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Personal Experience

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An inconvenient tenant

Language: English
Country: Italy
Typology: health care professionals
This is my own story. One day cancer became my “tenant”. I had already experienced it through books, during university, then through patients. Ten years before, it paid visit to my father, but, from that day onwards, it decided to stay inside me. A day like many others… I was just trying to quickly finish the screening mammograms and the annual breast exam to arrive in time to the consulting room. I had no evident symptom, apart from a great tiredness, that I had called fatigue. I was planning the summer holidays, when my colleague told me about her diagnostic doubt: a small area of ultrasound distortion on the right breast should be checked through biopsy. It was like a damper. It was a moment of confusion mixed with disbelief. The diagnostic confirmation arrived seven days after. I would have wanted to withdraw the report alone, but I did not manage to do it alone, and asked my husband to go with me. "Infiltrating carcinoma of the breast". Few words full of meaning. I could not believe that it was happening to me, a sporty and health fanatic person, a doctor who has always paid attention to screening exams. Unconsciously, I was convinced that the annual control would have guaranteed me an anti-cancer "Bonus" for the other 365 days. Since that day, I have no longer used the term prevention, but that of early diagnosis, which appears to me to be far more appropriate! Physical and psychological fatigue followed and I spent months waiting for surgery outcomes and undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The fact of taking a drug is almost always related to the improvement of a symptom, to wellbeing… chemotherapy, instead, forces you to program the days following the administration of drugs depending on the tiredness, nausea and vomiting that they will cause you. I lived moments of despair, with a sense of imminent death. The disease hurts our deepest narcissism and deprives us of everything, uncovering our vulnerability and our being mortal. These are concepts difficult to metabolize and accept. As a physician, I have also lived moments of shame since I got sick. I was wondering how I would deal with patients who had seen the image of health and positive energy in me up to that moment. I searched for a reason for the disease, but I realized that we are not always able to give us satisfactory explanations. There is a Mystery to which we have not access. After a while, I began to listen to my “tenant”, to chat with it and to discover its Best part. I know that it may seem crazy, but also Cancer may tell us something good. It gives us the opportunity to stop the time for a moment and to revise the lifetime we have spent and, why not, even to think of future projects. My life with it has not undergone blatant changes on the surface, but more radical and deep changes, that have improved the human relationships I have, even in the professional field. Since that day, compassion, considered as listening to and welcoming the others' suffering, and humility have become fundamental and in my consulting room, when patients tell me their story, I feel more at ease if I sit next to them and not on the opposite side of the desk. Now I do not think only as a Physician, but also as a Sick Person, and this helps me to have a better relationship with my patients and to understand their anxieties, fears, anger. I live the feeling of belonging to a WHOLE in which we all move, and I feel I need the Other. In fact, I believe that the meaning of our existence should be sought precisely in human relations, in the relation with the other, in the sharing of emotions, feelings and experiences. I have gone through this piece of PATH thanks to the support of wonderful people who have known how to stand by me, each in his own way, by laughing or crying, by phone or hugging me, others by cooking in my place! I have never been alone and I have not cleaned up my agenda "of let-downs", as some people tell me that I have done; instead, my address book including the names of special people has got larger. I have also realized I believe in God much more than I had imagined. If believing in God means understanding the person, his dignity and “the other part” that there is inside us, then I am on the right track. I do not know if God or Buddha will stand by me, but I am sure it will become clear over time.

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