Lifelong Learning Programme

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Training > Experiences

Personal Experience

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My story

Language: English
Country: Italy
Typology: patients and relatives
I was convinced that my fortieth year of life would be a special year. I organised the party for my birthday on my own and, after so many years, I even cut my hair short changing completely my look… I was radiant! After the great party, one day, while touching my breast, I felt an anomalous little lump; I immediately called the doctor and, when he visited me, he reassured me very much and prescribed me some examinations, including a mammography. Also the doctor who performed it found something odd, and she considered it proper to make me have an ultrasound, she also advised me to undergo a needle aspiration, which of course I did immediately. I still remember the day I called the doctor to know about the outcome: it was November 29, 2010 and I was alone at home, my husband was at work, my daughter at school and my son had just gone out with his friends; I sat down on the bed and I called him; I was convinced that he would tell me that it was all right, instead I felt as if they had “stabbed me in the heart", I remember his words very well: "Madam, I already had some suspicions that have been confirmed by the needle aspiration, you have a malignant tumour, we must intervene immediately.". My reaction? I was sitting frozen on the bed without being able to react, then I suddenly started to cry and I immediately thought that I would die. I thought only about the suffering I would have to face and that, in the end, I would not make it. "Cancer", that word was rumbling in my mind: Was it possible that I had a malignant tumour? I did not want to believe it! But I had to accept it: I had cancer. At that moment, my thoughts were overlapping like high waves during a storm; many years ago one of my aunts died of the same disease after a long ordeal, I remember it as if it were yesterday... I immediately thought of my children and the pain that they would have to endure to see me in those conditions. I was really afraid, afraid of what the future was reserving for me. The fact that I did not know how much suffering I would face terrified me. And then how would I say it to my dear ones? It would be a "cold shower"; I did not prepare any speech. I said it in one go, I tried to cling to my family members who have been really close to me and I tried to react. I underwent the operation on December 11, 2010, the intervention as well as the convalescence went well. Then, in the New Year, I had to start thinking that I would have to face what all those who have this disease must face: chemotherapy. I was really terrified! I would have to undergo six cycles of chemo, one every twenty-one days; I knew that I would feel very badly in the three days following therapy, and that after the second cycle I would lose all my hair. Before that would happen my hairdresser, and also my dear friend, cut my hair short and, the day I started to lose it, she closed me in her shop and, with tears in her eyes, she shaved my hair to zero. They were terrible days, the effect of chemo is impossible to describe, I felt really bad, even if, to be honest, I was very lucky because, when I talked with other sick people, I realized there were some of them who felt much worse than me. In spite of this, every time I looked at myself in the mirror without my wig, I felt frustrated, it was really frightening. In those moments, I felt as if I was rubbish! Not a woman, only a person who deserves pity… The end of the fourth cycle of chemo marked the beginning of my collapse: I had a strong allergic reaction to the medicine and, as if it were not enough, I got salmonella, a bad infection penetrated in the bones of my pelvis; I had always fever and I could no longer walk. The evening I felt bad, I seriously thought I was about to die, in reality everybody thought so, so did the doctors who gave me emergency medical support. They took me to the Emergency Department of Chivasso and they gave me every sort of things during the night and the next day to calm the pain, but nothing changed. Doctors did not know what else they could do, so, after calling an ambulance, my husband put his signature so that he could take me away. I was transferred to the department of medical oncology of the San Luigi hospital in Orbassano, where the oncologists who were following my case perform their operations. I was submitted to one examination after another every day, but the fever did not go away and, every time I had to take some steps, I had to hold on to the drips, I thought I was impotent and incompatible with life... The doctors of the department took my case to heart, because it was also very rare. Every time they entered the room, I hoped to notice a positive sign in their faces, I continued to look at them in the hope they would give me good news, but they continued to look at each other, to whisper without telling me anything, then they came near me, and continued to tell me the same things over and over again, that is to say that they were doing everything possible, that I should not worry and that, since they had not had any patient with this pathology, they did