FIVE years ago, I’d called on Florence, a very good friend at her Abuja residence after not seeing her for close to three years. We talked constantly on the phone, of course. But when I had to go to Abuja on business, I thought I  would save on hotel accommodation by staying with her. She was all for it too, shrieking with excitement when I asked her on the phone. Looking forward to catching up on the snippets of news we’d exchanged over the past years, I enthusiastically settled into the guest room of her tastefully furnished flat. It was quite late and we turned in early. The next days would be more than enough to catch up on our natter, I thought. I had an early morning appointment and was having a quick shower when there was this urgent knock on the door! “Hurry up in there, would you?” Snapped my friend.

“How could you hug the bathroom for so long when you know I have to be at work at 8.00a.m …. “On and on she rattled. What was the matter with her? I bolted out of the bathroom to find her still hovering, a nasty look on her face. 1 quickly got dressed and left for my appointment. It was a relief to get in touch with other old friends later, one of who agreed to put me up. Thankfully, I got to Florence’s flat before her, removed my things and left without as much as a note – I was that mad.

How dared she talk to me the way she did! Had she gone mad? When she called at my place a few months later, decency prevented me from slamming the door in her face. ‘Bunmsy baby!” she squealed as if nothing had happened. “1 was in Lagos and thought I should say hello”. There was no mention of her untoward behaviour in Abuja. I was guarded in our conversation as she settled down to refreshment I grudgingly provided. I wish I could pour the stuff all over her. “Did I tell you about my operation?” she asked almost as if propelled by an unwilling force. Operation? I looked puzzled. Was this another stunt? “I  had breast cancer,” she said quietly and  my jaw hit the floor.

“The day you visited, my operation was fixed for a few days away … “ That explained her grumpiness.Breast cancer? I gave her boobs a suspicious glance. Cancer? Impossible. Florence’s boobs had been items of envy amongst her friends – both male and female. I’m sure they were the reason her marriage lasted as long as it did before she finally walked out on her abusive husband. He was so obsessed with her  breast and Florence always joked she was sure he never got breast-fed as a baby.

“He was always at my nipples any time he had the opportunity”, she had always complained good-naturedly.

Now, here she was, barely in her 50s with her boobs cut off. “Only one of them,” she’d told me quickly as if reading my mind. ‘’The last time I travelled, I met all these leaf-lets from my GP addressed to me urging me to book an appointment for a mammogram as soon as I had the time. It was after-all free and I went. Until then I had no pains, didn’t feel any lump. So you can imagine how shocked I was when my GP told me when I went for the results that I had breast cancer. I was numb, but lucky it was caught very early and a mastectomy was advised. I was fortunate that I was spared the discomfort of chemotherapy. Even then, I was still scared. What would happen to my three children? My love life?

Thankfully, the cancer was caught  early before it did extensive damage-the intensive damage done was to my right breast. I couldn’t stop crying. But I remembered friends and relatives who’d died of the dreaded disease and I pulled myself together.

After I was completeIy healed, I was offered breast: re-construction. It more or less,

gives me back my life. Unfortunately, I had no nipple but was given a stick.-on one

pending when I had a nipple tattooed on the reconstructed breast and that has since been done. Sadly, I’ll need to take a lot of pills for the rest of my life.She looked at me as if daring me              to ask the question I was dying to ask. “How did Ben take your operation? I asked her. Ben was the love of her life, a tower of strength after her divorce. He loved her along with her children.“He was too embarrassed to stay – the shock was too much for him”, she said sadly. “I felt outraged initially. What was it  with these men who couldn’t see beyond a pair of boobs? I don’t blame him any more and we still remain friends. It  takes a lot guts to make love to a woman with one boob and angry scar where the other one ought to be. If I’d had a reconstrution before he saw the scare, he might learn to love my new boob – but reconstruction

takes a while. The wound  wouId have to heal completely … “

Months later, Florence was at a seminar when she met Bayo, a mechanical engineer. They hit it off together and she couldn’t waith to him off to me. A nice gentleman, he took us to a lavish dinner and I was happy for my friend. “Have you told him yet?” I asked her. “No”, she shrugged. She explained, after Ben took off the way he did, I couldn’t stand the rejection. I felt really inadequate and that’s why I’m bidding my time with Bayo. I know he loves me in his own way, afterall he is a married man. And I care for him too, That’s why I need to ease him into what he’d be letting himself into if we took things further.

That was why, during the night cap at her house, Florence casually talked about breast cancer and the progress being made by the medics to see that as few women as possible die from the disease. It’s the same with prostate cancer – there’s quality life after a cancer operation that takes out “ts and pieces from you. Bayo readily agreed, reeling out names of friends who’d survived one form of cancer or the other. I could see the relief in Florence’s eyes. Would she tell Bayo tonight? I couldn’t wait to find out, so I called her on the phone a few days later. How I stayed that long was a miracle but I didn’t want to pry.

“After you left,” she told me resignedly, “ we had more drinks and we started kissing and getting real passionate. ‘ I have a confession to make” I told him. Then I went on to say I’d had breast reconstruction after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I couldn’t read his face he went ahead with the charade of foreplay, but joked about my breasts, saying one of them was not as juicy as it should be. That was the last I saw of him.”

Isn’t it sad that, with so much stride being made in the treatment of cancer, living a normal life after beating one, which should come naturally, has turned into a nightmare? Even some of the men who’d beaten prostate cancer confess lack of libido and simply tell you they’re glad to be alive. A Iot of meetings and counselling are given victims of cancer, maybe, it’s about time we targeted those who’ll be living and interacting with cancer patients. They’re not freaks – only fortunate victims of cancer who’ve beaten the odds and live to tell the tale!


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