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carlotta_occhiena

On June 21, 2012, at 5 p.m., a warm summer day, my life totally changed.

Before that day, I was an architect and worked in an art gallery in Torino. I was single. I lived alone with my dog and my job was my life. I used to spend 14 hours a day working, and during my free time I devoted myself to the theater and art. In June 2012, I started feeling constantly feeling sick. I was very tired, couldn’t breathe properly, and coughed quite a lot, but I thought that all this was due to my very stressful life. Eventually, I went to my family doctor who simply diagnosed me with bronchitis and stress and gave me antibiotics.

I went back home and asked my mom to take me to the hospital. I felt that I had a serious illness and that I wouldn’t have return home in the near future. Because of this feeling, I said goodbye to my dog by saying “I hope to see you again.” I felt that death was in me. I took my dog’s tag with his name on it and held it in my hands all the time.

At the hospital, I was diagnosed with a pneumothorax of the left lung. I was hospitalized immediately, and my cancer journey officially began.

What followed were checkups, blood tests, Tac, X-rays, MRI, and a night spent on a stretcher consumed by the fear of not knowing what was going on with me. The day after, I had a chest drain which gave me dreadful pain, the worst I have ever had in my life!

Unluckily, I was then transferred to a hospital that did not specialize in pneumology. I spent ten days in a terrible situation without pain therapy; I was lost and thought I was going to die there!

Thanks to my parents’ influential social circle, I was able to leave that hospital and move to the San Luigi Hospital in Orbassano: the top hospital for lung cancer.

Finally I felt cared for! I was in a safe place and completely relied on the doctors and staff of the department of thoracic surgery. I still wasn’t aware I had cancer!!

One day a doctor sat on my bed and told me I had cancer and that they had to remove a lung, to which I simply said “Ok go ahead.”  I didn’t ask anything. I didn’t want to know anything; my brain stopped, I just wanted to go home, I just wanted to live!

I perfectly remember the face of the doctor: he gave me the terrible news in such a calm way and with such a reassuring voice that I immediately thought, “They will save me!!!

After surgery I thought everything was over and I was happy. My brain started working again. Instead, that was when the meaning of the word “cancer” truly started. Chemotherapy was next!

Chemotherapy led to the collapse of my strength. I have been lucky because my family has always been with me, but very often relatives don’t understand and are too concerned to stay close to you in a peaceful way.

During this time, surgeons and staff of the department of thoracic surgery had a fundamental role. They gave me the strength and the necessary support in the worst moments of my treatment. When I couldn’t stand the situation anymore and nothing seemed to make sense, the smile of a nurse or the caress of a volunteer would give me strength.

I also think that the most useful and necessary support is what comes after the first treatment. That’s when you start checkups after surgery, when you hope that cancer is defeated! This is the time when all your strength disappears and you need the most help and support. I personally met the organization WALCE during this time. This organization helped me with so many initiatives, but more than all, they put me in touch with patients who had experienced the same things I had. He who has not experienced it, however he may try, cannot fully understand what it is like to have this disease! I think that the patients’ associations are really important and necessary. For this reason, it’s important to be active and support people who unfortunately are fighting against this illness.

My illness has taught me first of all to ask for help when you need it. It’s not necessary to be so strong in life. It’s ok to feel weak and need the help of others.

Also, it made me realize that everything can change in an instant, and I now try to give more attention to small, beautiful moments of life.

The biggest challenge is not to think about death every single day. It’s a challenge I have not yet overcome. I’m still struggling!

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