In un post precedente criticavo alcune persone che si sono improvvisate scrittrici, e ora l'ho fatto anche io.
Le mie amiche vecchiarde del gruppo di supporto per i tumori hanno deciso di raccogliere storie di persone toccate dal tumore al seno. L'idea e' di pubblicare un libro da dare gratuitamente alle donne appena diagnosticate. Un libro che attraverso i racconti di chi ci e' gia' passato, dia un po' di speranza a chi sta attraversando quel brutto momento. Perche' si sa', quando stai male vuoi sentire solo di persone che erano nella tua situazione e ora stanno bene.
Visto che le persone con la voglia di scrivere erano ben poche, hanno chiesto anche a me di raccontare la mia storia, io ho avuto un NH Linfoma, quindi il mio racconto rimane un po' vago sulla tipologia del tumore.
Naturalmente, dopo aver messo il ditino su "send" e mandato la storia alla mia amica che si occupera' di editare il libro e i racconti, ho scoperto che lei di mestiere fa il professore di scrittura creativa. Ci conosciamo da tanto, trascorriamo ore a parlare di libri, e io ho sempre pensato che lei, ex suorina, insegnasse semplicemente inglese (ah, la mia abitudine a romanticizzare le vite altrui!) Bella figura di cacca, speriamo non mi bacchetti troppo.
Flirting with cancer
It was a typical early spring Georgia afternoon, it had started chilly and had slowly warmed up. The sun was shining. I went to answer the phone ringing in the background. It was my doctor’s nurse; she told me that he was trying to reach me.
The urgency in her voice sent a wave of panic to the pit of my stomach, when I got distracted by the sound of my cell phone. This time it was the doctor.
I knew that something must have been really wrong when I realized that he had called me by my first name, he was my doctor, not my friend.
“We have your biopsy results” he said. “Unfortunately it is cancer.”
The only thing I was able to say was “Are you kidding me?”
He said that, no, he was not kidding me. He went on to say that everything was going to be alright, and that he would have walked this path with me, holding my hand. In all honesty I have to say that I have never heard from him again.
I snapped the phone closed, regrouped, then I called my husband.
People talk about the various stages of grief, some say there are five stages, others talk about seven stages. Among those there’s shock, disbelief, denial, rage, bargain, depression, and acceptance. In my case shock and disbelief were tied to each other, and that state lasted only few minutes. It was closely followed by anger. Yes, I was mad, and that’s just to put it mildly, I was actually really pissed. I was so enraged that I didn’t even cry about what I had just found out.
In the case of cancer, one more stage of grief should be added to the list: determination. Cancer patients are determined to fight and win. Determination starts creeping in and takes over your whole being. It lets you uncover parts of you that you had forgotten or never knew existed. All of a sudden you become a soldier, a Spartan warrior, a Roman gladiator, a ninja, or a cowboy at the OK Corral. Even your language changes, you use the words “war” and “fight” more than a battle seasoned general.
By the time my husband made it back home, swollen red eyes and all, I was calm and determined. Before he arrived I had a Why Me moment, (I’m such a good girl, I donate to food banks and St. Jude Hospital, I leave the parking spots closer to the stores to older people, I even donated my hair to Locks of Love… Well, I do
have a foul mouth use a colorful language sometimes, but that doesn’t count, does it?) I had my brief pity party, and as soon as it was over I was hell bent on fighting the cancer.
What gave me hope and strength was the thought of my mother. She was diagnosed with breast cancer before she turned forty, just as my father was leaving her for another woman. Her doctor basically told her to put all her affairs in order, for she didn’t have much longer to live. According to her doctor her cancer was one of the worst, and back then, in the early eighties, cancer was pretty much a death sentence, they didn’t have all the cures and medications that we have now. She was single with four children, the oldest one barely out of high school, the youngest one in first grade. She had to fight.
I saw her at her worst, bald headed, throwing up, unable to leave the bed, but always with a smile for us children. These things are hard to forget.
I guess her doctor was wrong; she fought and defeated the disease.
I am also a mother and my child really needs me. He was in a big hurry to meet his mommy and daddy; three and half months before his due date he was staring at us from his plastic box, or rather, we were staring at him lying in his incubator. He was not left unscathed by his ordeal.
Another good reason for fighting my war.
Because of my mother’s story, and her success against cancer, I saw my diagnosis only as an annoying and temporary roadblock. I convinced myself that I had to jump over the hurdle and everything would be okay.
What happened in the next weeks after diagnosis is almost a blur. I had a lot of scans, CT scans, PET scans, you name it. I also had a port catheter inserted in my chest. A port is a device that allows a person to receive their medication without being poked in the arms every single time they need to be infused. It looks like a button under the skin.
The relationship with chemotherapy is like a bad love story with an attractive dangerous guy. You know it will hurt you, but you just can’t say no. Most people have only minor issues after their first chemo, then, as time goes by, the side effects become harder to handle. Just like the bad love story we mentioned earlier. In my case it was hate at first sight. My body did not react very well to chemo, but it might have been just a psychological reaction. It took two days to complete the first round. The day after the completion of chemo, I had to go back for the Neulasta injection. It is an injection that will help strengthen the immune system. The day after that injection I felt like somebody with a little hammer had shattered my pelvic and femoral bones in a million tiny pieces.
I had already made up my mind that cancer was not going to kill me, and at that moment I thought that I was not going to die of cancer but die of chemo!
Few days later I was almost back to my old self, tired, little nausea, strange taste in my mouth, but no pain.
It took about ten days for my hair to start falling out. I had shoulder length hair, and it was falling out in clumps. Not a good sight, so I decided to have it shaved.
I was afraid of traumatizing my child, so I told him I was tired of having long hair and daddy was going to help me cut it. He looked amazed as my hair fell in the sink, then, when my head was completely shaved, he showed a quizzical look on his face, then said, “Is mommy a boy now?”
It will probably sound weird, but I actually had some hilarious moment in my journey. One day I was having chemo, everybody else was already finished, except for me and a guy on the opposite side of the room. He waved hi, and our dialogue went pretty much like this:
“How you doin’”
“Good, how you doin’?”
“What you’re in for?”
“Oh, ok. First time?”
“I guessed it, you looked scared. It’ll be alright. I’ve been in and out of this place for the past six years.”
At that point we both started laughing; substitute the word lymphoma with a crime of your choice, and we sounded just like two jailbirds greeting each other.
After a cancer diagnosis, you look at yourself with a different set of eyes, those extra pounds on your hips that you had vowed to get rid of, are not important anymore. I’ve always had an issue with my ears, they’re not really symmetrical and they’re big. Because of that I've never had a short haircut. One hot August day I was driving, the radio was on, I was wearing a beanie type hat, maybe it was the music that made me brave, but I decided to get out of my comfort zone. I removed my hat and drove home bald like an egg. I felt free, unburdened and untouched by all the rules of beauty and propriety.
Then one day I heard the most beautiful words a doctor can say: “YOU ARE CANCER FREE”
And life changes again, this time for the better. War is over, you smile at everybody, your heart sings, you smell the spring on a cold winter day, even colors look brighter. You dance, you flirt. You flirt with people, you flirt with life.
La vita e’ bella. Life is beautiful.