A world of crabs

“A woman’s body is the battlefield where she fights for liberation. It is through her body that oppression works, reifying her… sexualizing her.” (Greer G 1999)

I had known Annie since childhood. She was one of the most beautiful girls in my childhood memory. She would walk to her school every day through the narrow dirt road in front of my home. I was at the school leaving class and she must have been in 8th standard. She always looked fresh and clean and would wear clean school uniform of blue and white, would carry the bundle of books close to her chest, like a mother would carry her child. I would wait for her to pass and she never failed to throw a glance with a tint of smile in it, in my direction. I never had the guts to say a word to her. But I saw her every day till I left my home town and joined the medical college. Thoughts of Annie had come to me often; I don’t know what kind of an attraction I had to her. But I never forgot that face.

It was almost twenty years later that I saw her again. I had just joined the clinic in Dubai. It took me some time to realize that the voice at the other end was Annie, even after she introduced herself. She had found me from an advertisement of the clinic. There was nothing much at her hand to remind me. “Do you remember me? The girl with the books “, and it brought me back all the memories in a second. I couldn’t believe that she remembered me all these years. We talked for a long time. Her husband was well placed and they had two children, the same age of mine. She came to me with her husband the next day. She had grown older and put on weight, but was still beautiful and full of charm. The old shyness was gone and we talked and talked of old times, all the while her husband listened with a curious smile on his face. They took me often to their home and gave me some of the best food I had in my life. There was the touch of affection and care in whatever she did. They never failed to visit me every week, till they left Dubai.

I saw Annie again two years back when my daughter in law was sick. I was passing through the Cancer Centre and I had a glimpse of Annie, but when I came back looking for her, she was gone. On another day, she couldn’t escape from me, and then she said reluctantly that she had a small lump in her breast and had come to see the doctor…’but..it is nothing” I guessed she didn’t want me to know about it. She came for Sheri’s funeral, wearing a wig. She had lost weight and had lost the shine in her eyes. No one had to tell me what had happened to her. I couldn’t talk to her much but I could see tears well in her eyes.

Annie died few weeks back. It hadn’t taken much time for the crabs to eat her up. I was sad that I couldn’t see her and be of some assistance to her in her sickness and suffering. For many days, I had flashes of her smile that disturbed my sleep.

When I thought about her, I also remembered Mira who was the wife of my friend Khalid. She had died at the age of 28 years from breast cancer.

It is a world of crabs.

Historically, the term cancer means “crab” in Latin, and the word ‘karkinoma’ means “crab” in ancient Greek. Hippocrates (460-377 BC), the great Greek physician( on whose name we doctors take the oath of good practices) first compared the swollen blood vessels radiating from some breast tumors to the limbs of a crab, and referred to the disease as 'karkinoma'. The word cancer was later used by Pliny (AD23-79) in his scientific treatise, National History, to mean a malignant tumor. In addition, Cancer has long been used for the Zodiac constellation of the Crab, located between Gemini and Leo. In its natural habitat, a crab is a fast, resilient decapod crustacean that springs to action, moves in multiple directions, and is sensitive to its surroundings. And so is cancer.

More than one million cases of breast cancer occur worldwide annually, with some 580,000 cases occurring in developed countries and the remainder in developing countries, despite their much higher overall population and younger age. Recently, at a health conference sponsored by The Women's Record on Long Island, a prominent breast surgeon stated that, because he is ''seeing so many cases of cancer of the breast in younger women,'' he urges ''a baseline mammography for all women at age 35.'' If your doctor doesn't recommend mammography,'' he said, ‘‘Then change doctors.'' All women need to perform a monthly self-breast examination. Untold numbers of breast cancer have been detected by women themselves who, upon finding a lump, have sought prompt medical and life-saving treatment. If a woman finds it too inhibiting to perform this examination, or isn't sure what exactly to look for, she should make a point of having her breasts checked every six months by a doctor or a nurse practitioner.

Recent studies have shown that young women tend to have more aggressive disease, present at a later stage, have many more issues and problems than their older counter parts and have an altogether poor prognosis. Young women tend to ignore small lumps as insignificant and mammography is not as sensitive in the young because of the density of the breast. A delay in diagnosis means shorter time to death. Although breast cancer generally involves women above the age of 50 years, a significant number of young women die of the disease.Young women need to be more vigilant,because there is data to show that they are less likely to survive the illness compared to older women.

The strongest risk factor for breast cancer at a younger age is the history of the disease in a first degree relative.(mother or sister)

As society, we are preoccupied with breasts. A woman’s breasts are symbol of feminity and sexuality. It is within these breasts that the tragedy occurs, striking at the very heart of a woman’s sense of identity and embodiment.

It was Annie’s death that prompted me to write this. In a way, I am relieved that I hadn’t seen her suffering the illness. She probably wouldn’t have liked it as well. I like to remember her as the same old Annie carrying her books, close to her chest.


  1. Annie's story touched my heart...May her soul rest in peace.

    I am glad that you made everyone aware about breast cancer from this post.

  2. very sad!
    ..it brought tears...
    God bless..I am sometimes surprised to see young women wearing wig...
    Lisa Ray was also a victim of this,one of my cousins died ...its sad..we still have no strong medicine to this!

  3. That was an amazing story! I had a geography teacher who died of cancer when I was at school. Between the diagnosis and her death, it was just 6 months, and we saw her once robust frame waste away to nothingness. I remember being deeply affected by it. Thanks for the information. It is really important for all women to self examine and can't be stressed enough. The part about the crab was interesting and something I was not aware of. Thank you for this poignant post.

