What follows is a story of resilience and of surviving breast cancer through natural and non-invasive procedures.

I am not advising anyone to do what I did, nor am I suggesting that the approach I took is intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent cancer or any other disease.

The natural and non-invasive treatments I chose worked for me, but won’t necessarily work for everyone.



A woman’s journey: Saying no to a double mastectomy

to my children



The anaesthetic wears off and I awake in a hospital bed, in a room where sky-blue curtains form makeshift walls and airy spaces. I hear breathing and confused mumblings from nameless bodies hidden by screens. I want to let go, to sink into drowsiness, but Mauro’s voice, and then the surgeon’s, shake me out of my stupor. My husband is asking about me.

            “What is it, doctor?”

            “We don’t have a diagnosis yet: the sample taken during the biopsy could be benign or malignant. It is difficult to say.”

            “When will you know?”

            “Within three or four days.  Give my office a call.”

I think the doctor has left, but then I hear his voice in the next cubicle, where someone else is in pain like me, waiting like I am in a sky-blue space.

            “Mrs. Pearson, I am sorry to have to tell you that the biopsy has confirmed my suspicions. The tumour is cancerous.  We will operate within a couple of days.”     

He is speaking directly to her. There must be no husband to soften the blow.  He is brisk, efficient. No sense wasting time.

            The patient doesn’t reply, just draws a deep breath. I feel for her, the compassion of one person in pain for another. At the same time I am relieved that it isn’t me. If cancer struck her, maybe it spared me; if she is sick, maybe I will be saved; maybe I won’t have to die. I don’t know her, and her pain isn’t real to me.


Mauro lifts the curtain and comes to me.

            “How are you doing?”

            “Everything is spinning and I feel really sick. It’s the anaesthetic—if only I could throw up.

            Mom… I murmur like I always do when I’m not feeling well. In the silence of the ward, I hear my own voice like a lullaby rocking me through the pain – Mom… oh, it hurts so much… Mom… help me Mom, please – softer and softer, till my voice becomes a whisper and the whisper the wordless moan of a wounded animal.     The nurse hears my lament and approaches, but I don’t want anyone, just a basin to throw up in. Afterwards I feel better; the nausea had been overwhelming me.  Then incessant waves of pain begin to hit. If I don’t want to take any drugs, I have to find the strength to face the pain

I have always managed it in the past, but only if I believed fervently. If I began to doubt, then the larva of dread metamorphosed into a raging tiger, and the thin line of pain became a trench gouged into fresh earth. It devoured me, left me stunned.

I do remember one magical day, though. The dentist was trying to pull a tooth that had crumbled under his instruments. Repeated injections of anaesthetics had done nothing and both of us were exhausted. Unable to suffer another minute, I clutched at a last resort: visualisation. I imagined a sun-bathed meadow filled with yellow poppies. The yellow, soft and brilliant, flowed through my body and took hold of my mind. Light displaced all pain, all fear. I saw the dentist struggling to extract the tooth, and I told my mind to let go, to surrender. The root came away without protest.


            If I could only understand how the human mind works, if I could believe that it’s always that straightforward; if I could only direct an obedient brain whenever and

wherever I wish.

            My right breast is on fire.  I know it has been cut open; I don’t know how deeply or where.  I want to massage it to stop the burning, but they have covered it with bandages.

            “Does it hurt a lot?”  Mauro asks.

            “A bit…  I feel like I have to throw up again.  I asked them not to give me a general anaesthetic – I didn’t want to go through this afterwards!  Please, just give me the basin then go.”

            The nurse returns with sedatives and something for the nausea.  I barely have the strength to wave the pills away. When I’m throwing up, I don’t want anyone around; I don’t want them to turn away in disgust at the rottenness within me.         

            Afterwards is a feeling of release; I’m delicate like a leaf in the wind, still attached to the branch, still alive. In that dizzy elation after the nausea, all of life seems good, and even the pain in my breast is of minor importance, just a soft and timid murmuring in the background, a voiceless complaint.

