I didn’t really think much about breast cancer until my mother was diagnosed a year after my father died. Her doctors discovered the mass during a routine mammogram–it was just a tiny thing. But what lay ahead for my mother wasn’t so small. The doctors ordered surgery to remove the barely-visible mass, and while they were in there, discovered her body was smuggling cancer cells into her left lymph nodes, so those had to go too. Then came the chemotherapy, which I have to admit Miss Alice took like a champ–she only vomited once. But she would loose all her hair, her normally smooth and glowing dark skin dimmed to a sickly ashen. Her face, previously devoid of wrinkles shrunk in on itself, betraying her age for the first time. She has been declared cancer free, but…she’s not the same. The treatment more than the cancer–all the poisons and radiation–did more damage in the short run.
Funny that after all that, my mother has not made any radical changes to her lifestyle. She still eats sweets even though she is diabetic. She still won’t exercise regularly. She’s still doesn’t see the point in buying hormone and pesticide-free organic food. I know from experience that you can lead a cancer patient to the farmer’s market, but you can’t make them buy the tomatoes. It makes me sad, but how I cope is to use my mother’s habits as a template for what not to do.
From the time I was a child, my mother always had absolutely no waist. She was an apple, with a body shaped just like that guy from the Fruit of the Loom commercials. She loved to bake–her specialty was coconut cake and sweet potato pie. On Thanksgiving, she would make an entire pie in a small pie pan just for herself, and she’d eat in within a day or two. Years after being diagnosed with diabetes, I remember catching my mother shoving my father’s oatmeal cookies into her mouth in the corner of the kitchen jumped in surprise (and a little shame) when she discovered she’d been caught. Like many black women, food (especially carbohydrates) is comfort. It mimics the effects of serotonin on the brain, so it make you feel happy. Until you crash and need to repeat the binging all over again.
So when I learned from Dr. Oz how dangerous belly fat (visceral fat) was to the body, how it’s responsible for metabolic disorders like diabetes, and how the hormones the fat produces is linked to breast cancer, it all came together and made sense to me. Again, my mother is teaching me a valuable lesson about how not to treat my body.
I know having a healthy lifestyle won’t completely keep me away from a breast cancer diagnosis, but I’m a believer in doing what is in your power to do to prevent that possibility.
Miss Alice always says that each generation should do better. So in a way, I’m honoring my mother by taking care of myself.