I was 20 years old, I had just started university, had a new city to discover, new friends, new projects in my head and I felt like I finally had the future in my hands. Then, in June 2010, my mum was diagnosed
with pancreatic and lungs cancer.
That's where my cancer story starts, although I didn't know it yet.
This tragic news was truly unexpected for me and my family. All of a sudden I didn't know what to do, I had never faced anything similar before. Life changed -- immediately.
In the very first period we were quite optimistic, or maybe it was just me, but I remember my mother planning trips for after the treatment. Very soon, though, we understood there was not much to do for her and I felt very stupid to have been so hopeful. Soon we had to face the truth.
My mother underwent surgery then started both chemo and radiotherapy. My father was often silent, and only became more distant through the treatment. As for me, I tried to escape mentally
; I couldn't bear all that agony my mother was going through. I withdrew into myself, into my own little safe world. I stopped going to classes, and I became increasingly isolated as my mother became more and more fragile, day by day. Six months into it, she wasn't mentally there anymore. The mother I knew was gone and I couldn't do anything to stop it or bring her back. On January 5th at 3 a.m., she passed away. She left an abyss in my soul that won't ever be filled again.
After about one and a half years, I knew something was wrong with me, but I did nothing to stop or prevent it. It was like my guilt
for not being able to help my mother had developed in a physical form and I let it there like I knew I deserved it, because I didn't care. Eventually, I was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer. My father and brother were wasted by the news but, surprisingly, I was calm. I discovered I could find my strength in their lack of direction. I didn't want them to get worried for me, so I just tried to be as happy as I could.
During my treatment, when I was forced at home, I started to paint with oil colours but also digital drawing, I learned to create plushes with felt, I made earrings with fimo, I also learned a lot of new recipes, I made new experiments with my camera, I learned Portuguese, I exchanged emails with people from other countries in the world.
The hardest parts of cancer weren't even the treatment, though.
Based on what I knew from my mother's fight, I figured if I could get over the treatment part then I could survive. Despite what my mother had gone through with her treatment, I was kind of lucky. I felt very bad only a few times; most of times I was just incredibly tired and forced to bed. I needed three surgeries (resulting in a scar of almost 10 inches) and chemotherapy, but I managed to survive.
In all honesty, my biggest concern after the diagnosis was about my hair
. It may seem stupid now, but I always had very long hair and I couldn't stand the idea of losing it. Of course, at the end, I had to deal with it, but still I can remember my initial thought being: Not the hair
Another great distress of mine was the hormone replacement therapy and the infertility issue
. I had both my ovaries removed and although I never seriously thought of having children before, at that time I couldn't stop thinking no man would ever want to stay with me
since I wouldn't be able to can't give him a child and create a family together. Now I know this doesn't make much sense, but I wasn't so rational then.
The worst part was seeing all of my friends going on with their lives while mine stopped
. That was terrible. I had won one of the hardest battle of my life, but inside I felt unsuccessful. My friends already graduated, someone was planning a wedding, someone else also had kids, while I was there suspended in a state of limbo without any plan or ambition for my future. I couldn't find the concentration to finish my studies, I lost contact to most of my friends, and spent most of the times at home with sad thoughts on my mind. It was difficult to go through those months, but with the support of my family and the friends left, I did it.
But despite the hardship, I never gave up and I never gave in.
Now I can finally say it was worth to go through all this sorrow and not give up. It doesn't matter how long it takes, just keep fighting. Go on even though you can't see anything beautiful ahead of you -- something precious will come. Two years ago, I met Davide, an incredible man who couldn't care less of my infertility. Instead he gave me – and still gives me – the strength to accept what happened. He likes me as I am and I feel so lucky to share life with him.
What I learned so far: life is unpredictable. It's not always beautiful but it is worth to fight for; hair grows back; positive thinking is essential, it gives you and your family the strength to go on; listen carefully to the signals your body sends to you, prevention is fundamental.
I can now happily say I found a new balance after cancer. It was not easy, and at times I thought it was impossible, but I'm here to share my experience and show it's possible to be happy again, may it be helpful for someone out there.
What was the hardest part of your cancer journey? Share your experience in the comments below!
Photo courtesy of Allef Vinicius.