I sat at the reception area of the clinic waiting anxiously for my test result. The past week had seemed pretty slow as I looked at the calendar everyday counting how many more days there was to get this result. The reason I was anxious wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone- cells were taken from the lump found in my left breast for a biopsy. A biopsy is a diagnostic test that would confirm if the lump found in my breast was benign (this I wished for) or malignant, in which case, I seriously wished otherwise.
I was very much aware of the importance of having regular breast examinations but I had never taken it seriously. As a matter of fact, in the past five years, I never thought of having one. The first and last time I ever did was at a breast cancer awareness seminar organised by my church six years ago when I was only 24 years old.
Three years following that, I clocked 27 and my major concern just like many other girls my age in the Nigerian society was the fact that my biological clock was ticking and I still hadn’t found Mr Right. I was on every date site out there, attended events I wasn’t invited to-all I needed was to have an idea of the target audience and if it fell within my search category, I was there. I changed churches every three months if I couldn’t get what I wanted-a husband material. My search continued until some months ago when I finally met the perfect guy and was going to be married to him on my 30th birthday.
Frank was a celebrity investment banker with the first and most popular television show on everything money related. He was over 6 ft tall with a very smooth and clear shiny dark skin, a hopeless romantic with a deep voice that could lift spirits and a perfect accent. Getting married to Frank was a dream come true and I looked forward to it until 3 days before the wedding when I visited the bridal shop to try on my wedding dress one last time. I walked into the shop confidently with a lot of energy even after climbing three flights of stairs. My wedding was almost here. I was too excited to run of breath at any point.
“Welcome Caroline.” The shop attendant said out loud from one end of the room.
“Oh. Thank you Ada.” I replied, trying to find her beneath the pile of wedding dresses she was sorting out. I had quickly become the centre of attraction at the store, the moment I shared my story on how I got Frank to date and marry me in less than six months, the first time I visited to find my wedding dress. I felt like a motivational and Inspirational speaker at the end of my story I thought that I could give the profession a try after the wedding with a signature speech, “How to get a husband in six months.” I thought of it as the next big thing and how this could change my life. Now I had a husband, the next should be making Forbes list-I was that confident in my abilities knowing that whenever I had my heart at something, I never stopped until I got it. In my entire life, I had never had a group of people listen to me with so much fire in their eyes especially the friends of the brides to be. I mean who wouldn’t want tips that could land them the husband of their dreams in a few weeks.
I approached the dressing room after Ada handed me my wedding dress and veil. It looked perfect!
It was a ball gown wedding dress which was tightly fitted at the top showing no cleavage at all. I was getting married in one of the orthodox churches in Lagos, where you were sternly warned from the very first day of marriage class not to come in with dresses that exposed the tiniest cleavage. “You will be sent back and we won’t hear abeg (You will be sent back and we will not listen to your plea).” The Marriage committee chairlady said with a straight face as she looked around bringing down her glasses to the top of her nose. It was my wish to look very fashionable on my wedding day, probably even get featured on the latest blogs but being married meant more and I wasn’t going to compromise it for anything. I had no makeup on at the time as I was undergoing a skin glow treatment to look flawless on my wedding day but I could already see how stunning I was going to look.
“Can I help you with that?” A bride to be asked from where she sat.
“What?” I asked looking at everyone of them.
“Your breasts.” They laughed.
“My breasts?” I repeated as I turned around to look in the mirror.
“You need to adjust this one.” She said as she came closer pointing to my left breast.
“Okay. Can you help me please.” I said laughing. The wedding dress was made in such a way that you wouldn’t need to wear a bra but even at that you had to take the time to adjust your breasts in them so they fit perfectly.
“Of course.” She said as she stood in front of me and slipped her palm into the dress in an attempt to place my breasts in the right position.
“Thank you” I said with a smile as she took her palms out
“Okay” She replied looking at me funny.
“Is there a problem” I asked as I looked at her closely.
“No problem at all.” She said moving away slowly back to her seat with the same look on her face. I was too excited to be bothered about what a stranger was thinking about me, my dress or breasts. I just didn’t care
“Hi Caroline. I’m a nurse working at the clinic just opposite this building.”
“Okay” I replied, not sure why she was up in my face again with this unnecessary information as I turned back to the mirror.
“I’m sorry Caroline. I felt a lump in your left breast and it’s a quite huge. Did you know about this? She asked calmly.”
I wasn’t sure how to react when I heard what she had to say. I went silent for about two minutes before finding the courage to turn around and look her in the face hoping it was one of those expensive jokes.
“Did you know about it?” She asked again.
“No” I replied in a very low tone as I stepped down from the platform.
“You don’t have to be scared. It can be taken care of especially if you begin to act now.” She said holding my hands as she walked me to the nearest available seat.
“So what do I do?” I asked as tears began to roll down my eyes. Everyone in the store began to move towards me, some with pity written all over their faces, others with different stories of how they knew a person or two who had breast cancer or a mastectomy. None of these stories were encouraging and it just made me feel worse. What started out as a very exciting day soon started to feel differently.
The Nurse helped me to the changing room and assisted me in taking off the gown. While she unzipped the dress, she asked if I would want to feel the lump myself and I nodded in the affirmative. She took my palms and placed them at the site where she felt it. For the first time, I felt a lump I had no idea was in my breast or for how long it had been there. My heart began to race faster and this time I began to cry uncontrollably. How could I have been so careless?
“We can go to my clinic now if it’s okay. It is just across the road. The earlier you know what it is and take the right course of action, the better.”
