Novel Excerpt: Emily’s Diary – Beneath My Beautiful

I am sharing this excerpt from my unpublished novel about a 14-year-old girl diagnosed with Breast Cancer (Emily’s Diary – Beneath My Beautiful) in commemoration of #WorldCancerDay today February 4, 2015. With the theme “Not Beyond Us”, World Cancer Day is highlighting that solutions to tackling cancer do exist and that they are within reach.


She’s cute, like a little doll, dressed in red, white and blue…

Dear Diary,

During our last visit to see the doctor, a sample was taken from the lump in my breast and sent to pathology. We went back to see the doctor, to know what the next steps would be, what was to happen with me and my breast. She said that the tumour had grown around the blood vessels in my breast and that I would have to undergo a mastectomy “a simple left breast mastectomy” she called it. She also said my prognosis was excellent too; I had an eighty-five per cent chance of living disease-free for at least five years. The surgery was scheduled for four months from that day but gave advice and prescriptions to follow, as well as regular check up at the hospital to keep everything on track.

My dad came with me to the hospital that day; my mum had not stopped blaming herself ever since the news first came through. I went home that day and researched on what causes cancer in girls my age and I found this out:

We get our genes from our parents, half from our father and the other half from our mother. Scientists discovered that some genes called BRCA genes can directly affect a child’s risk for breast or cervical cancer. Two genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2 are hereditary and can play a big role in breast cancer. Normally, these genes stop breast and ovarian cells from growing, and dividing uncontrolled. When an error occurs, or there is a mutation found, it can increase the chances of cancer developing. We all have two copies of each gene. As long as at least one BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene works normally, your risk for cancer won’t be raised. The two copies of each gene act as backup for each other. However, if both copies of either BRCA1 or BRCA2 are damaged, your body loses a tool for stopping cancer cells from growing. Some people are not born with normal BRCA genes – they inherit a mutation (genetic damage) in one of these genes. Since they do not have backup protection, any damage, any damage to the normal BRCA gene can lead to cancer.

Women with a BRCA mutation face a 60-87% lifetime risk for breast cancer and a 20-54% lifetime risk for ovarian cancer.

Then I understood why my mother blamed herself for my getting breast cancer. She had battled breast cancer earlier on and won. I got the mutated gene from her. I did not blame her because I knew she had no control over it. Sometimes in life things beyond our control happen to us, it then depends on us to fold and give in, without a fight; or push back till you win. I chose the latter, to push back and fight this cancer with everything that I’ve got.

Four months seemed like a very long time to wait. We agreed, after consulting with the doctor, that I take a one-year break from school till after the surgery. Honestly, I didn’t mind it so much, especially as I didn’t have to deal with having to avoid Tonia in school. I also moved to stay with my mum’s sister and her family in Victoria Garden City. It was really quiet and easy there, and my mum came visiting with my dad every weekend.

Aunty Caroline is married but has no kid yet, so she was really pleased when she heard that I would be coming to live with her for a while. It was my dad who eventually told her everything. I heard her scream from upstairs in the room she had prepared for me. The room was painted in a rainbow of bright hues shining through, touching everything from the pillows to the walls.

When we sat to eat dinner later that night, there was a weird tenderness with her approach towards me like I would break and shatter if she as much as breathed too loudly. It was endearing at first, but I knew that it was not what I wanted. Having breast cancer should not make me any less of a fourteen-year-old girl. I did not know how to explain that to her, so I smiled and laughed a lot, to let her know that I had come to embrace my reality and was ready for what lay ahead.
Her husband was no better, his approach was even worse; every day when he returned from work he bought me new stuffs, by the time I had stayed two weeks with my Aunt and her husband, I had twice as much clothes and shoes than I had come with. He bought me new items every day and kept saying that if I needed anything I should ‘please’ ask. He forbade me from doing any house chores and instructed all the helps in the house to make sure that I do not lack care and attention.
I enjoyed it at first, the special treatment and all, but after a while I wanted to be treated like every other girl my age.

The room had a large desk and an office chair, with storage bins beneath creating a sort of work zone. There was ample seating that could be transformed into a fun place for giggling with friends. A break away from traditional girl colours with its modern, matured vibe, yet playful enough so that it still had the girl appeal. I fell in love with that room immediately.

The room had a bookshelf, but there was no book, except an old copy of the Africa Writer’s Series edition of Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’. I dusted it and I started to read it. I would eventually go on to read all the titles in the African Writer’s Series, and I would love them thoroughly, and somewhere in between my reading and appreciating African Writers and their works, I met Gabriel.


Copyright © 2015 by Iweka Kingsley.

All rights reserved. This story or any part of it cannot be used or reproduced by any means graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles, reviews and comments, of which due reference and acknowledgement must be made.


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