* * *
I managed an “oh okay” in reply before she encourages me to head upstairs and change. My mum must have felt I was going to hide and cry, because I heard her come up the stairs.
She appeared at the top of the stairs, by which time I had already taken off my white shirt and I was in a vest and my pleated school skirt.
I expressed my shock about my Grandpa’s passing and I started to cry.
She held me and told me it was okay.
I understood no one wanted the bad news distract me during exams but I learnt he had passed on in his sleep the night of 19th october…the day before I had taken time to pray for him.
A huge portrait of his sat on the table at the main entrance of our house. It had a condolence register in front of it. Many people must have come to sympathise and there I was hearing the news of his departure after everyone.
As December unravelled, the members of and the friends to my mums family converged in Achi, Enugu state. They all came to show respect and say their final good byes to my grandfather.
The turnout was amazing.
Every single grandchild showed up. All my cousins were present. You can trust that the young ones had a wonderful time. They were either tearing their hair out or mischievously scheming.
My Grandma being a strong woman, she never broke down. Always handing out instructions to people here and there. Her ears forever picking words whispered yards away from her. Amazing.
One thing about the village, Achi, is that its very hilly and beautiful but dusty and cold.
Right from childhood I never reacted pleasantly to cold or dust.
When my reaction to the dust and cold escalated from an ordinary flu , My dad had to take me to hospital in another state. It happened to be owned by a relative of his.
This was the day before my Grandfathers wake keep.
I felt as though my windpipe was clogged!
I could literally hear every single intake and release of air from my lungs.
Indeed it was a very scary, extremely uncomfortable and annoying experience.
I was injected with a very helpful drug the name of which I don’t recall now.
What I do recall is that It eased my struggle with air and I could breathe.
We headed back to the village and I was able to join all the family activities that followed. The wake keep, the mass and the burial.
Since it was christmas period, you can expect that a lot of shows and concerts were going on back in Lagos. My very good friend Lola Gafaar who knew I was a huge M.I fan happened to be at ‘The Rythmn unplugged’ show. At the show he, M.I, had performed one of his hit songs ‘Anoti’ and Lola was gracious enough to rub it in.
All I could text back after jokingly threatening to kill her to my cousins who were near by was “that’s sised…peck him for me”. Sised I guess was a slang at the time for ‘cool’.
Moving on, We spent most of December even christmas in the village.
For the older cousins, we spent it recounting our childhood moments in our Grandfathers massive compound. It was obvious he was absent. His newly mapped out home was now by the gate he had driven in and out of before he slept forever. Life.
We often stopped by his graveside and spoke to him like he was seated there.
It is well.
I returned to school to start the new term in January. Although I had not quite gotten over my Grandpa’s death. It was like that thing people always talk about from a distance, that thing that happens in almost every other family had finally decided to visit mine… The death of an old loved one. The weirdest part was seeing his face on an obituary.
Somehow everything around me triggered memories of him, his death and his burial.
I knew I had to settle into school mentally in view of my upcoming internal and major external examinations.
In as much as I missed Him I did my best to move past that phase.
Time went on and as I adjusted back to the school routine, my worries about lumps resurfaced.
During the course of the school term, I had a conversation with a girl who complained that she had lumps in her breasts. She also said that it was ‘mastisis’ or so. I thought to myself wow , it even has a name.
I found myself encouraging her and telling her I thought I found lumps as well but ‘they’re nothing’.
looking back, I smile at the confidence I used to speak to her.
What did I know? I hadn’t even faced up to my fears or confronted them and there I was saying ‘its nothing’.
As time went by, the weight of ‘lump’ burden increased. Not physically but upon my mind. Consuming my thoughts and occupying my mind space.
The same day I spoke with the girl, most likely during a free period or break, Sope my classmate noticed I was worried and asked what was bothering me.
I said “I actually do not know”. He jokingly replied with “Is it Cancer?”.
“I’m hoping its not”I sighed.
Then he finally said , “Wow sorry mehn”.
