THE SENSE of Carolina Marconi’s book, born in 1978, is all in the title, simple and direct: “Always with a smile” (Edizioni Piemme, 256 pp.). He tells his story: that of the unexpected diagnosis of breast cancer (which diagnosis is it?), That of his family and of those he met along the way. And it tells of the kaleidoscope in which it found itself, in full pandemic. Every now and then, a “behind the scenes” peeks out in the text that draws attention to prevention and other issues that revolve around the word cancer. The book opens with a kind of prequel, in a fertility clinic.
“I can’t afford to have cancer, I have to have my baby.”
The suspicion of cancer came with the last exam required before starting the assisted fertilization process: mammography. It wasn’t your first breast checkup, right?
“No, I did my first breast check up early, before I was 30, because I had implants. But I hadn’t visited for 4 years. At first I had postponed for I don’t know what reason. There is always one: the usual things in life, which should never take priority over health. Now I know. Then Covid arrived: fear was the protagonist and, like many women, I preferred not to go to the hospital. I guess no one expects a tumor. Certainly not me: I was not familiar and I have always been a health person. It was a bolt from the blue that pierced everything. But we are human, it happens ”.
“That day I realized that there is a very particular kind of courage, that of those who have no choice. And you would never want to find out you have it. “
What do you think of the metaphor of war, often used to talk about the treatment path for cancer?
“Which does not reflect much on the words that are used out of habit, as idioms. In the beginning, when someone called me ‘guerrera’ I felt like being made fun of. There is no strong enough metaphor to say what this path is, and perhaps the term battle comes closer than others. But there are no defeats or failures: we are all winners, regardless of how it turns out. I love life and if you want to live you have to act, it’s not like it can do otherwise. I don’t even like the term ‘sick’, though: for me the disease is a situation to be solved. I had my situation to resolve ”.
“I’ve come to wonder if it really made sense to stay alive. An absurd but understandable question when your life suddenly seems limited to the journey between sofa, bed and bathroom. What was the point of staying in those conditions? Then your family, your friends, those who love you will save you. They save you with their visits, phone calls, messages, chatter. My in-laws preparing fish for me ».
Throughout the book you encourage women not to isolate themselves, and their loved ones to be present even in the most difficult moments. It seems that if there is an enemy to fight, it is rather loneliness.
“Having others around and feeling supported is wonderful. I’ve experienced it firsthand and I think it’s right that we all give ourselves a chance. It’s happened so many times that I felt awful, I didn’t want my little grandchildren to see me. Sometimes I would wear a wig even though with hormonal treatments I had hot flashes and dying of heat. But they came and overwhelmed me: they took off my wig – ‘aunt you’re so beautiful’ – and filled my head with kisses. My family necessarily wanted to stay when I was in pain. There were days when everything hurt and they gave me massages. They made me laugh. After each chemo my sister stayed at my house for 8 days, working remotely, while I felt like throwing up. My siblings took hundreds of tampons to be with me when they weren’t so cheap. There were no beds for everyone and they slept on the floor. There may be people who don’t need this, but they should try it. Those who are sick should never be abandoned. These are the memories I have from that period ”.
“Every little movement was a pain, everything turned into a source of annoyance and, obviously, the mood was affected. I grumbled, I smiled a lot less than I usually did. I was angry with everyone, with the whole world. There were times – thankfully rare – when I wasn’t quite myself. It was difficult even for my sisters or my partner. Let alone for the others … This is a topic that is not talked about enough. Being close to a sick person is difficult emotionally and not only. It takes time and energy ».
Interactions on social media sometimes appear futile, what do you think about contacts with unknown people?
“That I am capable of giving you tremendous support. I have always shared everything about my illness on Instagram. Among the first messages I received was this: ‘You are not alone, update me’. And this is what I am writing now to those who contact me because they have received this diagnosis. With so many women I have never met, we kept each other company for a long time, telling each other our stories. Incredible, moving stories. Some of them ask me to even give their husbands advice on how to deal with someone who is sick. The life of caregivers is by no means simple ”.
“They left me with a choice to make: remove the whole breast or just the quadrant. A decision on a subject I knew nothing about. The first of many ».
You tell us that during the first meeting with the oncologist you had headphones on and listened to bachata. Didn’t you want to know?
“No, I wanted to trust. When you get the diagnosis you are confused, they talk to you about things you don’t know and don’t understand. It takes some time to accept it. You cannot immediately tell a patient all the knowledge about therapies, interventions, statistics. It’s too much. I just hoped it would all pass quickly. To wake up from the anesthesia, to finish the chemo to make the nausea go away and start painting again. To no longer have an immune system compromised by the treatments, to return to smell the sea and watch the sunsets without fear of the crowds on the beach “.
“Until you live it, you think it’s just the hair, the puffy face, the scars on the breasts. But the important thing is to heal, right? If you have cancer, you shouldn’t worry about these trivial details. You have to heal, don’t be vain. It is so, yet I assure you that it is difficult. At night I wake up, I get up to go to the bathroom, I pass the window and I see the reflection of a woman I don’t know: a stranger in my house. Several times I got scared, I was shocked for not recognizing myself ».
How has the relationship with your body changed?
“I had to rebuild it. But I love my body, I also love scars: I’m full of them, I even have one on my forehead. How can I not love them? I gained 13 kilos for the therapies, I got cellulite. But my hair is growing back and I’m getting back to doing the things I used to like, like sports. The cure for this disease is patience: slowly I will get back into shape, I will lose the pounds … Even my feet have risen! I do not suffer: my friends make fun of me and ask me to give them the clothes, but nothing to do, I intend to go back to wearing them. In the end, the only thing that will have changed is Carolina inside. Stronger, more aware. Now I enjoy everything, I no longer postpone what I love, I don’t waste time on stupid things. And I try not to get angry “.