It was on an April 1 that I received my first chemo treatment. I got a chance.
On April 1, this week, my cousin Glenny — who I wrote about two weeks ago — died of metastatic BC. She did not get her chance.
I know we talk about breast cancer awareness and how we have enough of it here in the U.S. But it isn’t the same for developing countries like where I was born, the Dominican Republic. There is still a lot of ignorance about cancer.
I have a strong family history of breast cancer. Yet my cousin, Glenny, still did not check the lump she noticed years ago. She did not get checked until only a couple of months ago, until her symptoms appeared.
Why wait so long?
I know there are many reasons why people wait: fear, ignorance, denial, lack of health insurance, lack of resources. I get that.
Glenny had the health insurance and the access to information and resources though.
I am speaking out of selfishness and frustration when I ask, “Why wait so long?” I want my cousin here with us. I am not judging her for choosing how she lived her life. Ultimately, it is our own decision how we choose to be treated for our health. But I am judging the system, the culture, the medical teams, and in some way, I am judging us, my family and me. (Yes, I am still dealing with guilt.) I know we can’t make others take care of themselves. I am aware we can’t control what others do. And we will never know why she waited so long to see a doctor and be tested. She must have known about all the cancer diagnoses in her family these past few years. But I am still hurt we didn’t push harder. I also feel sad she didn’t ask for help. There would have been support, from people like me. She deserved a chance.
Fear is something we all experience at one point of another. I am scared at every doctor’s appt. I don’t find any pleasure when seeing my doctors; I doubt that any woman does, really. But, the thought of not checking my health scares me even more. But that’s ME, and I need to accept that not everyone feels the same way, right?
Yes, I received my first chemo infusion on an April 1. While the nurse was inserting the needle in my left arm to administer the chemo I was hoping it was all a joke. Even as I felt the first chemo travel through my veins, I wanted to keep some sense of denial, but that didn’t last for long. It was no joke.
When I received the news that my cousin had died this week, also on April 1, I wished it could have been an April Fool’s joke. But no one would joke about such things, and the news hit me without any sense of denial. Receiving the news on the same date I received my first chemo brought, once again, conflicts of guilt. I received a chance to go into remission. Glenny instead lost her chance. And those tests that she waited too long to do? We are still waiting to receive the results for some of them. This is the medical system we have in developing countries.
My heart is heavy for our family.
I have so many wonderful childhood memories of Glenny and her family. But the one memory I will cherish forever is our last conversation, the one I wrote about in March. It felt like nothing really had changed— that we were back in her backyard searching for ripe mangos. She even called me by my middle name when we last spoke, “Manoella,” she said. Something no one else has done for over 20 years.
RIP to one of my childhood treasures, my cousin Glenny.
“The Promise” by Tracy Chapman