I agreed and followed her. On getting there, the Nurse explained to her colleagues what the problem was as I could barely say a word. The doctor took her time to examine my breasts herself and explained the course of action to me. She also gave me insights to the best and worst case scenario so I could have my mind prepared. I had never been so scared in my entire life.
“Are you married Caroline?” She asked.
“Not yet but soon” I replied wiping my face.
“This is the time when you let him know what’s going on.”
It was funny how I never thought of Franklin up until that point. How was I supposed to tell a man I was to be married to in a few days I had a lump and it may be breast cancer.
I told you of how amazing Franklin was but what I didn’t say was the fact that he lost his mum to breast cancer and had repeatedly said to me it was the most scary time of his life. He also asked many times, if I examined my breasts regularly and even offered to take me to the doctors office along with his sister once, but I refused because it simply didn’t seem important to me at the time-planning the wedding was. His sister and aunts had regular breast screenings since they had a family history of the disease and for this reason I thought it wasn’t important for me.
After pondering on the issue of whether or not to inform Franklin before the wedding, I decided to go ahead with the wedding without telling him. Franklin was nice but I knew what worrying could do to him. He was very good at calculating his risks not just with his job as an investment banker but with his everyday life and so I knew he could postpone the wedding with the reason being that he needed me to have more time to attend to my health and I didn’t want that. I had worked so hard to get to this point in my life where I finally got myself a husband to end up ruining all of it.
On the wedding day, I had the perfect dress and makeup on. I looked so beautiful but as I read the vows and said “I do” I felt as though I was living a lie. The smile on Franklin’s face was so pure and priceless, I felt like I was the worst person in the world.
“Hey babe. Why did it take so long before you said, I do. You scared me. Or was that to scare me?” He said as he hugged and kissed me in the car as we drove to the venue for the reception. Even if I wasn’t sure what my diagnosis was going to be, I managed to put away the thought for a while and just consciously enjoy the best day of my life even if it wasn’t going to last a lifetime, I was willing to take the risk.
Just as we checked into the hotel room from where we planned to leave for our honeymoon, I decided not to live a lie any more.
“Franklin, I’ve got a lump in my left breast and it may be breast cancer.”
“What did you just say?” He asked as he sat up and looked in my face and then my breasts.
“No you don’t Caroline” He said as he stood up, putting his hands on his head and looking out of the window.
“When did you find out and how long has it been there?” He asked still looking away.
“I found it three days ago and I don’t know how long it’s been there.”
“Really? Caroline. And you just couldn’t tell me”
“I was scared.” I said as I began to cry.
“And what have you done about it so far?”
“I got an appointment for a possible lumpectomy or mastectomy in less than two weeks depending on the results.”
“Wow. Caroline. I can’t believe you would do this.” He said as he laid beside me on the bed looking at the ceiling for about an hour where we said nothing to each other.
“Caroline. We may need to postpone the honeymoon until after your surgery.” He said just as he turned in the opposite direction.
The next morning, I watched him pack and repack his bag without saying a word.
After he was done, he brought out a book and pen and was writing non stop for about 30 minutes after which he brought out his laptop and did the same thing.
For the next week, we hardly spoke to each other. Despite this, Franklin was still very caring, asking if I was okay, reminding me to eat and everything else that didn’t require more than a minute of conversation. I never imagined my honeymoon would be such a tragedy.
One week later, Franklin woke me up in the middle of the night to have a conversation. I could barely sleep every night and so it didn’t take much for me to wake up.
“Caroline. I’m hurt not because you may have breast cancer but because you didn’t think to tell me. You know my family has a history with this disease. You know how much regular checks means to me just because I need every member of my family to be safe. Why then will you keep this away from me?”
I felt his pain but I didn’t think I had the right words to explain so I didn”t say anything I just kept quiet and continued to look him in the eyes as tears began to build up in my eyes.
“I’ll be travelling for a short course in the United States this evening. I’ll be back very shortly. I feel like I need some time to process all of these. Let me know what the doctors say on time please.” He said as he stood up and walked out of the room. Later that evening, I watched him as he packed his suitcase, came over to give me a hug and left and then it dawned on me how quickly my life was turning into a nightmare.
“Join me in my office Caroline.” Dr Joy said as she walked into the reception.
I am sorry Caroline. The cancer cells had spread beyond the margins and is more likely to spread further if nothing is done quickly. We advise you have a mastectomy and start treatments as soon as possible. We will refer you to one of the best oncologists for follow-up. I am so sorry.” She said as she held my hands.
There I was on my own with a breast cancer diagnosis without a husband or family. I informed Franklin about the results telling him how much I needed him to be with me at this time. When I didn’t get a response from him, I concluded I was on my own after all.
While I was getting prepared for surgery in the preoperative room, I saw Franklin walk in. I wasn’t sure how to react- should I be excited or sad preparing for the worse – a breakup.
“Hi babe. I missed you. I’ve been in touch with Dr Joy. I wasn’t away on a course, I went to check for the best hospital where you could have a breast reconstruction and I found one. You will be fine. I love you.” He said smiling as pecked me on the forehead.
“Thank you Franklin. I love you too” I said with tears in my eyes. I couldn’t believe he was right in front of me and had done all of that for me.
I travelled back to the US with Franklin, where I had my reconstructive surgery. Shortly after recovery, Franklin and I flew to the Maldives for the honeymoon of a lifetime. I’m happy to say I got my life back only with the help of God and the love and support of my husband. I couldn’t have done it alone. So, Instead of becoming an inspirational speaker teaching ladies how to get a husband in six months, I decided to setup an NGO providing women with breast cancer diagnosis with resources and support through the process of surgery and recovery. I guess I made the best choice after all.