Guarding My 36Hs

I know I’ve been quiet for a while. I’ve had a lot to say, but not much will to say it. David S – who I have conferred the title of Supreme MOM Squad Captain upon – often scolds me when I get into these moods, because it always affects the frequency of my blogging.

You paaa…every time you feel sad, you stop writing.

I’m paraphrasing, of course. I can’t remember everything David S says. He has poignant opinions on lots of things.

Between the Kenyan Mall Massacre, the banning of Invisible Man in North Carolina, the murder of  Jonathan Ferrell by the police in the same state and my own concerns with potentially having breast cancer, I just haven’t felt much like talking, tweeting or blogging. The world had officially gone mad in the last two weeks.

Fortunately, it seems like the globe is beginning to spin back on its axis. The hostages in the Mall have been freed, the Board of Ed in North Carolina is today set to reconsider its ban on the book, the police officer responsible for killing Mr. Ferrell is being charged with voluntary manslaughter and I don’t have breast cancer. Hip-hip-hoorah!

Of course, I have to tell you about how I discovered my precious size 36H cups are indeed parasite and mutation cell free. Like anything else in my life, the discovery process and experience was far from mundane.

A few months ago, “guest” left a comment the blog asking me what I would do if I discovered that I had BRCA1, the breast cancer gene that runs in Angelina Jolie’s family. I ignored the question. I had already intimated that I was more concerned about the mental illness that runs in my family than possibly getting cancer. And then a few weeks ago, there was some discharge from my left breast. My husband thought I was lactating. We made a joke of it. I even posted a status on Facebook, offering a glass of milk to anyone who was interested. That’s when everything went to crap.

“You need to get that check out. Lactating two or more years after you give birth is not normal,” said one of my friends. She posted a clip from The Doctors to accompany her statement. Suddenly, I was facing the real possibility that there might be a rogue tumor residing on my pituitary glands.

Great. That’s all I needed. A tumor, which meant I would need surgery, which meant I might not wake up after surgery, which meant I’d leave a legacy of unfinished novels and un-raised children after my passing! I scheduled a doctor’s visit that afternoon. I went in for a checkup today.

Going to the OB/GYN while not pregnant was a new experience for me. I hardly get pap smears and I don’t have a primary care physician. I am a basically walking statistic…which also served to prompt me to act as quickly as I did. Black women die daily from preventable diseases. Out of 20 patients in the office this morning, I was the only Black one. The reasons why we don’t look after our health are varied and steeped in economics and access to healthcare. Anyway, it was weird being in there with no life in my belly. I felt like an outsider.

There was a man in his 40’s gingerly holding on to a glossy strip of an ultrasound printout, frantically dialing someone on his cellphone with his free hand. Expectant mothers in sensible flats waddled in and sat down. There were two other women well into their 50’s, benevolently half-smiling at everyone around them. And then there was me: 35, neither pregnant nor menopausal with periods that show up whenever they have a mind to. Oh…and with milky discharge coming out of her left breast.

photo(16) I signed in with the receptionist, peed in a cup and waited. When I was called to the back, I found out that I am indeed 245 lbs (I often joke about it, but I honestly thought I was 10 lbs lighter), that my blood pressure it good and my hemoglobin is great. I was then instructed to wrap on a paper towel the size of a postage stamp around my waist and don a vest made of the same material. Mortified by the realization that my girth prevented me from covering myself completely with the white material, I ripped it a desperate bid to tie it around my thick waist.

Posting images of myself in the examination room, I joked about having a surprise for my doctor. I had curry yesterday, and it’s back with a vengeance!

photo(17)I took pictures of my paper gown. I plastered a silly smile on my face. But in reality, I was scared. Really, really scared. What if I DID have cancer? It was going to change my life dramatically. It was going to impact my kids’ lives in ways I probably hadn’t considered. And poor, sweet Marshall…

Dr. Roberts came in and shook my hand. He has the best bedside manner, bar none. He had a student nurse with him as well. Most of the Black nurses in his practice are Ethiopian. This one was unmistakably African as well. Judging from her weave, pointed toe black shoes and hazel contacts, I guessed she was West African. When she got closer, I caught a glimpse of her name tag. Constance Yeboah*. A Ghanaian.

