Caribbean literature for health communication lessons?

In three months, I’ll begin my pursuing my doctorate in Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I’ve decided to blog about my experiences in the program, which promises to be intense but rewarding.

Before classes can begin; however, I have to get through the summer. And, that means summer reading. Many people have a summer reading list, which might include catching up best sellers from the past year or great novels published decades ago. For mine, I’ve decided to focus on Caribbean authors, beginning with Elizabeth Nunez, having read having read a few of her novels many years ago.

I picked up Boundaries (2011) at my local library about a month ago. It’s a quick and easy read that tells the story of a 40-year-old Caribbean-American woman who left her home in Trinidad to study and then work in the United States. Well-educated Anna tries to navigate the publishing industry, balancing her duties as a book editor and her commitment to her aging parents. In the middle of reading Boundaries, I realized that the book is actually a sequel to Anna in-between, Nunez’s 2010 novel.

So, what does this have to do with health communication?

Anna’s mother, Beatrice, is suffering from breast cancer, one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among Caribbean women.

Beatrice first attempts to pray the lumps away. She wakes up in the middle of the night to pray, hoping that the lump will get smaller. She also wakes up to address the lump because it is beginning to bleed out.

It’s about family communication of medical history; the conversations we have with our families about health and illness. Anna’s mother’s mother died of breast cancer. Anna’s mother had breast cancer. Anna knows she is at higher risk. Despite this, Beatrice husband refuses to bring up the topic unless his wife gives him the okay. She hasn’t. In their house, privacy is respected and takes precedence, even in times of illness.

It is also about the discussions we have with our doctors. Beatrice will not allow the ‘unofficial’ family doctor to examine her, to see her nudity. This is too private. Pak, the family physician, recommends she see an oncologist. Beatrice reluctantly agrees. But the strength she shown up to the point of the appointment date is shattered. She is scared. She fears she will die like her mother.

It is also about the faith we have in our health systems. What does it mean to be sick in the Caribbean? What does it mean to be sick on Trinidad? Anna’s mother has faith in the island doctors. She wants to see them. She does chemotherapy on Trinidad. At the urging of Anna, Beatrice travels to New Jersey for her mastectomy, where she is cared for not only by her daughter but also by the son of a family friend, an oncologist why performs the surgery. After surgery, she immediately returns to Trinidad and the care of her local cancer doctor.

Image courtesy of Repeating Islands.

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