Amani* sought death; it rejected her. Now death pursues her, and she wants to live.
Earlier this year in May, she was at a party that had turned from sweet to sour as the evening wore on. While under the influence of alcohol, she had fought with her boyfriend and suffered degrading looks from her friends. After this incident, the party began to stifle her and the walls seemed to close in on her. She needed to leave. Outside, she tried to take in deep breaths to calm down but there was no amount of fresh air that could clear her head. ‘I have had it. I am done,’ she thought to herself. So she went home. Back at her apartment, she felt cloaked by every negative emotion and with the weight of these feelings she stumbled to the store and grabbed a bottle of Jik and another of Roberts antiseptic. Maybe these, would purge the pain.
Back in her room, her shot glass and cigarettes sprawled on the floor, she sat and poured herself a tot of alcohol. She lit a cigarette and wondered how long it would take. How many shots did she need for it to work? What would they say when they found her? Should she leave a note for her son; instructions for her mom? Will her son understand why she did it? She looked at the drink and thought, ‘They will be better off without me.’ She said it to herself over and over as if to justify her actions. As she inhaled, she thought of her grandmother and how she had buried her dreams alongside her when she died.
Memories of her grandma were never without tears. Most people have distant relationships with their grandparents. Not Amani. Theirs was a soul tie. If you saw one, the other was lurking close by. Having been raised by a single mum after the sudden death of her dad, her grandma took her under her wing. They adored each other, went everywhere together and developed traditions that they both enjoyed. For years, her grandma took care of her and toiled day and night even while ailing, to ensure Amani would want for nothing. Her spirit was strong but in time illness possessed her body until one day she breathed her last. After her death, Amani, only 17 at the time, couldn’t find her true North. First her dad, now her grandma. She spiralled out of control. What would become of her, now that her lifeline was no more?
When these thoughts saturated her, she picked up the shot glass and tossed the booze to the back of her throat. She then refilled it with Jik solution and repeated the act. She alternated between Jik, alcohol and the antiseptic and forgot that even if she wouldn’t taste it, she would have to swallow and when she did she could trace its path on its way down. It left behind a burning sensation that needed a certain level of stupid and drunk to do again. Lucky for her, she had plenty of both. So she repeated the action over and over again until her brain stopped her by shutting down.
She woke up in a hospital bed, dazed, with a crater in her mouth and a sketchy recollection of what happened. ‘How did they find me,’ she wondered, ‘and why am I still alive?’ Without warning she got up, started to flail her arms and scream. The nurses rushed to her side and assumed it was because of the pain. It was. But not the physical pain. She was reliving her hurt, her body frantic, her breath a whip of panic. “Let me die! Please let me die!” She couldn’t believe she had to face another day thinking about her issues. The only thing she had to show for her suicide attempt was gastrointestinal damage and a beating heart. Her heart felt so broken she wondered why it didn’t just give in. They had to restrain her and admitted her for psychiatric evaluation. She was diagnosed with major depressive illness and started on treatment and then released home.
“Before all this, I was not your usual girl,” she told me. She had attended good schools and by 21 she was a film producer raking in the dollars. With her financial independence, she was able to move out of home and experience the world in every which way. She partied like a rock star and her drink was never too far from her. “By the time I got to 25 however, I felt I needed to slow down on the fast life and settle down. I stopped the partying, cut down significantly on my drinking and planned to have a baby this year.” So she stopped her contraceptive method late in 2019 in preparation. Man plans, God laughs.
In January however, she started spotting daily. This continued until March and she didn’t think much of it because she figured her body was readjusting from withdrawal of the contraceptive. She did not seek medical attention at this time. In March the spotting became full on bleeding which she assumed was a period. It was not until April that the bleeding became so heavy, she was like an open tap. It is only until she sought medical attention that she was told she was having a miscarriage. She was managed and the bleeding stopped for about a week then started again.
