This photo was taken in my back yard in Trinidad, New Year’s Day 2007. Judging from the amount of champagne still in my glass, it must have just struck midnight.
I’m standing between Aunty Gemma and Aunty Opal, my mom’s sisters who raised me just as much as my mom and sister Petal did. I was a very lucky little bella to have grown up with so many strong female role models.
Aunty Gemma and Aunty Opal are very close to my heart. I’ve learned so much from both of them. Aunty Opal is the youngest sister, and she is an amazing cook, a loving caretaker of children (SO many of my childhood memories are of her playing with me, watching Sesame Street with me, making delicious Chelsea buns or cornbread in the kitchen…). Aunty Gemma is the middle child, and she’s an amazing piano player. She teaches piano lessons now, and she’s a warm, wise, wonderful woman when you get to know her.
Almost exactly a year ago, my Aunty Gemma had a surgical procedure for breast cancer. At the time, she didn’t want to talk about it. But my heart felt so full, and I wanted to talk about the unpredictability of this disease so much,
I wrote this, where I wrote about her cancer without writing about her directly. She didn’t want to put her name and face out there at the time, and I respected her wishes. But now, she’s ready. And I’m so happy and proud she’s allowing me to share her story.
In my original post, I alluded to circumstances that made me angry, health care issues that I knew would not fly in the country where I now reside. I had to ask her about that.
“One thing I’ve learned from all of this… I had the mistaken idea that I couldn’t get breast cancer. A doctor had told me that because I didn’t really have any breasts to speak of, I couldn’t get it. He said cancer forms in fatty tissue, and I didn’t have much of that. So I ignored the itching when it started,” she revealed.
The doctor who told my Aunty Gemma she couldn’t get breast cancer because her breasts weren’t big enough, was the same doctor who helped my mother have me 29 (almost 30) years ago. His name is Dr. Denis Deonarine, and he is currently serving 25 years in prison here in America, for trafficking in pain management drugs.
Every time I think that this man gave my aunt such cavalier, incorrect, idiotic information — an off the cuff diagnosis that was so ignorant and wrong — it makes me incredibly angry.
“I ignored the itching when it first started, because of what the doctor told me. I think it went on for a year, maybe two. It got worse and worse, and I realized I should see a doctor about it.”
At this point, I also want to note that my aunt avoided getting an annual mammogram. She went once, in 1995. And the technology they used in Trinidad at the time wasn’t the best, and whatever the technician did hurt her so much she decided to leave midway through the procedure. She’s realized what a terrible idea that was, and she’s got advice for every woman out there:
“People really need to be aware. It is too serious a thing. Get the recommended checkups. I shouldn’t have ignored all of the advice they gave. I should have been getting mammograms.”
My aunt was lucky — she doesn’t have to have chemotherapy or radiation, because the doctors caught the cancer early and dealt with it aggressively. She’s on a five-year course of medication, and does get some strange side effects.
“I tend to sleep in more now, I’m not sure why. And sometimes I can’t sleep at night, I’ll be awake until 4 in the morning.” Because she’s tired all the time, she has been forced to cut back on regular attendance of her Jehovah’s Witness meetings. My aunt is an extremely religious person, she once attended meetings as frequently as three times a week. Now she makes it once a month, and she regrets that tremendously. But she knows that her family in the religion understand. “And I still have access to Jehovah, because I pray to him all the time. He hears my prayers,” she says.
My Aunty Gemma is living well, taking good care of herself, and doing fine. She is surrounded by love and family, and she’s blessed to have a strong support system. Breast cancer in a country like Trinidad is different than here in America. Every day I get a press release for a different pink Breast Cancer Month item. In some countries, there’s still a reluctance to divulge the disease. Here in America, breast cancer survivors are celebrated as the brave warriors that they are. I want my aunt to know how proud I am of her, and how courageous she is for not only confronting cancer, but overcoming the challenges it has brought to her life. Aunty Gemma’s teaching piano lessons again, and her voice sounds bright when we talk on the phone these days. I can’t wait to see her and hug her when I visit home next year!
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I’ve got a great announcement on behalf of some of my beauty blog friends. The Makeup Girl is doing a helluva makeup giveaway, proceeds of which will go to the Susan G. Komen fund. All you gotta do is donate $10 to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Fund and be entered to win a $300 gift basket full of MAC goodies!
A Girl’s Gotta Spa is giving away Marc Jacob’s Daisy perfume, and every day in October, each of the 40 beauty bloggers in Total Beauty are having giveaways and raising money this month for breast cancer research.
Each day a different blogger will host a giveaway with an entry box with a trivia question about breast cancer on them. Enter the correct answer to be put into the pool to enter to win. All prizes have a minimum value of $250. Click here for their Twitter page that gives you a complete list of giveaways.
Has breast cancer touched you or your family in a personal way? Tell me about it, bellas and fellas. And please feel free to say hello to my aunty, she doesn’t get on the internet much but she will be reading this post!