I have felt worthless and invisible. I have wallowed in barrels of self-pity and almost drowned in self-doubt and hatred. I have considered suicide because I couldn't stand the sight of anything vibrant. The colors were too bright. I feared they'd shine light...
It’s Wellness Wednesday Black Girls!
Last week, I took my daughter with me to my first mammogram appointment. According to her, it was a “mom-mogram.” I hadn’t planned on making it a lesson for her when I scheduled it over a month ago. (I actually forgot and didn’t get a reminder until ten minutes before I was meant to arrive.) But, it turned out to be an enlightening experience for us both.
My daughter will be seven next month, but is already aware of the major functions and future changes to be expected in her body. I answer every question she asks with the truth as plainly as she can understand it. I don’t want her to fear or feel stigmatized because of her development. I also don’t want her to seek answers from peers who are less or misinformed, or ever feel she can’t SPEAK to me about anything. So, naturally, when the unremitting questions of “why” we were going to a special pink doctor that was not just a specialist in her favorite color began, I had to tell her the truth.
“Why do you need to go to the doctor again when you’re not sick? I want to make sure I’m not sick and get well if I am. Why do you have more than one doctor? There are different doctors for different parts of the body and illnesses. Why is this doctor just looking at your breasts? That’s private. This doctor is an expert in making sure my breasts are healthy, and will only look at them to make sure I’m ok. Why do breasts get sick? We don’t really know, but sometimes it’s because of what we eat or because of our poor habits. Why do women have to get sick breasts and not men? Women take care of the babies. They shouldn’t get sick. Well, we don’t really want anyone to get sick and daddies definitely take care of babies too, just differently. And, actually men can get sick breasts, but it’s much more rare.”
She probed and commented incessantly as we hurried into the office. Fortunately, the location is just minutes away, so I didn’t have a chance to fully process what I was actually doing. It didn’t dawn on me that I was a little uneasy until I felt the trepidation clench my throat in silence as soon as the receptionist asked my name. I felt a tiny hand grab mine and excitedly answer for me loud enough for everyone in the waiting room to hear, “This is Talitha Anyabwelé, my mom!” She slowly sliced the air with her free hand, palm upright, as though she was presenting me to an audience.
The office felt more like a spa than a stiff medical facility. Everyone greeted us with smiles and slight welcoming nods. It smelled of airy, floral fragrances, and the ambient nature sounds were both soothing and misleading. I was not here to relax, and the pink looped ribbons beetling over the awning of the check-in counter was a glaring reminder. We were escorted to a separate waiting area whose path was charted by those ominous ribbons, and I was given a white, starched, cotton robe to wear. My baby girl curled herself into one of the metal-framed chairs and began reading her current novel of choice. I explained that I needed to leave her for a moment and the procedure as best I understood it without having experienced it yet.
I’m under forty, but so were several people I love when they were diagnosed with the name that shall not be spoken. (The reference is fitting because we began reading the Harry Potter series together last year.) There’s also a familial history with that-which-must-not-be-named, so my primary physician was equally adamant about the necessity for screenings. Much to my surprise, my insurance required her prescription and still may not cover the expense because the American Cancer Society pushed for the minimum age to increase from 35 to 40 according to the staff. With all of the breasts that have gotten sick and all of the babies that still need taken care of, I can only imagine the reasoning behind this is more economic than compassionate.
When my name was called, my daughter’s eyes gleamed like I had won a prize. “Good luck,” she shouted as I turned out of the waiting room and walked the ribbon-riddled, brightly lit, narrow hallway to the examination room. I never could have expected what happened next.