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Yasmine lives..

Updated: 3 days ago



Yasmine was born twice. First, as a baby girl on the 3rd of July, on a grey cloudy day; and then again, as an adult on the 13th of May, on a clear cloudless day.


A few weeks earlier, she had strolled into a private hospital in search of a breast clinic. She met a nurse who gave her directions, but she missed the entrance and got in through the back. “Excuse me,” she asked one of the cleaners, “where is the reception?”


“It’s on the other side. You seem to have come in through the back. Walk along that corridor until you get to the other end.”


As she marched on, she came across an open door to her left. She peered in and saw several patients on recliner beds; their hands tethered to bottles on a drip by tubes. Some were asleep; others stared back at her as if they could see through her to the concrete wall. Still others sat, potted as plants.


The sight made her jittery. ‘Who were those people?’ she wondered. When she got to the reception, she found a gentleman, “Morning. My name is Dr Yasmine Allela. I would like to book an appointment to see a doctor.”


“Ok. What is the issue?”


“I think I have a lump in my breast.”


“Ok.” He booked her in. When she turned to leave, this time through another route, he added, “I pray I don’t see you in this clinic again.”


His words hung briefly in the air, and then hit her! Her thoughts ran jumbled through her head as she rushed through the corridors and threw herself out on to the parking lot. When she got inside her car, she felt a bubble of unhinged sadness rise from the pit of her stomach. She opened up her safe of memories — tears staining her face — and pulled out her dad’s file. Her dad who was no more because of liver cancer. Then his brother followed — breast cancer; and then another brother, breast cancer again. Was she next? At just 41? When she had so much to live for? A new relationship eight months old, young children, the job of her dreams in a Multinational pharmaceutical industry. ‘Not now,’ she thought and hoped it was nothing.


The following week she came for her appointment. This time, through the front entrance. The weather did not match her mood. The sky was watercolour blue; only marred by a cloud here or there. When her turn came, she walked in to the consultation room, and came face to face with a doctor who was athletically built with fine hair and earth coloured skin. Everything about her was delicate and she had the most gratifying smile.


“Come in Yasmine,” Dr Miriam said and stood to welcome her, “have a seat.” She took time to put Yasmine at ease before she delved gently into what led to her visit.


“Three months ago, while taking a shower, I felt a hard lump here.” Yasmine pointed to the area under her collar bone on her right breast. “I told my partner about it and he felt it too.”


By the time Yasmine left the consultation room, she felt weightless; as if she had met a friend who she hadn’t seen for years. Dr Miriam took her through the next steps, explaining each one in detail despite knowing Yasmine was a Pharmacist. She sent her for a mammogram and an ultrasound and was to come for review in a week. But then Dr Miriam became ill and was out of work for three weeks. Yasmine did not want to be seen by anyone else, so she opted to wait for her to get better. When they finally met, Dr Miriam looked at the ultrasound and said, “I see a suspicious mass. We need to do a biopsy to confirm what it could be.”


On the 13th of May, Yasmine went for her biopsy results; her partner with her. Dr Miriam, though, was not her usual self. “What was my password again?” she asked herself as she tried to sign into the system thrice. When she finally settled down, she told Yasmine, “Come. Sit next to me so that we can look at the results together.” And using words so soft, it felt like they were wrapped in oil, she said, “I am sorry Yasmine. It’s cancer.”


Yasmine found herself in a soundless fog. Dr Miriam’s lips moved in slow motion. Some words fought through the fog and reached her. Like, ‘Triple negative cancer’ and ‘aggressive’ and ‘genetic predisposition.’ But it all felt foreign. Her partner noticed that she had coiled into herself. He was the kind of man who could sense by the shape of her shoulders that her mood had changed. So he asked all the questions.


Then at some point they both turned to look at her. She sat still, holding her body tight like a guitar string wound around itself. Their lips were no longer moving. Dr Miriam asked a bit too loudly, “Yasmine. Do you have any questions?”


“Nnn…ooo. Not at the moment.”


“You can take my number and anytime you want to talk, just call. Whatever you need. Even if you want to cry…”


Suddenly they heard an ugly guttural sound; like that of a wounded animal. In this case, the animal was Yasmine. The groans came out of her in waves threatening to draw her out to sea and drown her. She cried for what seemed like eternity and they stood over her, holding her. Not rushing her. Not saying anything. Yasmine didn’t know this then, but as they walked out of the clinic, she left herself behind and started over as someone new.


