Chiara, the marathon runner

At least Chiara was spared the CA125 test anxiety of before. That moment of falling headlong when they tell you that there is something inside your body that is eating you and that you need to intervene immediately. The HPV Virus test was clear. They operated on me for an ovarian cyst, and only afterwards did they explain to me that I had ovarian tumour cancer. They discovered it during the surgery, which started as a routine thing. I fell asleep without knowing I was sick; I woke up and wasn’t sick. After all, come on, she was a luxury for me. The bad came later.

Facing Chemotherapy:

From the histological results, the HPV doctors decided that it was appropriate to do three cycles of preventive chemo. Three very hard months. I had to temporarily leave my job, which is very important to me, and I saw my strength slowly wane until I was reduced to doing almost nothing. Luckily, I had my family, friends, colleagues, and even my boss close by, who kept me busy at a distance so that I didn’t feel left out. Without them, I would not have been able to face this tiring “marathon”, where each intermediate stage was a goal achieved to reach the goal. In July, I was finally able to start running again.

A Dream Realized:

I have always been an athlete. I had done my last race and test 10 days before the Ovarian CA125 Cancer operation. When I discovered the initiative of the Veronesi Foundation, it didn’t seem true to me: transforming my passion into a precise mission in the name and favour of all women. The greatest emotion was participating in the New York marathon with the girls from the tested HPV protection team, an experience, the dream of a lifetime. We shared 8 months of training and effort, which the group consolidated, creating strong bonds. We still see each other often; we chat and say good morning and goodnight.

It seems paradoxical, but I’m almost grateful for the CA125 Level test and what happened to me. I’m 31 years old, and maybe I won’t be able to have children; for now, I don’t want them, and I’m not thinking about it; tomorrow, who knows, but my life has changed due to an Ovarian tumour and cancer. As if there had been a “turning point”. Before, I lived without realising it, but now I know what it means to have friends, get up in the morning, and run. Everything makes sense. And everything there is is not to be taken for granted. Awareness makes me feel lucky.”

Stefania’s HPV story is the most troubled, and she tells it to me in a low voice, as if she didn’t want to disturb me. She has already felt too much of a nuisance in the last four years with her family, who circled her and never let go. A lawyer husband, two teenage children and a life that suddenly leaves them suspended in a limbo from which you don’t know if, how and when you will get out.

Aggressive and Multiple Surgeries:

From 2014 to 2018, she underwent 11 operations, an aggressive cancer took away both of her breasts. I felt the ca125 tumour, which tests prove is growing inside me at an impressive speed. In May, I was fine; I went shopping for underwear and clothes for a wedding. The following month, while feeling my breasts, I felt a strange presence, a foreign body that I could touch through the fabric of my blouse. They told me it had to be removed immediately because it was a bad form with a rapid progression. They discovered the second while I was having chemo: with a CT scan and a CT scan, they saw a four-millimeter formation in the other breast.

Enduring Pain and Family’s Role:

The second mastectomy was the beginning of the ordeal. A late seroma and other complications occurred, which brought me back under the knife several times, compromising the functionality of my right ear. Then there were the chemo and CA125 test treatments, long, exhausting, really hard to bear, and not just for me. I never hid anything from my children, who were 15 (Sofia) and 13 (Federico). I wouldn’t have been able to protect them anyway. They saw me in every possible way: strong, fragile, absent.

Medicines have serious effects: you have hallucinations, you no longer feel tastes, and you suddenly lose your strength. One minute, you’re joking while serving at the table, and the next, you collapse on the sofa. The times when only they were there, they had to manage the HPV emergency testing for dangerous DNA HPV variants. And we behaved like adults. They did it very well, even trying to make me laugh.

Life Choices and Future Aspirations:

When I lost my hair, I walked around the house wearing a cap, and Federico made fun of me by taking a picture of me wearing a hat like mine. I didn’t want to wear a wig, or rather a scarf or turban, because I wasn’t ashamed of my condition. Even though my body has changed, I have never seen myself as a monster, but only as a different Stefania than usual. This saved me from depression, together with the love of my husband, which has never failed, and my boys. They forgot they were little for four years and dedicated themselves to their mother. Now, they need to get their lives back. Federico asked to spend a year in America, while Sofia, who wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and enrol in law school, instead opted for medicine.

Stefania’s Continued Advocacy and Reflection:

This HPV experience had repercussions on tests for the whole family. She made us grow closer, but she also dictated future choices. Did I get out of it? I do not know. I felt very vulnerable. Now things are better. I won a battle and remained on standby with an active, non-submissive attitude. But I live with the knowledge that the CA125 Level cancer or tumours can return at any time. If it happens to me again, what can I do? My body has changed; my face has become round, my fingers hurt, and sometimes my whole body hurts, too, but being a Pink Ambassador gives me courage. I’ve always been lazy, but now I train with the girls twice a week. I do it for a bigger cause, for research against female cancers. When I run, I’m not Stefania but all the women.”