I am like the Tower of Pisa

Two weeks ago I started a sort of rehabilitation course for people who have had cancer. It’s called “herstel en balans” or, in english, “rehabilitation and balance”. Rehabilitation because we meet twice a week to do sport or specific exercises; balance because, once a week, there is a group meeting with a psychologist.

The first meeting was exhausting. When I came back home I had the feeling I had run a marathon. I brought home a ballast full of stories, those of others but also mine. I pulled out those stories that do not come out so easily, those I do not like to talk about because if I don’t do it … “it’s everything fine”.
In reality it is not the case. It is like someone tried to kill me. I survived, but there might be more attempts… There are times I feel in great shape, in which I seem to be able to keep up with everything, but sometimes the morale goes down, for no particular reason, I simply feel tired and I have difficulties in keeping the emotions under control.
Today’s meeting was intended to address precisely this subject: emotions. The means: a piece of clay to be mould into something that would represent the less pleasant emotion for yourself. Not everyone was happy with the need to express himself through a creative act. Well, certainly it is not easy to represent the metaphor of an emotion. The idea behind the exercise is that by giving it a form you can look at it from the outside, you can remove from yourself and, above all, you can control it. I am not sure it really worked this way for me but I certainly learned something through this exercise.

Instinctively I went back to two years ago because for me most difficult moments belong to that period, when I was struggling with my health. I knew there was something wrong in my body and I feared the worse and I was constantly asking myself the reason behind what was happening to me. I remember that period of uncertainty as the most distressing moment, even more than when I received the diagnosis. At least, once diagnosed, I knew – more or less – what I was going to face and I was focused on my battle …. but not knowing … it was really terrible. And the worst moment of all was that October 19th, 2012, that Friday when the surgeon told me I had breast cancer (and what kind!), that the road would be long and arduous, and that about the chances of complete recovery … he could not tell me anything. And again, the most distressing moment was not that one, because somehow I prepared myself. Having read on the internet that e-cadherin negative tumors are particularly aggressive and especially YOU DO NOT SEE then with a mammography nor an ultrasound, I had already figured out that it was either something very small or something very very serious. I “cashed” as the most trained boxer. I was on the ground but ready to get up. But when I got home that evening I realized that I did not know anything yet because the following Monday I would have done a scintigraphy, a magnetic resonance (MRI) of the head and a chest scan (CT) to determine if there were any metastases around. That could change radically the story I had heard in the afternoon. It took almost another week to know that – fortunately – there was still hope …

How should I therefore represent uncertainty? I literally felt as if I was missing the ground beneath my feet. Being an architect I made the following association: a state of uncertainty is a state of instability. A house built on the rock does not move, but one built on sand can remain in upright position, but it can more easily get to an inclined position or may even collapse. And what better metaphor of the Tower of Pisa to represent this structural instability? This state of “uncertainty” has made it one of the 7 world’s wonders. In fact, the most spectacular thing is not its precarious position in itself, but the fact that it is in that position since a veeeery long time. The tower, just like me :-), had to undergo some restoration works because it seemed that it was just destined to collapse. Instead, according to experts, it will still be there for at least another 250 years.
At the beginning of my therapy I was reading that women with my type of cancer have 20-30% surviving chance, that many women who started therapy with a regional metastasis under the armpits died before the end of the therapy, I read that my kind of cancer is most of the time highly resistant to chemotherapy. Instead, against all odds and all logic, I am still here, and I’m determined to stay here still a loooong time … just like the tower of Pisa! 🙂

What I realized while doing this exercise is that this insecurity is for me an emotion linked to the past much more than to the present. It means that even though I cannot declare myself healed, I feel more healed than I thought! And understanding this has given me so much relief … hopefully, by give it some time, this feeling will only increase.

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