                   I sit up, then stand. Mauro helps me since I can’t move my right arm. Still dizzy, all I want is to get out of here and go home to the kids and both grandmothers, who arrived just days ago from Italy.

                   I take a step into the evening – the air is cold, sparkling. It’s so good to be alive! I had forgotten. Everything looks new, as if dressed up just for me. Even the lights of the pharmacy across the street, blinking on and off, seem to send me secret messages. Filled with gratitude, I look around as if I have been dropped into an entirely new world. How sad that I feel this only when life turns tragic!

This morning.

            It was only this morning that we arrived at the hospital, and it seems like days ago.  I remember listening to our footsteps echoing in the hush of a city still asleep, the air crystal-clear, the snowy streets pink with dawn.  Passing the silent houses, stepping beneath white-capped branches, my body was so real, so precious.  That was an illusion. If there was no spectre – cancer – how wonderful my life would be, yet this same weary, hard, tedious life only becomes desirable in the midst of this drama.

            At that early morning hour, the waiting room was terribly empty.  I sat awkwardly, afraid to disturb the silence. Mauro was next to me, and we were both lost in the ticking minutes, not speaking, not feeling. As if we could keep the cancer at bay by shutting off our feelings.


            They called me to the desk to sign a form that I read in disconnected bits and pieces, then had to re-read so as not to make a mistake.  I thought of the women who, waking up after the biopsy, found themselves without a breast because the surgeon, certain it was cancer, decided on an immediate mastectomy.  No!  Trembling with rebellion, set on being the decision-maker for my little life, I added on the form, in quavering handwriting, that I was giving the doctors permission only to perform the biopsy and nothing else, no matter their opinion.

            The wait resumed.  When it was interrupted by a nurse, I squeezed Mauro’s hand and followed her, relieved not to spend any more time waiting in fear of the unknown.

Alone now, I was like a puzzle piece isolated from the others in the attempt to find the exact blank to fit into.  The nurse had me undress and put on the sky-blue gown that did away with my last bit of identity, turning me into a number and a diagnosis.  At least I still had my name: it hung limply on the plastic bracelet around my wrist.

The radiologist called me in right away.  I’ll never forget that unhappy face frowning in the curtained cubicle (sky-blue again) as he pushed needle after needle into my breast.  One for anaesthetic, then a handful circumscribing the tumour so it would be clear in the picture, so the surgeon would see it right away.  Pain seared my breast.  To the radiologist, it was a shapeless mass held in his hand – nothing alive, not connected to a body in pain.

He pulled at it, jabbed it, left me lying there waiting as he rushed to the lab to examine the X-rays, hurried back and began again.  Needle, X-ray, needles, X-rays, trying to tame a rebellious tumour playing hide-and-go-seek, when he obviously had neither the time nor the desire to play games. Another angry jab, supreme indifference in his hands. I refused to cry out, but failed to swallow the overflowing pain. Tears lay on my cheeks when, exasperated, he let me go.


            They were supposed to operate right away but there were delays and I was left to rest in a bright room where a sympathetic nurse opened the door every once in awhile to bring me a magazine or a smile.  I read, I wrote farewells to my children.  The lines were shot through with melancholy and tenderness.  Then I added some thoughts for Mauro.  Words hidden in the pages of a journal, words that maybe no one would ever find.

            I tried to meditate. I visualized the anaesthetist finding the vein immediately, the surgeon having nothing negative to report.  If it is true that under anaesthesia the mind remains conscious, that it can recall everything in similar situations – under hypnosis, for example – then that means that whatever happens in the operating room enters the patient’s subconscious and stays there, in a turbid riverbed of fears and inhibitions.  The thought circled through my mind like a refrain.  I wanted to say something to the surgeon so he’d reassure me, but shyness kept me mute.

            The last thing I remember is the nurse’s voice telling me to relax as she injects the liquid into my veins, and my farewell to the world. I leave, here I go now, hoping to return.

