination. i could not agree with you more, if detected early one stands a high chance of survival. To say having a good man and a strong support is to say the least. Ladies be careful who you place your life in their hands. Ola, i am so rooting for this breast cancer awareness campaign!!!! God bless love.

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  3. Anonymous7:50 am

    Yeah,i will also advice that ladies should go 2 d hospital more 4 d check,becos i have a friend who checked herself and didn't want 2 believe she had a LUMP,until she went 2  the Doctor

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  4. Nice one ola,cancer is one of the deadliest disease around.pple get more worried about hiv,but cancer is even worse.self examination is good,also women shld also go for papsmear whr other cancerous cells can also be discovered.

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  5. Wow! This disease called cancer? Is a serious matter. Thank you girl for this reminder.....awareness......awareness......awareness!

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  6. jbaby5:54 pm

    Thanks Ola for the awareness again. A reminder to do the check noted. What struck me the most is the supportive husband. God bless him and keep her for him till death at very old age do they path. Its good to know that there are still good men out there other than my sweet heart and God given hubby. AYO luv you till death do us path. I will choose you over again as my better half. God bless you all good luving and caring husbands and wives.

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  7. Somayina6:24 pm

    I don't like any kind of disease. I hate falling ill.... But it pays to do things to keep me healthy. That includes regular medical check up. My elder sister is a doctor. She, too, has battled what seemed like cancer (cervical). Thankfully, it wasn't. But her advice to me the last time I went to visit her was, "do a pap smear every six months"....funny I heard about that for the first time this year... And that clearly shows how many of us are UNAWARE!

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  8. Anonymous8:47 pm

    Ola nice one

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  9. Thanks for this wonderful write up,anything cancer is deadly and we all need to be very careful especially some of us women who go to mkt to pick used clothes as okirika, ensure u wash dem well before using, many have gone cos of dis deadly disease. You ve just reminded me of one Rev in our church who died last week cos of cancer, was also taken to india and yet , he could not make it. we shld consult any medical expert for proper treatment if it is confirmed to b cancer no matter d type . Well done girl ..

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  10. Coco, You're right about the need for a woman to know the shape AND feel of her breasts. If you don't know what is normal, you can't know what isn't.

    Achykes, True, a good support system helps most people get through even the most serious of ailments. It's a boost to the psyche to know that whatever you go through, you're not alone.

    Anon 7:50, Exactly! Breast self exams can only do so much. Regular mammograms and/or ultrasounds go a long way in identifying growths that might be too small for the hand to feel.

    Noma; Yes, breast cancer is not the only silent killer. Cervical cancer is even worse 'cos it would usually wreck a lot of havoc before it is noticed. Regular pap smears would definitely help identify cancerous cells in the cervix.
    After our discussion yesterday, I made inquiries at the hospital about getting a pap smear done.

    Ng; Awareness o! Spread the word, girl.

    Jbabe; Thank God for your husband. Everyone needs a strong support system. The need for that cannot be over-emphasized.

    Somayina; Yes, girl... so many people, regardless of how educated they are are clueless about serious health conditions. Help spread the word.

    Anon 20:47; Thanks :)

    Oge; You're right, dear. Consultation with medical EXPERTS is the first line of action.

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