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.