Your cancer diagnosis will hit you like several gallons of ice-cold water after a banya, the Russian sauna. When you catch your breath you will realise that now you have a before and an after. In the before, the sky is impenetrable-blue, Odwalla Mixed Berry Shuffle smoothie tastes sweet with a hint of sour, and doctor visits are rare. Your family is a normal knot of complications – the kind that is complex and thorny yet not unlaceable – and your relationship with your mother is a test.
In the before, you fail that test over and over again.
In the after, the guillotine of death hovers whenever you look up, the sight of an Odwalla bottles makes you want to vomit, and a random physical pain spawns first a rush of Google diagnoses and then a panic-laced phone call to your doctor. Your family is a knot forever tied and made of steel – and your relationship with your mother is a bigger test.
In the after, you wonder if you have anything left in you for that test.
Breast Cancer – MG Silver – Illustrations
[Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera] Self-exam
Starting somewhere in your early 30s, you will check your breasts religiously because the pamphlets in your OB/GYN’s office all propagate the early detection equals early cure mantra.
You will do it lying on your bed with first your right arm and then your left raised over your head and your fingers palpating the lumpy reality of your mammary glands. You will do it in the shower, your hands soaped with artisanal soap from a bio store. Your stomach will clamp and your jaw will tighten as you apply pressure to your breasts in a circular motion. That happens because you hate doing it, because palpating your body no matter the site makes you jittery, and because you really do not have the slightest idea of what you are looking for.
But you will keep at it – month after month, year after year – because you are terrified. You are terrified specifically of this kind of cancer, the kind that killed two of your great aunts, your grandfather’s sisters.