In between these bleeding episodes she would get a watery discharge that would drench her clothes. “This worried me. Something was definitely not right. So I had a scan done that showed a build up of fluid in my uterus.” She was scheduled for a procedure to drain the fluid but the next time she was seen by her doctor, a repeat scan showed a mass. “The doctor told me the mass looked ominous and decided to take a biopsy for histology.” And still she continued to bleed.
A few weeks after her suicidal attempt, her results came out and she was diagnosed with stage 2 cervical cancer.
“When I was diagnosed, my first thought was, why didn’t God just allow me to die when I attempted suicide. Why did He let me live only to be diagnosed with cancer at 25?” Now she was in the ring fighting two battles. Depression and cancer. A fighting ring she did not want to stay in. Things were made worse when they discussed the treatment plan and they said, “You will need to have your uterus removed.”
“But I want to have another baby. That was my plan for 2020.” The mere thought of losing her uterus traumatized her.
“For stage 2 disease, that is the way to go.”
She was left with no choice. With the rallying support of her mom and her aunties, she gave consent for the surgery in spite of what she felt. The operation was uneventful but her post op recovery was gruelling. She was in alot of pain, her wound got infected and she would spend hours in agony. She would pray for God to take her life over and over and He would not answer. Until she got tired. “It takes a great deal of energy to want to die all the time. Some people think it’s the easy way out but it is not. You walk around with heaviness in your spirit. Weighed down by despair.”
One night she just decided enough was enough. Someone told her that God never gives you more than you can handle. “I honestly didn’t think I could handle this. But there must be a reason I am still here and the next person isn’t. Maybe God believes in me more than I believe in me.” The next morning, she got up, took a shower, dressed up and put on make up. She started to focus on healthy eating and surrounded herself with positive thoughts. Her pain gradually reduced and the wound healed.
Amani is now in India eating purple bananas and striped cucumbers. (Apparently the fruit there is like a freak of nature). She is currently undergoing radiotherapy and chemo. She has good days and bad days. Her sorrow is now irregular though sometimes when she stumbles upon it, it feels acute. The only difference now is that she has decided to fight. She calls herself a cancer warrior and is now ready to tell the world her story.
As Narrated to me by *Amani who wishes to remain anonymous.
The cervix is the bottom part of the uterus.
Cervical cancer happens when normal cells in the cervix change into abnormal cells, and grow out of control. Most women whose cervical cancer is found and treated early do very well.
Symptoms: Cervical cancer might not cause any symptoms at first. When it does, it can cause vaginal bleeding that occurs: ●In between menstrual cycles ●After sex ●After menopause These symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not cancer. But if you have vaginal bleeding at these times, seek medical advise.
Tests: A Pap smear is used to screen women for cervical cancer. For this test, your doctor or nurse looks inside your vagina using a device that looks like a duck beak (called a speculum). He or she will then use a small brush to collect cells from the cervix. A doctor will look at the cells under a microscope to see if they are abnormal. If the test results are abnormal, the doctor will follow up with a test called a biopsy. During a biopsy, the doctor will remove a tiny piece of abnormal-looking tissue from the cervix.
Staging: Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out how far a cancer has spread. The right treatment for you will depend a lot on the stage of your cancer, your age, and other health problems. Your treatment will also depend on whether you might want to get pregnant in the future.
Treatment: These include: ●Surgery ●Radiation therapy ●Chemotherapy
After treatment: you will be checked every so often to see if the cancer comes back. Follow-up tests can include exams, Pap tests, and X-rays.
If the cancer comes back or spreads? you might have more surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.
Can cervical cancer be prevented? — In many cases, yes. Almost all cervical cancer is caused by a virus called HPV (human papillomavirus) that is spread through skin-to-skin contact and sex.
Vaccines that prevent people from getting infected with HPV are now available. Ask your doctor if and when you should get an HPV vaccine. This vaccine is available for men and women, and works best if a person receives it before he or she starts having sex. Also, treating precancer cells can keep them from turning into cervical cancer.