Dr. Roberts and I discussed my history for her benefit. My 4 c-sections; my family history; any contraception I use; my breast cancer query and concerns. Finally, the moment of truth had come. It was time for him to examine. I was the second woman in as many days who had come in with concerns about discharge.

“Discharge from a woman’s breast is as common with a woman with breasts,” he said by way of analogy. This made Constance and I both laugh. All women have breasts, silly man! Oh. Right…

“If it’s clear, milky/white, or greenish, it’s perfect normal,” he continued. (I grimaced at the idea of green stuff oozing from my nipples.) “It’s if it’s tinged with blood that should be a cause of concern.”

“Nope. Mine was kinda opaque,” I replied.

“And does it occur frequently?”

“No. It was just the one time.”

His blue eyes twinkled when he smiled. He told me he doubted I had anything to be concerned about as he rubbed my breasts. Constance and I both looked on. I realized I had quite a bit of hair that had grown around my areolas. I was suddenly embarrassed to have a Ghanaian woman peering at my enormous mammaries. Little did I know, my embarrassment would only increase by the minute.

Dr. Roberts asked Constance to have me place my feet in the stirrups, which I did willingly.

“Relax your legs, please.”

I thought I had relaxed my legs. Subconsciously, I knew what was coming next… and I was apprehensive. Constance pushed my legs further apart and parted my pubic hair as if preparing to cornrow it.

Good gravy.  This was terrible. And then I felt it. Something cold and hard being inserted into my core.

“Are you okay,” she asked politely, pushing harder.

“Yes. Yes! Just fine,” I lied. I felt like my virginity was being ripped from me again, this time by a woman in a white lab coat and sensible heels.

After Aspiring Doctor Yeboah dug around in my vagina for a bit, she declared she could not locate my cervix. What the –

“That’s okay! I’ll find it for you,” said Dr. Roberts.

He removed the mammoth obelisk that Constance had rammed into me and replaced it with a smaller, more friendly device. He inserted his fingers, titled the lamp upward, and pointed to the cervix that had recently eluded her. Standing to his feet, he handed her the apparatus to collect a sample for my pap smear. I was not ready for what happened next. She rammed her fist into my opening and pressed on my abdomen. When I tensed, she asked me if everything was okay.

“Yes, yes! Fine,” I gasped, betraying the truth. Dear Zeus, this was so painful!

I asked Dr. Roberts if I was supposed to experience this level of pain in my abdomen when pressed, and he informed me it was to be expected, especially considering how much scar tissue I had on my uterus. He removed his gloves, washed his hands, and declared we were done after I agreed to have a tetanus booster shot. I watched as Constance Yeboah washed her hands as well. She scrubbed, and scrubbed, and scrubbed – and when she was done she scrubbed some more. After she realized I was a fellow Ghanaian (my first name is Abena on my chart), I’m sure she was experiencing the same sense of sully that was coursing over me. After all, who comes AAAALLLL the way from Ghana to America to put their hands in Ghanaian hoo-hoo?

“We’ll call if anything in your results shows up abnormal,” Dr. Roberts said congenially. “Overall, you remain the picture of health.”

“Thank you, Dr. Roberts. And thank you, Constance.”

“You welcome,” Constance returned, slanging as hard as she could without coming off like a complete Johnny Just Come.

I put on my clothes and walked out of the office with the confidence that I neither have breast cancer nor a tumor on my pituitary. It’s much better knowing for sure, I can tell you that much.

Are you taking care of your health? Have you done a check into your family’s health history? Even more importantly, do you have hang ups about certain genders performing your exams? Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be force fingered by a fellow Ghanaian woman, or that I would be so uncomfortable with it. Still, I suppose its something I need to get over it. I’d let the Jolly Green Giant find my cervix and rub down my breasts if it meant saving my life.

