"It is time for myself. I am sitting and relaxing on the chair for the manicure, and a plump lady - with red hairs and freckles on his face - is sitting in front of me, ready to begin her work.
Even if we do not know each other, she starts talking about her family and her life, the full time job, the household management and the time for three children: “They empty me of all energy, especially the boy which would like me to be always young and active, and I do not know how to manage this effort".
It is a very surprising sentence for me, in the context in which it’s expressed, but I encourage her with a smile and she continues: "I have always found difficult to embrace and cuddle my children. The little girl, born fifteen years after the first, is strong and independent. The boy, almost adolescent, would instead be a large cuddly and I worry about how my coldness could affect his character in the future".
Usually very shy, I find myself thinking aloud, "Maybe you should talk about this with someone. There must be a deep emotional reason, which you must investigate before you hurt yourself. And you have to take care of yourself." "And when?" she says, "After work, children and home care, I have no time even to think. What about you, how do you found the way to be so calm and serene?"
As in a game of mirrors, I see my last thirty years: the yearning for independence, the university, the jobs becoming always more challenging and the several actions - including economic ones – taken to support my original family, the awareness that I can never give up, that there is always something or someone that has the priority and come first. And, much to her dismay, I hear me saying “I had a cancer, and it was not enough…"
It is June of 2008 when for the first time I feel that there is something wrong with my right breast. I have familiarity with breast cancer, it carried away my grandmother Lucia and hit my sister at age 36, fortunately with different result. The annual check-up is already set by the end of July and I do not think to do it earlier.
You know, a Wonder Woman does not get sick!
The day of the mammography - July the 24rt – I am not alone, my sister came to visit me in Siena and also took the opportunity to make her check-up. Despite her surprise for the duration of my visit, she willingly accepts the pretence of a trouble with the machine, which allows me to delay the bad news for a few days.
The doctor, very worried, gave me the name of his friend M. for the biopsy and the definitive diagnosis. I call him and, despite the urgency, I find room in my schedule for the appointment only on Saturday morning.
You know, a Wonder Woman never neglect her job!
July the 26th: after the biopsy and the agreement to call back after a couple of days for the response, I take my car to go to Milan, where my husband and our son live. They do not know anything yet, perhaps not to alarm them for no reason, perhaps because I start to be aware that I have to be strong for them too, and then I would rather talk to them in person.
You know, a Wonder Woman must be in control!
July the 29th, again in Siena: M. calls me and gives me an appointment in the afternoon to check the result. I am a little ahead of schedule and the nurse, recklessly, hands me a sealed envelope without waiting for the doctor. The verdict: ductal carcinoma. I have no need for explanation, I know that it must be removed as soon as possible and my experience as a manager comes into action: when M. arrives I ask him to suggest the name of a surgeon to contact. Very amazed by my reaction, M. offers me a coffee and asks me to wait for him to collect information. He is back in 10 minutes, with the names of two surgeons, both in Milan, greets me and wishes me good luck.
You know, a Wonder Woman is always efficient! – No space for emotions.
Contacting the surgeon is not a problem, I reach the website of the European Institute of Oncology and I fill in the online form to request a clinical breast examination. The next morning, July the 30th, while I am in the office studying the regulation of my medical insurance, I receive the phone call from the surgeon’s staff, who tell me that the doctor can see me in the afternoon, at 16 o’clock. I glance at the clock, mentally calculating the time, I confirm the appointment and I immediately reach to my car and start di engine.
Actually, from that time on, I start acting like an engine: Siena-Milan; examination; schedule of the surgeon for August the 7th; Milan-Siena; phone call to my husband; agreements with insurance; purchase of laundry and everything else needed; vacation request – you know, no weakness allowed to a wonder women in the workplace!; hospitalization, other exams, surgeon, discharge and weekend in Milan. And then the whole procedure, for 8 months: job, medication, job, radiotherapy, job, chemotherapy, job.
Not even the difficulties with the dosage of chemotherapy, which has been reduced twice, shakes me. I sleep 12 hours at night to recover energy and work during the day, the goal is to get back as soon as possible to my old life. But I am missing a detail ...
August 2009, the chemotherapy is finished in March and I feel good. The year before I had no holidays, as I used my vacations for surgeon and radiotherapy, this year I want to enjoy it, in Salento country, on the rocks overlooking the sea. The trip from Siena gives me the first signs: after several hours of driving, I am very tired.
Too much work, Wonder Woman!
The next day, I go to the shore with my husband and once arrived, I cannot stand on the rocks, the same that I used to climb like a goat, as a child! It begins to come out the awareness that something has changed. I realize that I cannot stay awake after dinnertime, that I can hardly bear physical burdens, that also a single glass of wine make me tipsy. Suddenly, I feel ten years aged.
My rationality prevails again, I contact a specialist in sports medicine, who is known for doing wonders with rehabilitation after injuries in the field, and he finds no muscle problem. But he speculates that the chemotherapy has somehow attacked the central nervous system. "You're like a boxer after dozens of matches", he says, "let's fix it." So I begin a journey that at the end of twelve months, first in the pool and then in the gym, takes me back to normal and allows me to enjoy the sea again in August of 2010.
Wonder Woman is back !!
Or not ….
In these two years, much has changed. My husband decided to retire and come to live where I work. The bad economic situation in my family of origin disappeared. I started working actively on social issues. I discovered and cultivated true friendship, as I had not done in the last thirty years. I found the courage to leave a job that drained all my time and all my energy to try to achieve my dreams.
And saying those words to the plump lady - with red hairs and freckles on his face - I realize how lucky I have been, because cancer killed something about me, that had no reason to exist: Wonder Woman."
"Wonder Woman" is an original story by Luigia Tauro, who won the “second best short story award” at “Donna sopra le righe 2013” the Italian literary contest dedicated to breast cancer survivors, chaired by Andrea Camilleri.