not know exactly what to do and they were continually asking the advice of other specialists; there were some days I seemed to be better, then I suddenly felt worse, I returned to have high fever and I became increasingly demoralized. I did nothing but weep and I thought that I would not leave that hospital alive. After thirty interminable days, without any success, the expert in infectious diseases decided to move me to the hospital where he was the head of the department for infectious diseases, in Asti. There it was even worse! I was isolated in a room, away from my loved ones, who had to drive for kilometres to come to see me, to give me a bit of comfort. The problem was when they left and closed that door… I stayed in that room alone weeping and suffering. I thought of my children, who were accustomed to my presence, and suddenly had to roll up their sleeves, while I was lying on that "cursed bed”, I missed my daily life. I really wanted to be at home with them, even to hear them arguing! During my stay, doctors had conflicting opinions: by analysing the countless tests to which I had been submitted, some of them thought it was a bad infection that had struck most of the bones in the pelvis and in the ribs and that it would heal through long care and a lot of patience; others, instead, were convinced that the spots shown by the various resonances and PET scan were the metastasis of the breast cancer that were eating my bones. You can understand my state of mind! I did not know who was right, I always tried to support the first hypothesis. I clang to my hope… I used to think: "Why is it happening to me?"; all my projects were disappearing and the fear of death took the upper hand... After a month of treatment, at last I was discharged, and, with the support of home-care service, I continued to undergo therapies at home. When I came back home, I was really happy, in seventh heaven! Eventually, I could stay with my family, it seemed to me that I had abandoned them for two long months… I thought that, after a few days, I would feel better, but this was not the case. Although I was still undergoing treatment, I did not feel any improvement; however, doctors told me that it was normal, that it would take me some time to get better, and thus my depression began. Everybody stood by me, trying to understand me, and I couldn't stand the idea that I should depend on someone for anything: to wash, to dress, to go out. What is more, I could not even return to work. One day, I had such a terrible panic attack, that it even took my breath away; that day I had the worst thoughts, so that I decided to ask a psychologist for help. I spent a terrible summer. To let my children relax a bit and to spare them the pain of assisting to my suffering, I decided to send them to spend their summer holiday at their grandmother’s, although I missed them a lot. Meanwhile, considered that the pain began to decrease and that I had been taking morphine for too long, doctors started to decrease the dose, up to eliminate it completely. It was not so simple! I had many crises of abstinence: I felt breathless, I suffered from sudden hot flashes and I was no longer conscious. Anyway, with the help of the psychologist, the doctors and my dear ones, I managed to overcome this cathartic and painful moment. Now I feel better! I have finished home-therapies and the pain is under control. With the beginning of this new year, I hope to leave behind this bad experience, that made me understand that we should enjoy the small joys of life, since, when we can no longer enjoy them, we realize how indispensable they are: from walking on our legs, to the ability to carry out any activity, although it may appear boring, such as doing the cleaning! And, above all, we should completely trust medicine, which has saved many lives, including my own life, thanks to the progress that it has made and is making. I would like to take this chance to thank Ms. X, a doctor specialized in home care, who has helped me to leave the hospital, and then to be immediately granted the ADI service, and nurse Angela, who has helped me a lot when I was at home and who has been very available, each time I called her; in particular, I want to thank my family and my friends, who have put up with all my crises! I know that they were frightened as well, and they have suffered very much, but in front of me they have always tried to hide their fears and, even if at that time I did not accept their attitude, because I thought they were playing down my feelings, now, with a clear mind, I understand that they have done so only for my own good! To push me to react! To avoid becoming even more demoralized than I was already and, also thanks to their help, in the end I managed to resume my life. Now I have changed, as I said before, I have a different vision of how important life is. I appreciate things that I did not appreciate before; simple gestures, a smile, a cup of coffee with a friend, going to work, and all those daily actions that, probably, those who are like I was before do not appreciate; because only when life decides to take things away, it makes us understand the substantial value of what seemed to be a "boring routine" before… Now I call that "boring routine" LIFE.

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