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Breast Cancer

Living in denial: A piece on breast cancer

Dr. Akin-Onitolo A.



The first drops of freezing water sprinkle themselves on your body as you drop the purple bowl into the receiving paint bucket filled to the brim. Roosters announce impending daylight and you hurry your bath so you can skip the usual bathroom queue. You soap your face slowly, the pain in your left arm restricting much movement. Then you sponge your body, lounging over one bit at a time, carefully avoiding your swollen left breast, wondering how long this would last.
Last night, Emma argued with you again. “Have you told her?” he asked from behind reading glasses. You eyed him and followed it up with a long hiss before turning to stare at the wall of peeling green paint. The nurse who lived in your yard (face-me-I-face-you house) was a chatterbox; you feared the entire neighbourhood would know if you told her about the thing growing in your breast. So you were waiting for this month’s pay from your boutique sales attendant job to go to the general hospital.
He sighed. “This thing is getting worse now. At least let’s know what it is. If it is cancer, let’s start treatment.”
“Ngwanu, it is you that will have cancer,” you quickly replied. “What kind of talk is this?”
“You know it was small before, now, it’s everywhere. My dear, let us do something.” He was self-appointed monitor having noticed the lump from day one.
“Something like what?”
“If they need to cut it off, let them. Eh?”
“Nobody is cutting anything. I will not have any operation. Please leave me alone.”
A lone tear slipped to your pillow as you blinked back more. This was not disappearing as you had expected. Your confidence in your pastor’s wife had led to series of fasting and prayers but it had worsened instead. Now your arm was affected too – swollen and painful that you could barely lift it. Emma touched you lightly. “I’m sorry, my dear. Everything will be fine,” he said. You turned slowly to him and offered no resistance to his lovemaking, willing things to return to how they once were – you anxiously preparing for your wedding.
You wonder if Emma would still marry you. Imagine it was cancer, (God forbid!) you would probably just kill yourself. It beats you that your twenty-seven year old self could contract such a thing. You need to do something about it.
“Na who dey there?” your neighbour’s husband asks, shattering the stillness of dawn.
“Oga Fred, na me. No vex, I go soon finish.”
Even putting your wrapper around your body is a difficulty. You manage to your room, and let it fall as soon as you’re inside the door. The mirror standing against the sofa provides a surprising image – you are skinny; your thighs are little more than fair-sized yam tubers and your lumpy left breast has an unusual pale yellow colour with dark dots. Tears come. You sit on the edge of the bed which takes up most of the space in your little room, a side of you still reflected in the mirror, and let them flow. When you feel better, you struggle into your clothes with some assistance and a reaffirmed resolve. You’ll wait one more week for your pay on the twenty-fifth because without it, you can do nothing.

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Dr. Akin-onitolo A. is a graduate of the University of Lagos whose mission is to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) using health promotion and improved health literacy. She is an MDCN (Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria) certified doctor who had her elective at King's College London. Hugely interested in travel, meeting people and generally being creative, reading and writing fiction are a few hobbies you could find her engaged in during her spare time. Catch up with her on Twitter @Akinonitolo and Instagram @t_onitolo