Later, she had to tell her siblings and call her mom to relay news that one wants so badly to be false.


The management plan was laid out. She would need to go for surgery then chemotherapy and then radiotherapy. So on the 1st of June, Yasmine was admitted to the hospital for the procedure.


The operation was uneventful save for some drains that were left dangling from her right breast to channel out excess fluid. It forced her to sleep on one side to avoid kinking the tube. “I walked around the house carrying a container of my body fluids around and I was supposed to empty it every day and record it in a book.” On the day the drain was removed, she couldn’t believe just how long the tube they had left inside was. “I felt like I should have been in pain just by the mere sight of it.” But the pain management was so good, she never twitched for a moment post op.


Then it was time for chemo.


Besides the information that Dr. Miriam had given her, she had an extensive chat with the oncologist on what to expect, the side effects and they even threw in a booklet of information to boot. No stone was left unturned. “What are you planning to do with your hair?” The oncologist asked her. She had just attached sister locks onto her head.


“Nothing. I will just let the braids fall off,” she said nonchalantly.


“I don’t think you want to do that.”


But she had spent a fortune on that hair. She wanted to milk it for as long as she could.


Even if she had all the information she needed, and overwhelming support from her family and friends, she still went on to look for a support group. She came across several foreign groups that helped to even the bumpy path she was on. She found a place where people shared their experiences openly. If any of them had a big day coming up, the admin would write, “Hey guys so and so is due for surgery tomorrow. Let’s show them some love.” It’s in one of those groups that she met a Kenyan lady who had walked the path before her. And who convinced her to undo her braids.


The day of her first cycle came. She found herself in the same room she had peered into the first day she came looking for a doctor. They put her on a regimen called AC. ( I will not bore you with the names of the individual drugs) But Yasmine cannot forget the drug with the letter A — Adriamycin. It was red in colour and was nicknamed the ‘red devil’ because of its side effects. When the drip was opened her eyes would follow the red fluid as it left its container, and flowed into her veins. Even if the adverse effects were not instant, she imagined the drug flowing through her, looking for something to devour. And it did. She developed mouth and genital sores. That drug traumatised her so much she was unable to take any red coloured fluids for a while.


On the 10th day after her first cycle her hair started to fall. In large chunks. In a state of panic she told her partner, “my hair is falling out. Look,” as she plucked a handful of hair from her head, her eyes watery.


“Yasmine don’t worry. Remember we were told it is one of the side effects. It will grow back and you’re still so beautiful.”


With the surge of strength his words gave her, she went to a barber and asked them to shave it. She was accompanied by her daughter and at her insistence, she carried some of the hair back home where she kept it in a ziplock bag.


The surge of strength didn’t last long. Yasmine was unable to look at herself in the mirror. Gone was her thick, coarse hair; in its place, a shiny bald head. She covered her head in wigs and hats even in the house because whenever she looked at herself in the mirror she felt like she was looking at a stranger. The only time she stopped covering her head, was when she got night sweats. “There is something we call chemopause, where your menses disappear and you get symptoms of menopause.” She would get drenched to the point of uncovering her head to release some steam. “If it wasn’t for those support groups, I would have suffered alone.” When she spoke of the sores, someone else had gone through the same. When she complained of night sweats, someone had gone through that too. It was comforting to her that women thousands of miles away, could identify with her. And the treatment they were undergoing was exactly the same one she was getting.


Still, nothing prepared her for the day she woke up and her eyebrows and eyelashes were gone. All her body hair just peeled off her skin. Before she started chemo she had told her doc, “On the bright side, I have wanted to lose some weight. So I am hoping the chemo causes me to shed a few pounds.” Ha! She didn’t even lose a gram. Instead because she was on steroids, she acquired a moon face and a chemo belly. Her eyelids looked naked and swollen as if she had been woken up unexpectedly from sleep. “I looked and felt like an egg on stilts. I guess this was the price of staying alive.”


She soon learned how to draw her eyebrows so perfectly no one could tell. And even if sometimes, she cried in her room, she always met the world with a smile. There were days her energy levels were just enough to allow her to open her eyes and on those days, she stayed in bed. But when her joules went up a bit, she would take to her heels to make the most of her days.


