Putting Yo’ Business in the Street

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 01, 2008

San Fernando General Hospital“Yo mean yo’ had to tell de whole world yo’ business,” that is what Oskie, my good friend, asked when he read that I had “advertised” my sickness in the Trinidad Guardian.

Feeling that my friend was trying to dis’ me, I responded: “I did not advertise my sickness nor were I looking for sympathy. I just felt that I could use my sickness to warn others about a disease that is devastating to black men. After all, Lloyd Best, Kwame Toure and Terry Joseph died from the disease. If I could do something to help others I would be contributing to a good cause.”

“Well, yo’ didn’t have to put it in the papers and yo’ didn’t have to tell the whole world. Yo’ could ah tell yo’ friends about it, we would ah’ rally ’round you and give you the support you need.”

“I did the best I could. Even my mother says that confession is good for the soul.”

“But look at ma’ crosses. Yo’ doing as if yo’ sin. Like if you begging for forgiveness. If you feel dat way, why didn’t you go an’ ask a priest to forgive you for getting sick?

“Sickness,” I responded, “is not something you buy in de market. You can’t go in de market and say gimme a pound of cancer or six ounces of jaundice. Once you name man or woman, you are subjected to pain and sickness in this world. So I can’t see why I must keep it in the closet or mind it like a so-foot!”

I could not convince Oskie I could use my sickness to educate others about a disease that hits black men hard.

Unfazed by my explanation, he continued: “The next thing I know, yo’ go be writing about the operation, the effect of the operation, the pain yo’ get and dat kind of thing. Wha’ make you feel people want to know about dat?”

He was trying to protect me, convinced as he was that some things are private. He also knows about the pain and suffering that cancer victims go through. His mother; his brother and his sister died of cancer. Cancer is no stranger to him.

So, I tried another tack.

“Friend,” I said, “let us look at it another way. I can’t tell you about the pain you have suffered because of the demon called cancer. I am just beginning my journey. I will know more as I go along. Hopefully I will have more information to share that will help others to see about themselves while there is time.”

“You think any black man want any doctor to put his finger into his behind to find out if he ha’ cancer?”

Now ah know he was taking chupidness. I didn’t get mad. Ah just tried to be more persuasive.

I said to him: “Oskie, you know Wendell?”

“Yo’ mean the lil’ boy who always trying to play man?”

“How old yo’ think Wendell is?”

“Wendell is about forty.”

“No. He is thirty eight. And he doesn’t know a thing about prostate cancer.”

“How could you say dat?”

“Wendell told me he was happy that I told him what was happening to me. He says his grandfather had stoppage of water….”

Oskie interrupted me savagely:

“What stoppage of water ha’ to do with this?”

“Stoppage of water, my good friend, is de same thing as prostate cancer. That is what we use to call it long time?”

“Dat was his grandfather?”

“He told me he had to take his grandfather to the bathroom each morning to help him relieve himself…”

“Ok! Ah really feel sorry for Wendell but that was a long time ago and it ent’ have nothing to do with him now…”

“There is where you are wrong my friend. Prostate cancer is a hereditary disease…”

“Dere yo’ go with yo’ big words again…”

“I mean that it is a disease that passes from one generation to another. So that if your grandfather had it or your father had it, it increases your chances of getting it by fourteen percent. That is to say, that if your father has the disease, you are seven times as likely to have prostate cancer.”

“Even if this is true, why couldn’t you tell Wendell that by himself? You don’t have to tell the whole world…”

By this time, I was getting angry and Oskie was getting aggressive in his attitude.

“Well, de next time ah read yo’ in the Guardian yo’ go be telling the whole world that yo’ having yo’ operation to cut out yo’ prostrate…”

All I could say is: “We will see!”

I couldn’t tell him that confession assuages one’s pain when one shares it with others even as the confessor (that one who hears the confession) tries to avoid similar dangers.

That is what my mother meant when she said that “Confession is good for the soul.” It helps he who confesses and he who hears the confession if he has a mind to listen. Confession is a balm to our souls.

2 Responses to “Putting Yo’ Business in the Street”


  • We Trinis treat illness as if it is God’s punishment for some secret sin we committed. If Desmond Tutu had treated it so,he might have been dead already, so too, would Sidney Potier. I have three frieds who have had the surgery,including the most radical procedures. Their minds are as clear as they ever were, and those body parts that may have to be incised to prevent the ravages of the disease, can be lived without.
    I said the same to my late father-in-law, sitting in Montefiore Hospital more than thirty years ago, trying to persuade him to have the most radical intervention, because he had waited too late.
    Your fluency in three lnguages would not change, I said, and you would be around for your grand-children to know you a little better.
    And, in any case, you have already left many signs of your virility, I added. He seemed unconvinced.
    “Do you know how many Vietnam Vets came home without their testicles?”I asked.
    There was this little demon of a North Vietnmese bomb called a bouncing betty, that exploded upward when kicked. It got you in mid-stride.
    He pondered that for a while. Which of those soldiers would rather have lost their lives than that one body part? He pondered that too, and decided to have the surgery.

    Oprah made breast cancer exams easier for women by having hers documented on TV.

    If writing about this, will cause Trini men everywhere to check their PSA every year, then Selwyn is a life saver in addition to being an educator, and I salute him for it.

    Women ho have lost body parts to cancer are speaking out. Selwyn, in doing so, shows himself to be a man of courage,not only in politics, but in life.

  • Right on! Silence achieves nothing. You empower others with your experience.

    Best wishes,
    Lesley-Ann

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