  • guestar

    On the Kenyan tragedy, the truth is that the hostages weren’t “freed” . A handful were rescued, but several of the rest were killed. All the explosions, and that questionable fire, well turns out the tops floors including the garage caved in and many of those hostages were possibly buried. The Kenyan government has been covering up a lot, maybe in an attempt to dispel widespread panic. Also learned that a prominent Ghanian author was killed in the attack, his son who was with him survived with some injuries.

    Your story reminds me of an experience I had doing a practical exam in med school. One station required me to do a pelvic exam. The pretend patient was obviously uncomfortable during the exam, but I remember towards the end of it, while pulling the speculum out, the lady let out a blood curdling scream. Because I was being timed, and scored (by another nurse standing in the corner of the room), all I could do was apologize and continue on with the rest of it. I remember walking out of the room, and all the other med students looking at me like ” What the hell did you do to her?” (in restrospect, I think I let the speculum close all the way before pulling it out, so it probably pinched and pulled on something)… I’ve been traumatized as far as pelvic exams are concerned ever since.

    • I didn’t attribute the quote correctly. It was you, not ” guest”! Apologies.

      Lord have His mercy. Can you imagine the pain of someone clamping your INSIDES??? I’d scream as well… and then I’d find your practice and tell every potential patient about the day you wounded my insides.

      And then I’d reenact the horrifying moment!

  • AM

    Heiii!! HHH?? which then means there is ZZZ, right? There must be because what are Aretha Franklinis cocoyams categorized as?

    “which meant I’d leave a legacy of unfinished novels and un-raised children after my passing!”

    This made me laugh for some reason. Glad you are alright though. More power to your alphabet.

    • I think Stone’s teacher wears a 56K. She swallowed 3 pre-k students in her bosom one afternoon. No lie!

    • Please. Aretha Franklin is not carrying cassava breasts. Those are full grown mastiffs. If you approach, they will eat you!

  • Ekuba

    lol @ Malaka: you know we Ghanaians/ Africans do everything with vim. If you don’t believe me, observe the difference between African football & European football or observe how African moms bath their kids (they scrub them well well!) as compared to how White moms do the same (they use those soft sponges and bathe them as if they’re eggs who can crack lol). So it’s no wonder Dr. Constance was examining you with such energy! I swear, before I came to the US, I didn’t know that pap smears & all intra vaginal exams aren’t supposed to be painful o! The good doctors & nurses I used to frequent in GH were extra enthusiastic in their examinations & the result was that it used to hurt like hell! Anyways, I’m glad you didnt have breast cancer. Stay strong 🙂

    • It’s true oooh! Everything we do is harsh-harsh. Driving, bathing, studying…. but in all my days I never imagined a vaginal exam could be done with such vim. Hei!

      Thanks for the well wishes. Sadly, ironically and tragically, my adopted mom died two days of breast cancer 2 days after my exam. She was only 61. 🙁

  • Ekuba

    oh I’m really sorry to hear that Malaka. Sometimes when we have a scare about death it’s actually because someone close to us is making preparations to leave. My sympathies to you & her family. No wonder it’s been hard for you to blog for a while. Please remain positive.

    • You’re right. It’s almost like a warning bell. Thank you so much for your sympathies. It really means a lot 🙂

  • I love reading your posts; humor befits you.

    So sorry about your scare and overall experience- glad you’re safe. This past few days ive been pondering about going for a cervical cancer check up, then as I to give me an additional push, I thought I felt a ‘sharpish’ pain on my right breast…im hesitant to go but right after I click send, ill go get me a check up – I need to sleep at night!

    So, crossing my fingers, uttering the prayers, and here I go!

    • Ha! Glad to entertain you!

      I’m also very glad that everything checked out. I always imagined myself to be way braver than I actually was when faced with the possibility of having a terminal illness. You truly never know how you’re going to react to a situation until you are IN it. Fingers and toes crossed and prayers for you too! Look after your health and eat lots of fresh food. I look forward to a “good report”. 🙂