Each day that dawned, was met with a fervent prayer, I was hoping for some miracle of healing and grace to occur but it seemed as if I was fighting a losing battle with a faceless giant that equally had a very big name.
I was still breast feeding my infant when I found the little bump. I mentioned it in passing to a friend over lunch and she suggested that I should see a doctor. She tried to reassure me that it was probably nothing to panic over, that I should try and do the needful to get it over and done with. I let it slide for a bit. Partially because I was in denial and maybe, I thought that the more I failed to acknowledge its presence, it would probably go away through wishful thinking after all, I was just 32 years old.
What I had also failed to tell her was that I did not have the funds to run the necessary tests. My pride stood in my way.
The fact of the matter is that the society where I came from was a society where medical intervention came at an enormous cost to its citizenry and money was not readily available. There was no available medical insurance for the commonest man and we depended heavily on local chemists for almost every ailment known to man. It was cheaper.
Yet that nagging fear could not be suppressed and I eventually summoned the courage to talk to a midwife during a routine clinical immunization for my child.
She palpated my breasts and in her exact words, told me that my breasts were turgid, possibly because I was still breastfeeding and the milk ducts were always filling up. She said that she couldn’t really feel anything and I left with a little sense of relief and hope in my heart.
Months went by and the bump became a sizable lump. I could no longer deny to myself that something was wrong. Scurrying around for much needed funds, I raised the prohibitive amount and traveled to the city to run the required mammography, biopsies, blood work and so forth. The results came back packing a punch. I had ductal carcinoma in situ – simply put, I had breast cancer.
I was numb from shock, even though a part of me was braced for any bad news, I still felt as if a wrecking ball had just hit me. I hesitated to share my news with anyone for a while. In the privacy of my closet, I simply railed at God in madness and sadness, oscillating between deep depression and the need to fight and stay alive. The pressure of it all sat heavily on my shoulders and each day was filled with indescribable heart ache.
To fight, I had to share my sad news with family and friends alike. They rallied around me, praying for me, raising money for surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Due to the spread to both breasts, I had a double mastectomy followed by a battery of chemotherapy and radiation. Needless to say, I lost my hair along with my breasts, lost tremendous amount of weight and felt sick most of the time.
All seemed clear for a brief interlude of three years. My life had changed irrevocably and my days were perpetually dotted with Tamoxifen and a whole cocktail of other drugs. I could have lived with that, if that is what it would have taken, but just a few weeks after my thirty-fifth birthday, I started coughing continuously and suffered from shortness of breath.
With my previous experience, I did not waste time to consult a doctor. My lungs were now affected, the cancer had metastasized.
“How long”? I asked the doctor.
As gently as he could, he told me, months, a year, who knows? Just try and put your house in order.
We fought some more but time was running out. The medical approach was now palliative. I often wondered, if early detection would have saved my life? Statistically, it has been proven that the mortality rate can be reduced through early screening and detection.
I thought of my two boys and cried out my heart that I would not live to see them grow. I wept for dreams that would never have the opportunity to materialize. I tried to make peace with myself and my World. I stopped castigating myself for procrastinating when I found the first little bump. I started soaking up as much memories as I could take in (on the days that I felt strong enough), searching for laughter with new intent and purpose and I began to experience a peace of mind that I could not explain.
Documenting all my thoughts, writing little letters to my boys and my husband, I wrote each one to mark the milestones in their lives and then, I planned my own funeral.
I was laid to rest peacefully, transitioning from a familiar World to one that I could only imagine. Fortunately, I am free from cancer, free from its debilitating pain and mind boggling cost. At long last, I get to be a singing soprano in the heavenly choirs.
© Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha
Nota bene: Many of us have probably lost a family member or a dear friend to cancer. We may even know someone currently battling with this difficult challenge. Let us keep praying that an absolute cure will be found for this scourge that is decimating mankind. Let us uphold those who journey through this affliction, that they receive extraordinary grace to fight and slay this giant.