The Good Fight – Part 1
February 9, 2017. I am lying still on the bed, in the examination room.
“Dr M. will see you shortly”.
A week earlier, my ob-gyn had referred me to the Breast Imaging center . Something did not feel right in my right breast. Throughout my reproductive years, I had not been the best at self-breast examinations. I winged it. This time, in 23 years, there was no winging anymore. A lump was moving around since January 4th. By February 2nd, the lump was no longer moving. It seemed to have found a resting place.
“Can I call you by a nickname”, said the radiologist (Dr M).
“You can call me ‘Toyin.”
Oluwatoyin seems like a mouth full for most non-Nigerians. However, I love my name. it is a summary of my life’s journey. When I look back at how far the Lord has brought me, He is indeed praise worthy (Oluwatoyin).
“Toyin, is there a history of breast cancer in your family?”, Dr M asked.
“No!”, I responded, shocked and almost choking at the same time.
“Well…. Let me cut to the chase Toyin. I am not happy with what I am seeing at all from your mammogram and ultrasound results. Aside the two tumors in one of your ducts and a pronounced tumor in your lymph node, you have EXTENSIVE calcifications all over your right breast. In older women we tend to see a couple of calcifications, for a woman your age, I do not like what I see at all”
“Your left breast imaging results look perfectly normal”:, Dr M continues. “Your breast tissues are pretty dense. At this point, I would need to do a biopsy to rule out an invasive form of breast cancer. Think about it and see if you want to reschedule the biopsy or have it done right away.”
“Well….(still choked up) It’s a snow storm outside Dr. M, what am I waiting for? Let’s do the biopsy!”
“Okay, I’ll have the nurse prep you for biopsy, no need to change rooms, it’s happening right here”
As Dr. M leaves the room, I hurriedly scramble for my phone. First roll call was my husband. It went straight to voicemail. Second roll call was my sister friend, Uju. Voicemail again. Where are these people when you need them?!! Third and final roll call: my mother. With hot, torrential tears flowing from my eyes, I cried fearfully. The room felt dark. All the oxygen had been sapped. The feeling was dreadful.
“Mummyyyyyyyyyyyy!!….mummmyyyyyy!!, the radiologist thinks it might be cancer”. I am sobbing. I am shaking. I am confused. Think of every negative emotion. I went through the roller coaster slide of them all. “He is about to perform a biopsy! He found calcifications, he found tumors! It’s extensive!”
I am sobbing away; the tears are literally flooding my top. The poor nurse prepping me for biopsy had to take a pause and comfort me as much as she could.
“Tooooyiiiin”, my mum responded calmly; “Ma pa ara e” (don’t kill yourself in Yoruba language). “Whatever the outcome, you will survive this. Go ahead with the biopsy and get the results first. We can move on from there. Calm down, I will talk to you later”
I am not sure what my mum was thinking but she sure knew what to do to allay my fears for a few minutes. With almost 4 decades of experience as a nurse, I could tell the healthcare side of her was speaking to me. I am not sure she had the time to put her mother cap on. She dropped the phone quickly. Not too long, Dr M walked in ready to perform 2 biopsies.
“Usually, you would hear the results in 2 days but with the snow storm, I would say give it a few more days. The results will be sent to your ob-gyn but if you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Here is my contact card with my direct cell phone. I wish you the best of luck. Remember, no matter the outcome, you will get through this”
No matter the outcomes…hmmm… I wanted no other outcome! I wanted this to be a quick dream that never happened. The only outcome I wanted to hear was this was some bad boil that made my lymph node overactive. The only outcome I wanted to hear was no trace of cancer. Zero. Zilch. Nothing! 2017 was meant to be a year of new beginnings, great plans, and good things on all frontiers! Career, ministry, business opportunities, relationships on all front, everything! Cancer was NOT part of that equation.
My very first experience with a cancer patient was Aunty Jumoke Oni. I call her Aunty because her family and my family had been close friends for decades. Her husband and my dad were friends before their wives were in the picture. So, we go way back. Aunty was beautiful, full of life, a staunch believer. They lived in the south-eastern side of Nigeria in Onitsha. By the time, I saw aunty ‘Jummy’, breast cancer had ravaged her body. I can still see her lying lifeless in our guest room before she was transported to the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan. It had become metastatic. She had lost much weight. There was nothing much to do. Aunty did not make it.
I left for studies abroad just before one of my favorite aunties; Dupe got married. Aunty Dupe is one of my mum’s biological baby sister. I was so happy for her. I went home briefly in 2001 and was able to connect with her husband (uncle Banji) and baby daughter; Boye. Uncle Banji was a geologist and a professor at the Federal Polytechnic, Ibadan. I went back to Nigeria, December 2016. I did not meet Uncle Banji. We had lost him to cancer as well. He neither smoked nor drank. He was such a gentleman. Gentle, in my opinion to handle my aunt. Cancer truncated that marriage to less than 15 years.
With all these images playing in my mind, I got dressed, and drove home in the storm.
My husband had tried to contact me but I did not have much strength to talk. Nevertheless, life had to continue. No matter the outcome, God will not allow me to suffer or be tempted more than I can bear. So, I thought. To be honest, I was in the valley of fear and confusion. Amid the horror, I managed to drive home.