>> Sunday, July 10, 2011
“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.