I prefer the word “amiche” in Italian because it is feminine. My name is Anna Maria, I am Italian and I live and work in Bologna. A beautiful medieval city which, in the light of the events which followed, proved to be a good choice because Bologna has a long university tradition (the oldest in Europe) and excellent hospital facilities as well as highly qualified and professional doctors.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, at the age of 50, in its early stage thanks to a constant from of prevention (regular check ups since I was 25). I had a quadrantectomy followed by radiotherapy and hormonal therapy with Tamoxifen. Unfortunately after two years I had a recurrence in the same breast. This time I had to have a mastectomy and axillary node dissection. Reconstruction was more complicated because my skin had been exposed to radiation. I was frightened and completely disorientated.
Fortunately I was in the hands of a competent and very human general surgeon, prof. Taffurelli, who reassured me. He explained that, working in team with a plastic surgeon, a breast reconstruction with autologous tissues (from my abdomen) could be performed in the same surgical procedure with the mastectomy. I was introduced to a well known plastic surgeon, dr. Cipriani who tried to explain to me the surgical procedure by drawing.
It sounded like science fiction to me …we will cut here… take away there… put it back here and reconnect everything. He obviously used more scientific terms. This giant doctor (not only because of his height but for his skills) gave me the impression, as his enormous hands continued to draw, that there was a solution to what seemed to me an insuperable problem. I tried to face the operation courageously comforted by the fact that I was in good hands and surrounded by my dear ones.
My husband took off his suit and tie , put on a jogging suit and spent the whole week in hospital with me. I came out of the operating theatre looking like an octopus with several drainage pipes sticking out of my body but after a couple of days I was walking along the corridor of the ward carrying all these frills in two brightly coloured plastic bags.
Chemotherapy followed shortly after the operation and despite the nausea , weakness and loss of hair I rediscovered people and objects that I had neglected or taken for granted. I looked at nature with a different eye and even thought about painting. With great relief of those like my brother who have great artistic talent I desisted so fortunately there a no horrible pictures hanging on the walls.
A year of treatment with Herceptin followed and at last I was out of the tunnel. My hair grew back and I was extremely pleased with the result of the reconstruction. I can wear anything I like (including a bathing costume) and have never felt embarrassed. A part of me may have been demolished (physically) even if the aesthetic results are excellent but I have gained more from a human and moral point of view and I have changed in the way I feel about the value of friendship and solidarity.
I have a better understanding of the essence of life and I am lucky to still have the opportunity to try and transmit it to other friends... by the way I have gone back to work and I am making the same mistakes as I made before... but at least I am still HERE to make them!
Ciao Anna Maria