  4. Thanks doc for creating awareness through your blog. Annie's was a touching story.

  5. A post that has vital advise in the end.

    I guess it was H.G.Well's who suggested that all cadavers must be autopsied.And that can provide invaluable insights and information to medical science and physiology. Which will geometrically pull back such untimely deaths.

    Conventions and sentiments corrupted by religion and faith will stand in way.

  6. Annie's story brought tears in my eyes. May her soul rest in peace.

    and thanks for the informative post.

  7. sir, this post brought a tear. Reminded me of my best friend Sunil's Mom she was so beautiful and so nice.. sometimes i felt she was better then my own mother..

    I rememeebr I had gone to a camp for 45 days , the day i came back i went straight to sunil's house to see how she was and I was shocked she had passed away the previous night.. she died of cancer too...

    I dont know what else to say , sad we are still far from finding a cure for cancer ... I wish we could do something

    May she rest in peace ...


  8. I'm sorry to hear about Annie.

    These days I too was someway concerned about this thing cancer. I never heard about cancer deaths rather than in books and journals during my childhood, but these days when I hear that lady or this lady (two of who had close relations with me at some parts of life) died of breast cancer, I get so dumbstruck. How could this happen? How would this happen? Previously I used to read about cancer (whatever form) wherever I could, but these days, i find all they got to say is the same thing over. Detection at an early stage seems to be the only remedy,when cause and preventive measures would be the ones I would have been looking for. Even then the worst is, even if you discover it at an early stage, the only way you could survive is by cutting the part off. A cruel choice to make, at that part of life!

    The post was informative. Thank you.

  9. Annie's story is truly sad,..I could relate a lot with it since I have been through the fear of breast cancer..as I had lump and after many check ups ..they said its just a gland and nothing to worry about bt still i have to undergo regular check-ups to make sure it dosent turn itno something dangerous..em 27 and still single..so you can realize what kind of fear this brought for me...

    the real issue is unawareness among women..as they feel it odd to talk about it with somebody so it gets worse...and em talking about young girls here...bless you doc sab..this topic was worth talking about..and its worth all the appreciation...nice read

  10. How moving. I'm sorry she had to die so young in life.

    Thanks for writing such a moving and informative blog.

  11. A very touching story and underlined with sadness. Most women don't realize the high risk for this cancer, but thank goodness there is a proceedure to check this. Thanks for sharing this and have a nice week.

  12. feeling sorry abt her untimely death....:(

  13. touching story of Annie. May her soul rest in piece.


  14. A glowing tribute to Annie. I feel your pain as a good friend of mine died at a young age of ovarian cancer.

  15. very touching and informative post

  16. Thank you @Doc for inisiting the importance of a mammogram. Quick question: Is it necessary even if there is no family history of the desease?

  17. Sad but needed blog post. Cancer is such a horrible word and reality.

  18. Very touching story. I feel sorry to hear about Annie's early demise. My grandfather died in front of me due to lungs cancer so I can understand your pain very well.

  19. Sad to learn of the demise of your friend.

    Each one of us has known someone who was wasted away by this terrible disease, lives cut short, happiness interrupted.

    I hope, not before long, a cure will be found.

  20. Thanks for the infomation about breast cancer.
    Also, the incidense of you coming across a childhood familiar face and then having to be her doctor must have a lot of effect on you. Sometimes we forget that doctors are human beings too and they too once had a childhood:) This is Munir over here at Focus.

  21. I am truly sorry for your loss of an old friend. You have, however, used your grief to share some very important information with the rest of us. I thank you for that. I hope you have a good weekend. Blessings...Mary

  22. touching sharing doctor,read it twice,it reminded me the most beautiful girl from school whom i saw last year and could not recognize her but her blue eyes which still had some shin,she was suffering from some disease which i felt but she refuse to share,
    later i came to know that she had T.B,saddest part of the story is that she did not noticed it and it reached the final stage,i could not get any news from her,but hope that she will survive by the grace of creator,

    on tv shows doctors often says that women must go for checkup to detect the breast cancer as it wides inside quietly,i hope after reading your such useful post,ladies will think about it,

    god bless doctor.

  23. my father died of cancer and I dread the name. a good number of my friends too have died premature deaths due to cancer. It is a silent striker and families of victims face the misery along with them. It is not easy to watch them suffer. i know it from experience and so do you. God bless annie's soul.

  24. Annie's face is indelible from my heart....

  25. May Annie's soul rest in peace.. One of my friend had breast cancer in college.. this post so reminded me of her.. Hope she is fine and thanks to u,, I did pray for her today :)

  26. I have seen too much not to know that the impression of a woman may be more valuable than the conclusion of an analytical reasoner.

  27. It may be unpopular, but it works. Every alcoholic drink a woman consumes on a daily basis increases her risk of breast cancer by 6 per cent. Drinking has been rising, especially among young women, and researchers estimate it accounts for 2,000 cases out of the 40,000-plus diagnosed every year.

    Cutting down on drinking could be a wise move for the 18 per cent of young women aged 16 to 24 who consume more than three drinks a day.

    But going teetotal may be a step too far. Moderate drinking is good for the heart, especially in middle age, and this could outweigh the higher risk of cancer. The dull but true reality is that moderate drinking is best for all-round health.


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