Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Breast Cancer Journal (By a Pakistani Woman)

This is a beautiful post we share from a blog by a Pakistani lady about writing on and experiencing breast cancer, especially coming from a specific ethnic background where talking about this is not a very easy task. read it and share!

Courtesy of Breast Cancer Journal Blog:

"To write about breast cancer, I need to be able to write about, well, my breasts. I need to bumble through the awkwardness to find words for my complicated relationship with this part of my body. I remember a life before breasts, a childhood where I thought if only I refused to drink milk, the obscene things would never grow on me. This logic i.e. “drinking more milk=breasts” had roots in easily overheard conversations in a house full of pregnant/lactating aunts and mother. “The more milk you drink, the more milk you’ll make,” I remember my grandmothers’ advice to one aunt or the other as they hid their feeding infants behind dupatta-tents. 

I saw nothing glamorous or beautiful about this process. I felt slightly ashamed for them. No proud-mother breastfeeding images in the media and my own life have swayed me away from the mortification of having grown breasts. Such images are outnumbered by other images of women whose breasts are sexually objectified in a way that creeped me out.

I dealt by slouching. I learned to train a dupatta across my chest. I wore an extra chemise under my kurta to hide the outline of bra straps. Years later, despite an appreciative husband, despite the fulfilling intimacy of breast-feeding my own daughter through the first year of her lactose-intolerant life, I realize that it is a mortification I will never quite grow out of. I just don’t want to talk about my (or anyone else's) breasts.

Which is why, at the first alarming sign of bloody discharge from my left breast, I kept quiet. The “taboos” that prevent early detection of breast cancer don’t just affect rural, illiterate Pakistan. My education, my knowledge of human biology and cancer—all these have to fight very hard against the conservative shame lodged in my very gut.

So when my gut said, “Hide this and it will go away,” I placated my liberal brain with, “It’s just a blocked duct.” Some perfunctory poking convinced me that there was no ‘lump’. Google let me select the reassuring entries I wanted to read. I washed (or hid and threw away) bloodstained bras. After a few weeks, my gut seemed to have been right. The bleeding went away. And I forgot.

Eight months later, pain returned. I found myself having to loosen the Bali minimizers I bind myself into. While applying deodorant one morning, I found chunky lymph nodes under my arm. “Maybe all this is connected,” I thought and spoke hesitantly to my mother, to friends. I was hauled away for a breast exam.

The “lump” was not what I had expected, nor where I had expected it to be. Hiding in what the doctors call the “tail” of the breast, it created no visible protrusion. I had to raise my arm high to be able to feel it at all. In fact, during my initial screening (the “diagnostic clinic” in Islamabad chose to performed an ultrasound instead of the conventional mammogram) the radiologist missed it altogether. Yes, that happens. I mean, if it can happen to Kylie, who can blame a small-town radiologist in Pakistan, right?

But even after feeling the lump, I just knew there wasn’t anything really wrong with me—doesn’t someone with a cancerous tumor at least feel weakness or fatigue? I felt as fit as a fiddle, I could have run a marathon. I was incredibly lucky in having that one persistent friend who harassed me into going to a breast specialist for a proper checkup. The specialist (who found the lump) ordered biopsy.

Meanwhile, well-meaning relatives advised I meet the head of oncology at another hospital.

“This will not affect your fertility,” the Head of Oncology nodded at me sagely. Her hijab didn’t quite cover her fuzzy beard and wise half-smile.

“What won’t?” I thought.

“And I wont impose my beliefs about Hijab on you,” she added with pious tolerance, “but if you dochoose to wear a hijab through the chemo, you can begin early, to help yourself transition…”

Chemo?” my startled brain took a double turn. 

“They haven’t even done a biopsy…What is she talking about?”

Or you can choose a hairpiece,” she went on hastily misreading the shock on my face as being a response to her suggestion that I don a hijab. “I can tell you a place that will create a hairpiece for you just like your own hair…”

“Hairpiece?” my brain screamed again. 

I felt my husband shift uncomfortably next to me. “There goes our sex life, forever,” I thought. I hated that he was in the room, through this premature (probably unnecessary) talk about fertility and baldness. I wanted to lean over and plop my fingers into the smug eyes of the Head of Oncology. Instead, I focused on the fuzz on her chin where it rose from the hijab and smiled warmly. “Thank you so much for all your advice. I’ll come back to you once I have the results of whether this is malignant or not.”

“I have close to a thousand patients,” there was that sage nodding again. “As a survivor, I want you to talk to other patients when we hold our next breast cancer awareness camp...”

I had to place my arm on my husband to silence him.

“That stupid woman!” he exploded once we were out of her clinic. I had to agree with him. Our medical colleges may supply the hospitals of the world with some very skillful doctors but they seem to teachnothing about appropriate patient protocol: what to say to patients and when to say it. “We’re going to Shaukat Khanum,” my husband announced, with an air of finality. “If you’re to get your biopsy done anywhere, that’s where it will be.”

And so, off to Lahore we went: biopsy, X-Ray, blood tests, clip placement, bone scan…and the new Spring Lawn Collections. I knew that if the biopsy did reveal something that required treatment, I wanted to get through it in style. “So Kamal” helped me look better than I felt when I heard the words: Aggressive. Spread to the lymph nodes. Stage two, maybe three. Chemotherapy before surgery.

I can no longer feel squeamish talking about my breasts. I can no longer believe that cancer happens to Other People, that I don’t fall sick. I can no longer say, “No one in my family has ever, ever had cancer.” I can longer naively say, “Even if I have a lump, I would rather not know because everyone has to die.” Death from ignored, untreated cancer is excruciating. There is nothing glamorous about it.

I also know to research my disease and its cure.

Girls, be modest and draw your head coverings over your chest. But don’t draw try to cover the symptoms that should send you running for a mammogram or an MRI. And if, if, if cancer makes the unwelcome entry into your body and your life, don't try very hard to hide it. 

They’ll find out anyway."

Breast Cancer Journal: http://whencancerhits.blogspot.ca/


No comments:

Post a Comment

Please include your initials or first name just so we know a bit about you :)....