Happy Birthday to our Anna

by Anna from Italy

Dear Listmates,

I am still smiling at the misunderstanding that resulted in MY birthday being brought to the attention of this list!!! Although such things are seldom an item of discussion, let me say that it is great to belong to a support group where either the most accurate science information and personal events are shared and where emotions and mental support have the same weight and people’s dedication as the most important medical discoveries.

As caregiver of my beloved 20 years old Gister daughter, Claudia, and as breast cancer survivor myself, I am so grateful I am here, celebrating my (let me whisper now) f-i-f-t-y-f-i-r-s-t birthday with my family and friends. Actually, it takes a few seconds for me to realize my age every time I need to write it down or say it, because I feel more like a grown-up “girl” rather than a certain aged lady!

Last year, Feb. 4, 2004, I could not celebrate: I was in the middle of my chemotherapy treatment, following my breast cancer surgery which occurred in Summer 2003. I remember nothing of my birthday last year. I am sure I received flowers and presents from my daughters, siblings and friends, even more so because I was the “sick one”. I think I removed all those days from my mind. All I remember is that chemo was heavy on me, the only thing that helped me was lying in bed and sleep, because it was the only way not to throw up. I was bold, without eyelashes and eyelids, thanking God that whatever it may happen, my Claudia, with her Gist, would never have to experience such a terrible therapy.

One year after, my world seems completely different: I am well, my cancer is “in remission” (for breast cancer oncologists), or NED (in the Gisters’ language), my hair has grown back nice and curly, I am in good shape. Most importantly, my daughter has been NED for the last 50 months, we care about each other. Claudia is 20 and half of her life has been spent in the company of Gist, since she had her first stomach surgery at the age of 10.

When she was in hospital at 10 years old, crying at the sight of any doctor moving in her direction, and then again at the age of 16, not crying this time but staring in silence at the ceiling from her bed, I could only pray for God to put an end to all that. I was asking Him to stop challenging Claudia and have my life instead. I was trying to trade my existence with hers, as if the Lord were a cruel divinity demanding one’s life in exchange of another. I knew it did not work that way and any religious person would have shivered at my prayers, but I had nothing else to pray for.

That is why, in June 2003, I was not surprised when my breast cancer was diagnosed. Was it a familiar destiny or the answer to my prayers? I can’t know. All I know is that today I am grateful to be here and that Claudia is well and NED. To celebrate my birthday, Claudia, my younger daughter, Silvia, and I are going to the theater to see My Fair Lady musical this afternoon. I know for sure it will be a lovely show and that we are going to spend a wonderful day together. I have no idea were the three of us will be, or how we will be, in one year time or in 10 years time. The only certainty is today.

I am feeling happy and in peace with the world.

And, if a couple of tears will want to drop even today, I will manage to have them fall when the theater is in the dark, during the show.

I have vented more than I meant, I must rush otherwise we’ll be late for the musical. It is a privilege for me to belong to this list and to know all of you, great people! I hope one day I can fly to your wonderful county and get to meet each of you.

Anna in Italy