“You have the big C,” Dr. Akino said, “let me get my appointment book.” He turned and walked out of the room . . . leaving me utterly alone. My heart sank.

The big C?

Could he not have said more?

Could he have touched my hand?

The big C. Damn I thought as I pulled myself from the tiny gurney – taking two steps to the huge glass windows, the only light in this tiny hospital room.

The sun rose slowly from behind Diamond Head turning the mountains from black to green, stretching its warm rays across the ocean. Honolulu in September 1982 was dressed for autumn.

Located in Waikiki adjacent to the Ala Wai Boat Harbor, Kaiser Permanente Hospital’s patients awoke to beautiful tropical sunrises and drifted off to dramatic sunsets.   Only today all I could see in the glass was me.  My first thought was to cry.  The big C . . . ran through my mind.  Was this really me?

Why am I standing here?

I have to go to work.

For more than 27 years, my husband, Kenneth and I had two beauty salons in the heart of Waikiki, one in the Reef Tower Hotel and one in the Edgewater Hotel. That was the time when snowbirds (tourists) came to Waikiki for the season – the Canadians and Europeans in the winter and the Aussies in the summer.  Waikiki was magic. One could hear the rolling surf calling, beckoning, summoning  . . . “join me”! Along the shore the gentle tradewinds kiss the lacy bamboo fronds. The aroma of the fresh cut plumeria from lei stands on the every corner filled the air. A stroll in the evening afforded one a bevy of entertainment as each hotel’s showrooms open onto the beach.

Fighting back the tears, my mind was racing. Yes, I have to go to work.  I cannot cry. No tears.  I sucked in my gut and leaned into the window, and there before me was a carefully made up woman, complete with black mascara and big, big eye lashes.  No tears.  NO!

If I cry the mascara will run, the eyelashes will come loose and I would look like a raccoon. With smudged black circles under my eyes, tears streaking the blush and the brown paper bag color complexion peeping out from under the carefully applied suntan foundation.

No I cannot cry. After all we sell looking good.  Whatever color nail polish I wear we sell lots of.  When I change my hair color we sell!  We sell, we sell, that is the beauty business, we sell, I cannot cry. Raccoons don’t sell.  Raccoons are not allowed.

When Dr. Akino returned to the tiny hospital room, I asked if we could wait until Kenneth returned from the mainland. He agreed that was a good idea. So we made the schedule for the big C surgery. And began what was to be a long term relationship.

The years faded into each other, I don’t remember how many or the number of cancers and surgeries and I did not cry. No raccoons.

It was clear; I could not have an affair because I looked like the loser in a hatch fight. And I did not cry.

The years went by and snip, snip, chop chop, cut cut and so did my breast.  Four years later the medical staff surmised, because I was so young that I should have breast implants.  Ok, why not. Will they make me look sexy?   They pulled out these funny looking gel things that were to be a substitute for Mother Nature. I would even get to choose the size.  Having never had sexy breasts, this was to be a new adventure, and another surgery.

Days, week and months went by with these things. I must admit I looked great and I did not like them. I could not sleep on these hard things sticking straight up in the middle of my chest. Then one morning before dawn I was in the shower and felt something strange under my make believe breasts. I woke Kenneth and asked him what did he see?  His eyes opened wide.  He turned a pale shade of gray.  My body was expelling these implants.

Since it was Labor Day weekend, neither my doctor nor any other surgeon was available. Even the hospital was gone.  Everyone on the emergency staff wanted to look but no one wanted to touch them.  Finally a male nurse fresh from Vietnam said he knew what to do.  He wrapped me from head to toe in ace bandages holding the implants in place until my doctor returned. Labor Day weekend and everyone is at the beach and I’m wrapped like an antique mummy.  It was more than Kenneth could stomach. At no time did I see him cry and I believe he did.

Finally, the day came to remove the implants. After the surgery I was in the recovery room dazed out of my mind, I tried to sit up only to see Elvis in the next bed. Falling back deep into the pillow, I knew I had died and gone to Graceland.  Enough!

I asked the nurse if I could see my husband. She allowed as how no one but medical staff could come into the recovery room.  Feeling as if she was doing the right thing, she summoned the doctor.

He gently whispered my name and put out his hand. I felt his arm, immediately I knew it was not Kenneth. The flood gates opened up.  I cried and cried and cried.  The poor doctor was terrified he did not know what he had done to me. How could I tell him? After years of not crying, of not being a raccoon, I began to cry and cry and cry some more.  The nurse gave me a box of tissues and slipped a drug into my mouth.  The tears stopped.

Now thirty + years later:

The cancer detection process is much better.

In the early days I was asked to have my husband sign a consent form for me to have a breast biopsy. “What if I don’t have a husband, I asked? Dr. Akino was completely taken aback having met Kenneth.  “If he had had a testicular biopsy, I would not have been asked to sign a consent form, right?” Needless to say Dr. Akino was not sure how to answer.  However, over the years we became great friends.

A mammogram -the x-ray picture of the breast has greatly improved.

And no, the surgeries have not ended.

My body just keeps producing tumors. I’ve learned how to detect the signs at its earliest stages.

And no, there is not much point to crying.  And no, raccoons are not allowed.

MarshaRose Joyner is a resident of, and an activist in many civil rights and other causes in, the Hawaiian Islands. She is a former native Baltimorean, one of the first Black graduates of Baltimore’s Western High School, and the daughter of the late Elizabeth M. Oliver, a nationally recognized AFRO American Newspapers journalist.  Joyner is also a great-grand daughter of AFRO founder, John H. Murphy, Sr.