It was an ordinary morning of 2005.
I woke up, washed and dressed up with the help of my mother and sister, had breakfast and went to the doctor for a routine check up. My sister had always been very strict about this — there is no way I could have avoided the check up: I’m a disabled woman with several health issues, and that alone should be enough to motivate me to check up regularly. Of course it is – it is! – but I can’t help but find it boring at times.
You know. Routine.
When I was born I was little more than a miscarriage, a tiny being weighing little more than a pound. I was lucky enough to survive, in the Italy of 1955, when NICUs were still Sci-Fi to our people. That resulted in neurological damage (infant cerebral palsy). Later in the years I contracted poliomyelitis after a vaccine administered the wrong way and that signed my life forever, turning me into a full-time invalid. I fell in despair at first, going through my childhood and teen years as a social reject, but then I realized that life had been clement enough to let me live through my troubled birth and that malefic vaccine, so — I thought — I need to be accepting of my life and smile.
I smile, I’m happy, I’m alive.
So I went to get that routine check up. The doctor visited me and had me do a few tests. When the time for the verdict arrived, I was pretty sure there was nothing going wrong within my body, but the usual issues.
Oh, I was wrong. The doctor noticed the formation of small lumps within my breasts. It left me completely dumbstruck. My veins turned into ice. Apparently, I was still at the first stages of the century disease so a therapy would most probably be successful, but considering my current health issues it could be risky, and so and so on. I’m not sure I was listening anymore.
I couldn’t believe it. Simply. I never smoked, never drank too much, never did anything that could expose myself to the risk. No, cancer had to come looking for me and had found me on a low guard. The beast was smart, too smart for this ordinary woman.
I couldn’t believe it, and my family neither. But they never left me alone – they were with me at every stage, even my young nieces and nephew, whom I consider almost as my children. I let the initial despair go when I realized how much love I had around me: my mother, my sisters, my brother-in-law, my nieces and nephew. The thought of the possibility – you know – of dying didn’t scare me enough until I saw their frightened eyes.
I had to live. For them.
I went through the breast cancer journey with renewed energy. I made my lifetime ‘think positive!’ motto a stronger grip to sustain me through the ups and downs of the disease, the operations, the awful chemotherapy and other heavy oncological therapies that turned half of my day into a vortex of nausea, dizziness and despair. But I didn’t give up, and my family never abandoned me in this journey.
God didn’t left me alone either. During my journey, my faith in Him got stronger, more profound, more heartfelt. People say it’s hard to hear God’s voice in our life, but I don’t think so: I felt God’s warm hugs as I went through the healing process. He was there all the time, whispering words of Love into my ears.
What now? I’m 56 and my breast cancer journey looks like a bad dream I had ages ago. But I never forget about how lucky I was: one of my cousins, and recently a beloved uncle, passed away because of cancer. I didn’t, I survived: the beast didn’t win over me. But she did over them. They’re in my prayers, as is every person who contracted the disease. God listens to prayers.
Please, don’t let despair take your life. Despair is the handmaid of cancer: it helps the beast win. Don’t let it win, for yourself and the ones you love.
Annita G. Bartoli, 2011