His question seemed so spot on, surely it could not be coincidence?.
It was after this I decided to take control of this situation rather then let It bug me to no end. Maybe somehow I hoped ignoring it would send it away but my mind just did not rest.
The school term had wound to a close and at that point in time, A school event ‘The International Day’ was fast approaching. It was a day where each grade of students was given a country to represent. They would dress as natives of the country and basically present in everyday possible to the audience culture and tradition of the people of that country. That session we were to present Greece. it was very exciting for us because we all shared roles of gods and goddesses according to greek mythology. I was given the role of Gaea, mother nature.
This was very exciting for me. Being the dramatic person that I am, I did my best to look ‘natural’ with my long flowing white gown with a green sleeve to represent nature, my olive ‘crown’ and ‘olive-bunch’ broom like wand, if you will.
I decided to have my fun at the international day and promised I’d finally speak up but only after having fun. I wanted my mind to be at rest for that day.
The entire Grade twelve looked fantastic. I remember my room mate and friend Fiyin playing the role of coordinator , director, planner and ‘grecian’ cook. I also remember having a hundred percent hands on approach to the entire event. I decorated our stand with the help of Tobi Koku a friend, the class clown and some of our other classmates. I remember having to improvise and making use of the white and blue mosquito nets from the hostels to create a sky effect and to portray the Grecian flag colours at the same time. I climbed chairs and table to drape the nets over our stand. Somehow this energy of mine has not gone anywhere.
I had fun that day.. working, acting out ‘my role’ in the mythology and laughing.
At least I doubt I spent time pondering on the fact that something other than my exams was occupying my mind space.
Shortly after the International day, the rest of the school vacated for holiday.
The grade twelve students remained in school to study and prepare for the upcoming Jamb, Waec and cambridge O’levels. It was after this that I decided I had to fulfil my promise to myself. As the school emptied, the reading mood slowly descended upon every one of us. We knew it was the last lap and we had to finish well.
I entered a sort of academic contract with a classmate called Sope Bob Soile.
Since Mathematics was my most dreaded subject and it was absolutely no issue for him, we decided we would look through the Mathematics check point past question compilation together for a period of time starting on March the 31st. I also came to the realisation that I had to report what I had noticed.. The lumps.
One of the nights during study time,
I vaguely discussed the possibility of having lumps with a girl on my study table. I mentioned that I know no one in my family has Breast Cancer and so I cannot possibly have. A friend of mine ,Damilare, who was in A’level and was also staying back for the extension lessons told me a personal story related to lumps as well. I guess this encouraged me to speak up.
The last thing I did before finally approaching the schools’ medical department was to totally confide In My long time friend Edak. I did not vaguely discuss breast lumps or ask what she knew. I told her straight up that I had noticed lumps in my left breast , near my cleavage a while ago. I told her I had been scared but that I was finally going to tell the school nurse.
On the night of March 28th I marched across from my hostel , the green hostel , to the lilac hostel where Auntie Funmi the school nurse was staying at the time. The hostel was across mine.
The entire area appeared deserted. Lucky juniour Students. They were at home stretching in their own beds and watching television.
On getting there while waiting to see the nurse who I think was attending to someone else, my attention shifted to the television. A series called clueless was on and so I watched till it was my turn to see the nurse.
When I finally got to her, we greeted warmly. Seeing as I was the ‘Community Service’ prefect which is equivalent of what you can call the ‘Health prefect’, I saw her on a regular basis.
I told her about what I thought I felt and she mentioned that she had to examine me which she did. Then she Asked if I was okay with Pastor Lanre, who is the Doctor and Head of the school’s Medical department, examining me the next day. I tell her its alright and she tells me to come to the school Clinic the next day.
* * *
its important we learn how to practice BSE (Breast Self Examination) AT LEAST once every month.
After your monthly period because during your period, your breast becomes fuller and lumpy and it is possible to ‘detect what is not there’.
Help stop cancer.
Tell an friend or two, spread knowledge and practice BSE.
I’d continue the story again tomorrow join me again