The day chemo ended, Yasmine exhaled.


She took a short break then went back for radiotherapy; which was easier. 25 sessions in total and she had a session every day. She would wake up, go to the hospital for a session, then head to work. That came to an end too. She is now on surveillance.


There are days she is fearful about recurrence. She sometimes stays up at night digging through the rabbit hole of google; looking at survival rates, recurrence rates. And there is no one as pessimistic as google. Always gives the worst case scenario. “No one knows how long they have on this earth. But with cancer, it’s a constant thought that hangs over your head. I don’t know if I have 40 years or two years.” So for that reason, Yasmine lives. She does not wait for the next hour or the next day. She does it, Now!


Throughout this journey, she has experienced the meaning of sacrificial love. From her partner who didn’t have to stay but has, and has never missed a single appointment. To her sisters who accompany her to hospital and sit by her during her chemo sessions. To friends who have come from far to visit. Nothing gives one more perspective than this. To spend time with those that matter.


Her hair has grown back. It’s soft and curly and no longer 4C hair. “I now have 3A type of hair.”

Her eyebrows and eyelashes are also back. “I am so grateful for that support group. The one thing they taught me is to be cheerful through it all. There were blue days, but I chose bright days over the blue days. I use humour to help me get through the really tough days. People associate cancer with death and suffering. But you can choose to fight through the gloom and live.”



Yasmin before treatment



Yasmine during treatment




Yasmine now


As Narrated to me by Dr Yasmine Allela



 

Breast cancer occurs when normal cells in the breast change and grow out of control. It is commoner in women than men but men can also get the disease. Women sometimes discover they have breast cancer because they find a lump in one of their breasts. Breast cancer sometimes runs in families. If you feel a lump in your breast, see your doctor right away.


Tests: — A special kind of X-ray called a mammogram is done to check for breast cancer. If a mammogram finds a spot that looks like it could be cancer, doctors usually follow up with another test called a biopsy. During a biopsy, a doctor takes one or more small samples of tissue from the breast; then looks at them under a microscope to see if they have cancer.


What is staging? — Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out how far a cancer has spread. The right treatment for you will depend, in part, on the stage of your cancer.


TreatmentSurgery — Breast cancer is usually treated with surgery to remove the cancer. It can either be a mastectomy or lumpectomy.


Mastectomy is surgery to remove the whole breast.


Breast-conserving surgery (also called “lumpectomy”) is surgery to remove the cancer and a section of healthy tissue around it. Women who choose this option keep their breast.


Radiation therapy — Radiation kills cancer cells.


Chemotherapy — These are medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. Some women take these medicines before surgery to shrink the cancer and make it easier to remove. Some women take these medicines after surgery to keep cancer from growing, spreading, or coming back.


Hormone therapy — Some forms of breast cancer grow in response to hormones. Your doctor might give you treatments to block hormones or to prevent your body from making certain kinds of hormones.


What happens after treatment? — You will need to be checked every so often to see if the cancer comes back. You will have tests, usually including more mammograms. You should also watch for symptoms that could mean the cancer has come back. Examples of these symptoms include new lumps in the breast area, pain (in the bones, chest, or stomach), trouble breathing, and headaches. If you start having any new symptom, mention it to your doctor.


What happens if cancer comes back or spreads? — That depends on where the cancer is. Most people get hormone therapy or chemotherapy. Some people also have surgery to remove new tumors.


What will my life be like? — Many people with breast cancer do very well after treatment. The important thing is to take your medicines as directed and to follow all your doctors’ instructions about visits and tests.


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Warrior

6 Comments


Encouraging, thank you for sharing.

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Its a true reflection of what many cancer patients go through during thier journey of care.Thanks Madam for sharing .lam sure you have inspired many🙏🙏

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Anne Kago
Anne Kago
Apr 28, 2021

I love how you told your story in a simple manner. Hugs mama we love you!💕

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Irene Ng'ong'a
Irene Ng'ong'a
Apr 27, 2021

Profound. I love her positive spirit... I decree good health upon her.

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HANNAH WANJIRU
HANNAH WANJIRU
Apr 27, 2021

Yasmine is so beautiful, thanks for sharing your

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