Wednesday 14 October 2015

Her Death Sentence

Erica Hart Posed Topless to Show Other Black Breast Cancer Survivors that They Are Not Alone
Image: Pinterest
Daniella Gyang woke up slowly from the unconsciousness brought on by the anesthesia. As she became more aware of the fading yellow curtains and the sharp smell of disinfectant, her brain registered the dull pain in her chest region, which prompted her to look down.
The memories came flooding back.

She had just had a mastectomy…on both breasts. She didn’t need to prompt the tears: they fell of their own accord. She felt her chest clogging as she remembered the series of events that led to her current position on the hospital bed at the National Hospital, Abuja.

Daniella had seen a little lump on her right breast. She saw the lump by mistake while trying a new dress at her regular boutique. She pressed it and realized it didn’t hurt. She shrugged as she continued trying more new dresses.

A month later, she noticed the lump was slightly bigger; but only slightly. And it had begun to hurt. Oh! It wasn’t a sharp pain or anything. It was more a discomfort than pain in itself. She wrongly assumed it was a boil. As she got out of the bathroom, she went to her sewing kit and picked up a needle. She went to the mirror, raised her hand, and pierced it.

That was the beginning of her problems.

The resulting wound didn’t heal. In fact, it gradually began to expand and ooze out pus. The wound was an ugly mound that was a variation of rotten green and puke-like yellow. She went from hospital to hospital and the doctors kept treating her for her ‘wound’. They would clean, disinfect, dress it, and tell her to allow it to heal.

For one year, the wound kept expanding and she kept getting treatment for it. As soon as the treatment was done, she would feel some sort of relief but after a week, the pain would return at a higher threshold than it had previously been. It got so bad that she had to leave her job because the smell from her breast was horrible and the flurry of perfumes she doused herself with couldn’t hide the smell that preceded her entrance to any room.

It wasn’t until the injury had almost engulfed her right breast that she was referred to the National Hospital, Abuja.

The doctors were shocked beyond words. ‘Why did you let it get that bad?’ was a question they constantly peppered her with. She couldn’t explain that she didn’t think it was serious and having discovered that it was, didn’t think she could afford a mammography. Quite frankly, she just didn’t want to be told that it was much worse than a stubborn wound.

She wasn’t surprised when they told her that she had breast cancer and it had metastasized. They told her they needed to go to surgery immediately if they were, in any way, going to try to save her life. As she contemplated what it would mean to have her right breast removed, the head Oncologist told her that he had more bad news. The cancer had spread to her other breast and even that one had to go. And to make matters worse, they were hoping they could contain the spread such that it didn’t affect her lymph nodes. She still had to undergo chemotherapy but their best option was to remove both breasts.

She made her decision. She wiped her tears and told the doctors to cut them off. And though she felt she had just been given her death sentence, she was not going to let herself die if there was a chance for survival. They went to the theatre two days later.

Daniella looked at the flat bandage wrapped around what would have been mounds of her C-Cup breasts. She felt more than physical pain as she imagined her chances of ever getting married taking a nosedive. She was 40 years old and had been single, not by choice, but by a combination of factors.

Her parents died when she was eighteen. As the first child with four siblings, she had to go to work to prevent her Uncles from splitting them. She worked hard enough for four people and God blessed her work. She soon rose in the ranks and had her business going very strong. She single-handedly sent her brothers and sisters through school, up to their Masters level. She paid for her sisters’ marriages and got them settled into their homes. Only her brothers remained and even though they had good jobs to provide for them, she still remained a major source of income for them. As she struggled for her siblings, she got older and older and didn’t care about the many suitors who wanted her. When her disease started, most of the suitors dropped out of the race but Renda Njawe remained faithful in his pursuit of her. He had been with her all through the spread of the cancer and even through her surgery.

When she woke up and didn’t see him, didn’t see any of her siblings, colleagues, or church members, she knew that she was on her own. She didn’t feel mad about Renda leaving her: he was, after all, a breast man, a thing he had mentioned quite a few times. She could not imagine such a man marrying a woman without breasts. She was sad though that the family she sacrificed so much for could not even keep vigil after her life-changing surgery. She felt like she had wasted her life on people who continually sapped her energy and finances and who really didn’t care about her. The surgery didn’t even break her spirit as much as the loneliness wrapped tighter than her bandages did.

Daniella sobbed in earnest and uncontrollably as she wondered what her life would look like from this point on. She cried until she fell back into unconsciousness.

Breast Self Examination
Image: Orijin Culture
Breast Cancer is one of the biggest problems affecting women in Nigeria today. It is said that there are over four million reported cases of women living with breast cancer. The numbers of women living with breast cancer who do not get diagnosed and whose cases go unreported are projected to be far above the reported cases. I lost two aunts who battled breast cancer for years and it really opened my mind to the prevalence of the problem affecting women. We cannot continue to be ignorant about issues that portend great danger to us. We need to carry out routine breast self-examinations and be very careful about lumps, growths, boils, injuries, and the likes that we find on our breasts. Don’t wait until a lump is as big as a mango seed before presenting yourself at the hospital. Any anomaly on your breast should be reported immediately to, if possible, an Oncologist.

Women suffer so much in this world: don’t let breast cancer be another thorn in our already bruised flesh.

Join us at Shades of Us and fight Breast Cancer.