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Erminia and breast cancer: “Why not tempt fate to have a normal life?”

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IN THIS month dedicated to breast cancer it is easy to find opportunities to listen to the voices of those who “have experienced it”. Stories that are echoed, that touch each other, that are mirrored, made of “elements” that are repeated, always the same yet different: the discovery of the nodule, the diagnosis, the intervention, the therapy, the clinical studies, the doctors, the nurses … As with Calvino’s “Castle of Crossed Destinies” tarot, the meaning of each element also depends on the place it occupies compared to all the others: on the way in which it is combined. And the sequence reveals messages. So one lady among the many, Erminia, yesterday went excited on the stage of a Milanese theater to put down her row of cards. We tell you about his message this week in the Health Breast newsletter (here is the link to subscribe for free).

Erminia takes the stage

The Manzoni room is half full as required by the anti-Covid regulations. But she still has more than 400 people in front of her, mostly women. Most have had or have breast cancer. Like her. His daughter is also sitting in one of those armchairs. They are all there for the “IEO for women” event, again, finally, live. Erminia has a sheet in her hand where she has written the things she wants to say, so as not to be betrayed by emotion. A short time before, there was none other than Jovanotti in his place: he told the story of his daughter and sang “Bella”, dedicating it to this public so normal and so special at the same time, because like him he knows what cancer. Now it’s her turn and she thinks of that phrase that she often says, quoting Jovanotti: “I think positive because I’m alive”. Think positive for 13 years, Erminia.

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It takes a breath. “It was May 2009 when I discovered the lump, but they did not operate on me, because it turned out soon after that I had liver and lung metastases.” The opening words are not the best, and the following sentence is certainly not expected: “Cancer hasn’t changed my life in the slightest. Apart from having to do the therapies and checkups – at first every week and then one week every three – apart from that, I continued to work and do everything I did before ”.

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From diagnosis to experimental drug

Each case is unique and Erminia’s path is perhaps not the most common, but more and more often the treatment of breast cancer, especially advanced, is without chemotherapy. What made the difference in its history was being able to participate in a clinical trial right from the start. “Right after the diagnosis, two of the IEO doctors came to me and told me that maybe there was a chance to get me into a trial: they were testing a new targeted drug that could only kill cancer cells. I said yes without looking for more information: it was the first time that the drug, called TDM-1, was tested in Italy. We were about ten patients all over Europe. I trusted and trusted ”.

When the balance between disease and therapy is lost

On his tumor, that drug proved to be particularly effective and without major side effects. Two months later, the breast lump was hardly visible and the liver metastases had shrunk so much that they could not even be measured. The trial lasted three years but the response to therapy was so good that he was able to continue the treatment for two more. From 2009 to 2013, Erminia went to the hospital every three weeks for an IV and for checks. Until, towards the end of that year, the balance between her body, the cancer and the drug had somehow “broken”: the lump in her breast had awakened. “It was perhaps a harder blow than even the first diagnosis”, says Erminia: “At that point, however, there were the conditions for an intervention. They operated on me in February 2014 and a month later I was already back to my routine: the infusion on Tuesday every three weeks, with a new drug no longer experimental, called trastuzumab, which I have never stopped “.

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The second diagnosis

His story with the tumor doesn’t end there, though. In 2019, during the usual checkups, a new tumor was discovered in the other breast. It was not a relapse: this lump was completely different from the first. Erminia had then undergone a new operation and today she is following two therapies: one for the first tumor and another for the second. “I accepted the disease and I think it is as one of the very good breast doctors who have followed me over the years says: it is as if I have high blood sugar or a heart disease, and for this I have to take a cure forever. I just take it like that. At some point it is life that gives you the strength to live. I am sick, yet I am fine. in recent years I have continued to work as a physiotherapist with children, and once I retired I continued for a while as a volunteer. I never imagined it, but I became a grandmother twice, and soon I will be for the third. I have experienced many things, good and bad ”.

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The hardest blow is the importance of early diagnosis

Among the worst things was the breast cancer of his daughter, the youngest, discovered last January. After the first diagnosis in 2009, in fact, Erminia had begun to have both of her daughters undergo breast ultrasound every year. The minor began when she was not yet 30 years old: “She snorted every time, she didn’t want to take this exam, but luckily she always did”, says Erminia: “This allowed her to discover the tumor when it wasn’t even palpable, unlike me, that I felt the lump when it was already large. Her treatments were heavier than mine: she had a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, lost her hair and had nausea and vomiting. She’s a sportswoman, she coaches a football team, and she had to stop for a while. But now he is taking back his whole life. She told me she was going to fix the bike this afternoon. And every third Tuesday we do the therapy together in the hospital ”.

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The sense of telling oneself

There does not seem to be a known genetic mutation at the base of their tumors, but it is evident that there is a certain familiarity, so the alert is always high. “Today I got on that stage because I think it’s really important to tell our experiences. Our stories bring what we read about clinical trials into reality. I’ve always wanted to talk about my illness with everyone: with friends, with colleagues at work. I’m a patient, not an actress, and I was very agitated up there, but it’s worth it. The message I hope will pass is that there is almost always one more chance: so why not tempt fate. Not to heal, no. But to live a normal and peaceful life for as long as possible “.


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