SEPTEMBER 25, 2020

Today marks one year since I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. I had already experienced the scare in September 2016, when at the age of 29, a bean on my breast turned out to be a malignant tumor accompanied by the phrase "Breast cancer, grade II". That time I was scared, but followed by a lot of reassurance and hope. I was sure that the treatment was going to work and that it would only be a physically painful process, but that it had a certain and happy ending, and I would be able to go on with my life and enjoy my family for a long time to come.

The bucket of cold water came exactly on September 25, 2019. I had been feeling bad for a month, but I always had a thousand answers for the pain: I am stressed, I am tired, today I ate badly, today I moved too much, maybe I am pregnant...It seemed impossible to me that the fatigue that did not let me stand in the evenings, the bones that throbbed or the nausea I felt weeks ago, were a metastasis of the cancer that I thought was eradicated. The mind is a powerful tool, and I, although I had lived through chemotherapies, radios, mastectomy, I refused to think it could all be related. "I'm so young! Impossible for that to happen to me" or "what a pain in the ass hypochondriac people, having cancer once doesn't mean that everything else is cancer". Today I look at it and I think I was very naive. My pride wouldn't let me see that my body was sick. I thought that my youth was going to be able to fight against an eventual metastasis, or that saying I felt bad was weakness and exaggeration, I did not want to be pitiful, and that clouded my capacity for reality. Fortunately my husband, who knows me better than I do, made me understand that it was time to go to the doctor. We found metastases in the bones, lungs and liver and the dreaded phrase "Breast cancer, grade IV". I was terrified. Grade IV to me meant death. In my mind that grade of cancer is the last one before terminal. Where was I going to go? Who was going to take care of my children? For the first time in my life I felt it was a fact, I was sick, and I was going to die.

Since that day a year has passed. 365 intense days, where I recognize that sometimes I have been anguished thinking about death, but in the remaining majority, it has been an immensely happy process. It seems a cliché, but it is when one lives the situations that one realizes that clichés exist for a reason. We found a treatment, which paradoxically, makes me look healthy. Besides, I can live my normal life, I feel good, with energy. That is what I liked most about this stage, because before, although my cancer was less aggressive, I lived with the visible signs of the treatment: the scarf, the eyes without eyelashes or eyebrows to frame, the permanent nausea. People no longer look at me with pity, they don't know I am sick, I feel incognito in the world of the healthy. For me, cancer no longer means death. It has been more of an awakening, to begin to live a more intense life, more grateful for the details, for the family and the love that surrounds me, for being alive.

During this time I have learned a lot about the "truisms" of life, which are sometimes the most difficult to make my own, such as, for example, that death is part of life and that we must make friends with finiteness. We are not made to live forever, and that is fine, and not in a sad or meaningless way, but understanding that because of finiteness we must make the most of what we have. In fact, I am convinced that we should talk more about death, as the natural process that it is (although I am still scared to death thinking about it...I don't know if I will ever get over it). I have also learned to love my body, to respect it for allowing me, even with cancer, to do the things I like to do. It was difficult for me to understand that, due to the treatment, my body can no longer be the way I would like it to be. I tried in vain to get back to "my size", to what my mind demanded as my own body. But after a while, I understood that why do I want a body that looks a certain way, if the important thing is that it allows me to live the best I can. I am grateful for it and I try to give it what nourishes it, what is good for it and not what I think is better for it to look a specific way, and doing that was really liberating. Lastly, and not to go on any longer than I have, cancer has taught me to let go, to understand that you are not in control of things. I would love to say that I have made this my own, because it is hard for me to surrender, but I have discovered that surrendering to God's designs brings me peace. I have to do what is within the reach of my hands and medicine, but beyond that we can't do anything, and that's okay, everything will be okay. Trust that whatever happens, is what has to happen and that there is beauty in that plan.

Maria Victoria Claro

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