But affected by pancreatic cancer tests, Chiara talks about her commitment. For those who, like her, “ask for nothing but more time to live.”
The lipase test is performed primarily to aid in diagnosing and monitoring acute pancreatic inflammation. This analysis is also useful for monitoring or determining the presence of chronic pancreatitis or other pathologies involving the pancreas.
“We need to talk about pancreatic cancer. We need to talk more about cancer and those who are fighting it because there are so many of us who are affected by it, including young people and children.”
This is Chiara’s story.
FROM SYMPTOMS TO DIAGNOSIS
Chiara Be discovered she was ill in 2017. “I had been having severe itching in my hands and feet for a while. It didn’t go away in any way, and I started to worry. I did some blood tests, and it turned out that I had high transaminases: a sign of liver toxicity, I told myself. I’m a biologist;
I understand certain things. Some friends and medical colleagues at work reassured me: ‘Come on, Chiara, you must have eaten something that caused you problems. Take some cortisone, and you’ll see what happens.
” The itching disappears. But not the fears. «I wasn’t calm; the explanation of the intoxication didn’t convince me, and I felt that something was wrong. So, one evening in November, I showed up at the emergency room alone.
And I stayed for a week.”
Doctors conduct in-depth investigations to understand what is behind Chiara’s symptoms and abnormal values. The pancreatic cancer tests, namely “CT and PET, were two biopsies for inflammation of the head of the pancreas, but even when analyzing the pancreatic tissue samples, there was no trace of tumour cells.
However, there were some “atypical cells”.
There’s something in the pancreas, and it’s a serious problem. Just over thirty years old, I have a job, friends, a partner and a young son. What goes through your mind when life unexpectedly throws you to the ground? “A thousand questions: why me? What will happen? How long can I live? Who will accompany my child on the first day of school?
The doctors, however, take Chiara by the hand and explain to her that there are decisions to be made immediately. “I had two options. The first was to operate a pancreaticoduodenectomy, a very long name to indicate the removal of the entire duodenum, a part of the stomach, the head of the pancreas and then reassembling everything.
A demanding and risky operation rarely practised at my age. The second option was cortisone-based therapy for a month to see if the problem was inflammatory. Still, otherwise, it would have been impossible to operate before another two months after the end of the treatment.” Chiara finds herself making one of the most difficult decisions of her life after a positive result from her pancreatic cancer tests.
Still, she does it quickly and says, “No, let’s have surgery”.
(“I’m a very practical person,” he explains to me). The complex surgery succeeds without complications; Chiara continues to have a functioning pancreas and undergoes six months of adjuvant chemotherapy to consolidate the effects of the operation. “I tolerated the drug well, I hadn’t even lost all my hair, I was quite happy,” she says.
Everything goes well for a year, during which Chiara’s life resumes, punctuated by periodic checks. Until the CT scan results in February 2019, in which metastases appeared in the lung. “They were very small – explains Chiara – so we decided to limit ourselves to keeping them under control, but after six months they showed a growth trend”.
We couldn’t wait any longer, and Chiara resumed chemotherapy, this time “much heavier, I had no hair, I was sick”. There is a long pause; look for the right words. “It changes the vision of what can be tolerated. Before, at the thought of having a tube attached to my arm, of vomiting, I would have said: ‘impossible, I couldn’t do it’. But then it happens; one adapts and does what he has to do.” The treatment has its effect, and the metastases stabilize.
LIVING WITH THE ILLNESS
And we are today. “Now I’m in therapy every two weeks, including pancreatic cancer tests; I lead a normal life; I only stay at home to rest on the day of chemotherapy. There are family, work, and my interests. Furthermore, I see myself as normal physically, and it helps a lot not to notice the melancholy looks of others.” Who or what helps us stay upright, and how important are the people around us?
“I am very lucky; an exceptional team of doctors followed me.
We still talk on the cell phone today, and they never fail to give me their support; if I have doubts or fears, they are there. I have a partner, my parents, many friends. I have a child.” It has the name of a hero, warrior and traveller: Aeneas. “He was two years old when I got sick, and he, even now, is the greatest stimulus because I’m the one who has to be strong. I explained everything to him; he knows that Mum has to put the medicine in the tube and
These difficult months of the Covid-19 emergency have certainly not made life easier. “Unfortunately, the moment is difficult. I work from home, but I can’t send my son to school because I’m at risk. Luckily, working in the healthcare sector, I got vaccinated against the virus and can’t wait to receive the second dose. It was very difficult for me not to send him to school: I miss my friends, let alone him…. But I also took the pandemic head-on, as I am used to doing: what needs to be done gets done.”
THE DECISION TO GET INVOLVED
Last autumn, amid the second wave of the pandemic and given her thirty-seventh birthday, Chiara decided to start a fundraiser for pancreatic cancer research on the Insieme platform and achieved extraordinary results quickly. How did it go? “I had been following the U. Veronesi Foundation for some time, also out of professional interest. So, I decided to open a fundraising campaign on your site; it was simple:
I inserted a text with my story; talked about it with friends and acquaintances, a local newspaper wrote about it, a few posts on Instagram and…”. And a chain of solidarity is started that reaches – and touches – many, many people. “I have also received contributions from unknown people, who, however, share something of my story and my hope: ‘I don’t know you, Chiara, but instead of buying a panettone, I’ll give it to you’.
But I was pleased; it wasn’t obvious, and I hadn’t expected it.
Also, I have done the research for many years; I hope these funds will be used to research pancreatic tumours, a subtle disease affecting young people (even if few know it and very few talk about it). I have had the opportunity to meet many patients under 50, who, like me, had positive results from pancreatic cancer tests and want for nothing but more time to live.”
RESEARCH, LIFE THAT GOES FORWARD
The time dedicated, the words spent, and the commitment to raise money to fund pancreas research. With an ironclad motivation, which Chiara does not hesitate to define as “also selfish”. “I hope that steps forward will be made somewhat quickly and that solutions will be found to keep lung metastases under control.
I know I’ve been lucky, in some ways, because I’m among the small percentage of people with operable pancreatic cancer. My greatest hope is to recover, but if life goes on, if research gives us a hand in the meantime, and if this disease can be kept under control, then that’s fine.
I know that medicine is progressing and that more specific therapies are being developed.
For example, this year, I was able to access a genetic test to evaluate the dose of a drug that my body can tolerate, and it is an opportunity that did not exist before and can make a difference in a patient’s life. I hope so very much.”
BREAK DOWN TABOOS
Some wrote to her, calling her courageous. “It’s not courage. I did it for me. How it will go with pancreatic cancer tests, it will go, but I do what I can, I get involved: if I don’t fight, who will do it for me?”. Chiara says that it hurts her how, even today, cancer brings with it a load of taboos and stigma.
“We need to talk about it clearly to make people aware of the fact that cancer exists and affects even young people. We are many, many guys. And I’m happy to have come out with my story. I feel freer now. I can say it out loud: ‘I’m Chiara, I’m 37 years old, I have a tumour, I’m undergoing treatment, I’m keeping my illness under control, and I’m living my life’.”