When B, for benign, brings relief after cancer scare

Image taken from thestar.com.my -
Image taken from thestar.com.my -

It started with a lump in my right armpit just as Breast Cancer Awareness Month was wrapping up in October, and culminated with the word “benign” – an ending that has the makings of a Hallmark Christmas movie.

Except that the in-between experience felt more like an ominous Bird Box plot, with a stifling level of uncertainty and me wearing a proverbial blindfold in order to avoid the influences of the many things that could cause me to plunge into hysteria.

When I visited the doctor, as is always recommended when a woman detects a lump, especially around the breast area, I was certain that my entire body was riddled with cancer cells and that I had no more than a few days to live. My doctor told me based on what she felt during the exam, I and my albeit “dense” breasts seemed healthy. But, out of an abundance of caution, she referred me to the TT Cancer Society to do further diagnostic tests.

I, however, could not rest easy until I had the results of those tests in my hand. For although I took solace in my doctor’s expertise, I have interviewed and told the breast cancer stories of so many women over the years that I was taking nothing for granted. I remember my former colleague and friend Sandra Chouthi, whose discovery of the disease that eventually took her life began with just a mere dimple on one of her breasts. I recall Keisha Butcher’s story, with her first sign being a “toasty” look on the skin of her breast, and Tezhuannae Glasgow’s tale of courage and a positive outlook. But they too eventually succumbed to cancer. I was terrified!

I wasn’t ready to leave my one child, whose life I want to live to see as it unfolds – the good the bad and the ugly. I want to feel the pride of his life experiences and accomplishments, to advise him when he needs direction, and to be there to console him when he needs a shoulder to cry on or comfortable arms in which to drown his sorrows: graduations; first job; first car; first, second and third girlfriends; marriage if he chooses it; travel; my grandchildren; heartbreaks; sickness; disappointments – I want to be there for everything.

Carol Quash -

I wasn’t ready to leave my family, immediate and extended, and I still have so many things to accomplish – things I have put off because life got in the way.

I also still have plenty of lazing around to do. I just was not ready to leave it all!

Whenever I became overwhelmed during those days of uncertainty, I also recalled some of the other stories I’ve told. The ones in which breast cancer left its physical and emotional scars but was unable to conquer. Women like Helen Mullon, whose beautiful smile belies what she’s been through; Jody Valentine, whose hunger for life is intense; Sarita Rampersad, who refuses to let cancer control her life; Vikki Ramdass, who uses her story to educate others about cancer; Sherma Joseph, who learnt to put everything in perspective after her battle; and Candice Pierre-Sooklal, who fearlessly chose life – hers and that of her unborn baby. These women’s stories and so many others like them guided me through unfamiliar terrain.

Like Rampersad, I began preparing myself for the fight even before it had begun. I envisioned the worst-case scenario and starting charting out a mental course with that in mind. I could already smell my vomit after a round of chemo and it literally made me nauseous, but I was ready to fight. I recall Ramdass telling me she had regretted going to her initial appointments alone after she realised the importance of a support system when going through something like this. So I selected a few family members and girlfriends on whom I could call day or night and who I could count on to be discreet.

My sisters were not among them, because they are criers and starers. I imagined two pairs of the biggest eyes I have ever seen overflowing with tears, while another pair just staring back at me. I decided against telling them. The objective was to live, and I believe I would surely have drowned in their tears or got sucked into the stares had I uttered a word to them. My mom is a chronic worrier, and my two brothers would have no idea what to do or say, so they too were left out of the loop.

My aunt Margaret was in for sure, because nothing ever flusters her. Her “Chile, do you need me to do anything?” soothed me every single time I spoke to her. Like aunty, the gentleman with whom I share my life and who unmutes his mic only when it is absolutely necessary was a rock, making sure I always had a hand to hold, was on time for my appointments and had a hot cup of tea to drink at 3.18 am or whatever time the little sleep I got was interrupted because of worry. My girlfriends Ryanne, Jamie, Mel, Marsha, Kimmy and Annabelle checked in every single day.

My cousin Dale, totally unaware of his role on that specific day, picked me up from one of my appointments. Having gone through the ordeal with his wife a few years ago, I knew he would know exactly what to say or not say when I told him. That afternoon we ended up sitting in his car around the Queen’s Park Savannah devouring two boxes of food and skipping from one random topic to another.

Then we took a leisurely drive through Chinatown on Charlotte Street looking at, commenting on and laughing at the weirdest of things – nighties on mannequins, people interacting, the prices of tomatoes and peppers. It was refreshing.

One common thread from the stories of all those women is that cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Breast self-exams, regular screening and early detection greatly increases the chances of successfully treating and surviving cancer. I kept reminding myself that I had seen the doctor just a few days after I had first felt the lump, and that I’d be okay. The lump, I read, could have been a result of a number of things, among them a change in deodorant or even the covid19 vaccine.

I don’t have to tell you what a relief it was when that beautiful B word jumped out at me from that report, giving me all the energy I needed to haul my Christmas tree out of storage and decorate it. From now till about March next year the plan is to spend my evenings lounging on my couch with my family, a cup of tea or a glass of wine in hand, just looking at my Christmas lights – truly a Hallmark ending.


"When B, for benign, brings relief after cancer scare"

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