As I walked through the doors, the familiar and powerful smell hit me like a truck. It is not so much the medicines and chemicals that overpower my senses; I react to the smell of death, sickness, helplessness, anxiety, confusion, fear and uncertainty. I’m back at the hospital for a scan of my chest to see if that cancer beast is setting up shop again. As much as I hate being here, surrounded by the hospital smells, I was strangely comfortable here. The white ID bracelet circles my wrist like a long lost friend. I spot a few familiar faces. There is Mariamu, the grandmotherly volunteer, hustling and bustling through doors helping lost patients. Oh! I see Daudi. He is the one who helps me during my CT scans. I have come so far in this journey. As I sit in line waiting, I let my mind wonder back to where it all started.
The results were nearing and the air was heavy with anticipation. Everyone was on toes not knowing their fate. We waited for our names to be called with bated breath. Needless to say we were all bundles of nerves.
“Amina Salim!” The nurse shouted my name from down the corridor. I rose with my heart in my mouth and shot a nervous smile to the strangers around me. I had no relative with me. Come to think of it ; We were not strangers. We had a bond we shared. We all were waiting for the same results. We felt the same tension and nervousness. We already had a relationship.
I timidly walked down the corridor. Looks of jealousy (maybe because I was called first?) and those of pity were thrown my way. I could feel my heartbeat rise with each step and I could hear the pounding in my ears.
“Calm down, Amina. You are just getting yourself worked up for nothing,” I scolded myself in my mind.
However, that did very little to calm my racing heart. I broke out in cold sweat as I neared the door behind which my faith was going to be tested.
I rapped thrice on the door before a voice like a foghorn asked me to enter. I sat myself on the hard chair and faced the man who was going to decide my fate. He droned on and on about a lot of things that I was unaware of. I nodded my head here and there to show my “understanding”.
” Amina,” he said,” I am very sorry to tell you that you have breast cancer and have less than a year to live.”
My brain disconnected. Just as suddenly as it did, my mind began racing. ” What about my dreams of settling down and having a family of my own? Why was my existence being reduced to just twelve months?”
The doctor informed me that I could choose to undergo chemotherapy and mastectomy or let the disease be. I, there and then, decided that my only choice was treatment. My treatment journey, however, was fraught with challenges, not the least of which being financial instability. And that is where a certain Ms. Latifa comes in. She offered to pay for my treatment. I shall be forever grateful towards her.
I underwent about six rounds of chemotherapy and I could not be more grateful towards the clinicians for their supportive care. When I experienced a rash, my naturopathic provider offered me a cream. When I suffered from nausea, they advised me to do acupunture. When my hair began falling out, I went to the hospital salon, and the technicians there shaved my hair and gave me an assortment of wigs. It was wonderful to have the care and support I needed, all under one roof.
When I had had to have my mastectomy, I began having second thoughts.
“How was I going to suckle my baby?” I had faith that I was going to survive this ordeal and have a family, even if by adopting a child.
“Is the society going to accept me? With just one breast and a flat region where the other had been?”
Nonetheless, I did not let my courage waver and decided to go on with the surgery. I could have had a breast reconstruction surgery afterwards but I decided to brace myself and embrace my scars. They were the scars to my beautiful and as I look back now, I realise that I have come a long way.
As I am waiting outside the scanning room, I look around. One woman is in red from head to toe, napping in her wheelchair. Another is in a faint blue ‘dera’, reading a large-print of Taifa Leo.
Once again my name is shouted from down the corridor, only now, I am not tensed or nervous. I walk into the room and smile at Daudi, who asks me to settle on the bench. An IV is inserted in the crook of my arm and I am afterwards asked to drink two big cups of gross-tasting liquid contrast that somehow goes down my gullet and lights up my belly for the abdominal scan. It is not tasty. I always hoped that the green labels on the cups would provide a clue as to exactly what this concoction is, but alas, that hope was not to be recognized.
After the hour that I am given to drink this vile stuff, I am called to the scanning room. It is freezing in here. Daudi makes my day by giving me a warm blanket and tells me to lie on the narrow “bed” of the CT scan machine. Once covered, a female nurse, whom I have never seen before, comes in and tells me to pull my jeans down to my knees – under the blanket – so the zipper and button don’t interfere with the scan. The machine starts to clicking and whirring, and Daudi asks me to raise my arms above my head and stretch them out as much as I can with the IV inserted then leaves with the nurse. The room is now quiet except for the chugging of the machine and my heavy breathing.
After several cycles, Daudi comes back in to push the contrast dye into my IV for the chest scan. This has a strange side effect of a gross, warm sensation similar to wetting your pants. For this IV, I literally felt needle entering my vein, but after eleven months of needle sticks, I am not as freaked out as I used to be. After two hours or so of breathing in and out, Daudi comes back in to remove my IV, and I’m all done. I felt a bit wobbly from all that junk injected and ingested by my body.
Let me tell you; The fasting, needle sticks, gross drinks, those are the easy part. The hard part, is the waiting. Waiting to hear what shows up on the scan. No matter what, when I’m out of here, blowing off the stink of the hospital as fast as I can. The next time I shall be back, would be to get my results. For now, I am going enjoy my peace and serenity until then.