After all, no one lives forever. But as a metastatic patient, you know that your time has been cut short. The end is always there. Looming. It’s why I fill my days with activities – I never sit down doing nothing. I can’t.
My first diagnosis was Christmas 2015, with surgery following in early 2016. But before my first chemotherapy session they found out my cancer was metastatic – a sudden diagnosis that required me to change my entire perspective and approach to the disease. Nothing. I feel no pain at all. I was, I am completely asymptomatic. I just keep smiling, keep going, and do what I have to do. But you know what? It’s not strength, just that I have no other way to live. I could lie on the couch and wait for death to take me, but then it means cancer won. I don’t want that. I want to live as much as I can, doing my best all the time. I still have so much to do. To offer.
Retirement was never an option. I wake up every morning happy to teach Italian and History at my high school. I’m married, and a mother of three grown-up children and have two golden retrievers. I write a blog called ‘Fight, Live, and Smile’ for our daily newspaper, La Repubblica. I’ve been collaborating with the National Association of Oncologists and through them have spoken at a Congress in Rome about the importance of doctor / patient communication. And to enrich my life even more, I founded a cancer association.
I learned how to be an advocate. I am an advocator. I want to eliminate the stigma around metastatic breast cancer entirely. A lot of people hear it and think “she’s a dead woman walking”, and they offer pity or just disappear because they cannot bear the death, sorrow, or pain. But it’s not like this anymore. We can do a lot, even as metastatic patients.
Overall, I would love to go on like this. To keep doing what I’m doing, and living to see my grandchildren. I teach my students that the most important goal above all else is pursuing their happiness.
And despite my situation, I can say I have achieved this."
I was first diagnosed at Christmas 2015, and I was 53 years old at the time. I am a mother of three grown-up children; the eldest is 30, the second is 26, and my daughter is 22. I also consider my two golden retriever dogs a huge part of the family. I’m now 60, and still have so much more to give.
This t-shirt was given to me by my daughter, and I love it. It reads “my daughter says I’m gorgeous’.
I write in a blog for ‘la Repubblica’, a general interest newspaper that comes out daily here in Italy. It’s written by a few metastatic breast cancer patients for metastatic patients. As a second-generation patient, people look up to you, listen to you. You are their voice, so I make sure to study a lot and get all the information I can from other patients, all so I can do my best.
I teach Italian and History in a technical high school, and I’ve been teaching since I was 24. I really like my job and in fact, many of my friends are ex-students. I end up knowing their families and children which makes me kind of feel like an auntie to them.
I live in Bergamo, Italy, in a lovely 6th floor apartment. And as soon as you get in, you’ll see a very large table for lunch and dinners. We just love gathering family and friends together for lunch which is our main meal. It’s an Italian thing.
If I heard myself 15 years ago talking about my dogs the way I do now, I’d think I was crazy. We have a connection, and they realise what others are feeling. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I couldn’t move my arms, so I had to exercise a lot – sitting in a chair, moving my arm back and forth. My dogs would sit behind me and lick my arm every time it went backwards. It seemed like they realised there was a problem. They’re very nice, soft, delicate, and loving. It’s like they accommodate their actions depending on the situation.
My best friend Silvia lives in Genova, about 250km away. We’ve been friends for life and we just love each other. We’ve been through many difficulties in our lives together, and we keep in touch in any possible way we can. If she were to describe me in three words I know the adjectives she’d pick: stubborn first… but then definitely helpful, strong, and resilient.
Four years after being diagnosed with MBC, I started experiencing issues with my eye becoming extremely uncomfortable and swollen. My local hospital diagnosed it as an eye infection – one which I treated for 18 months with no improvement – after which I was bounced from doctor to doctor and given different reasons as to why the treatments weren’t working.
During these 18 months I had to fight to be heard. I knew there was something wrong, but no one person took responsibility for my condition. That was until I was seen by a young, newly trained doctor who ran different tests and diagnosed an ocular metastasis – an extremely rare and difficult to access tumour.
My local hospital couldn’t treat it, but they didn’t refer me to another institution as they wanted to keep me as a patient. A broken system that does more harm than good.
It was Europa Donna that were able to direct me to one of 6 global specialist centers, where treatment resulted in a significant reduction in the size of the tumour – treatment that if I had waited any longer would have meant I lost my eye and possibly my life.
As someone living with MBC, we shouldn’t have to fight to be heard or treated. And we shouldn’t have to go through so much to receive the best help as soon as possible.
We need to be treated properly.