And then the surgeon’s words as I woke, the fiery pain in my body, the quicksand of nausea.


            I relive the events of the day as I walk home from the hospital.  The pain in my breast is bearable now.  I try to smile when the door bursts open and the children run toward us.  It feels like I haven’t hugged them since forever, like I’m a visitor from another era, like I’ve returned from a trip back in time.


            Even though I pretend otherwise, I am somehow different, and the kids feel it.  Davide, my ten-year-old, avoids my eyes, scared of finding something painful there.  He retreats to his room and closes the door, shutting me out.  Serena is only seven – she hugs me tight, pats me, touches my face as if she needs to reclaim my body.  Then, resolutely, she takes my hand and pulls me off to go play with her, before I decide to leave again.


Never forgotten

A little village in Italy, in the fifties.

“No! Don’t tell me that you have to pee. It’s always the same story, we are having the best fun and you have to pee. Why?”

Rosana is five, like the other two girls, but she is strong and bossy, and she is now shouting at Lena with anger, while Tonio and Lucia look down.

Lena is ashamed, her legs locked in, to stop the flow that wants to rush out of her body.

“I don’t know… I have to pee, and I can’t go home because mama will not let me out again.”
“And you can’t go to your aunt’s because of the ghost…”
“But… we could go to my aunt’s together, the four of us, maybe the ghost won’t come out.”
Rosana mocks her: “Haha, you’re stupid. My brother and his friend went and they saw the ghost and it was huuuuge and it was flying around but they ran away so fast and it didn’t catch them.
Go to Maria’s building then. She’s half deaf, and the doorway is always open. It’s dark and no one will see you.”

“Maria is not deaf.” Tonio dares to say. He is seven, the oldest, and the only one to contradict Rosana occasionally. “She knows that we pee there, so now she is on guard.”
“And she is mean…” Lena adds.
“Well, then, do it in your panties.” Rosana’s last words.

“Come Lena, I’ll help you.” Lucia takes Lena’s hand and brings her to Maria’s. She pushes the door open, there is a little dark space on the left, and then five stairs to Maria’s home.

Lena enters, her heartbeat so strong that she is sure Maria will hear it. She crouches down, the pee comes out noisily, endlessly. The others outside hold their breath, hoping that no one will appear in the street.

“I will get you damned rascal, I will break your legs! Who are you?” Maria’s door opens at the same time that the light goes on in the hallway. Lena bolts. They all run, the children faster than the old lady, in the labyrinth of medieval streets. The little ones find their hiding corner, breathless, their hearts drumming.

Maria screams like a madwoman, rushing with her broom from one corner of the street to the other.
“You escaped me this time, but I will get you! And then I will strangle you!”

The children hear, and they shiver. Lena feels the pee still running down her legs, the others aware. Tears come to her eyes, down her cheeks, shaking with her sobs.

Maybe was this image of Lena that never left Tonio. That year, 1954, he emigrated to Canada from his Italian village.
When he was 25, and living in Toronto, with a good job, he wrote to his grandmother in Italy and asked her to go to Lena’s. To propose marriage, even though he had never been back to Italy and had not seen Lena in 18 years.


The condo building where they have the party is secluded on a hill. Mark used to live there with his family, but now the edifice is vacant: it will be demolished soon as there are major problems with the construction. Not a single adult knows of the party. Mark has sneaked the keys from his parents’ desk.

Sixteen teenagers, from grade eleven and twelve. The building might collapse: what’s more exciting than defying destiny? It’s not the usual gang, as the party has been organized in a few hours. How to loosen up the atmosphere and bring all together? Mark has an idea: famous couples from history. He writes each name on a small piece of paper, rolls them up and makes two piles: the men’s names on one side, the women’s on the other.

“Who wants to be the first to pick a name?” They all come, boys and girls, more excited than ever, and each gets a piece of paper.

Voices, laughs, screams: “I picked up Cleopatra, where is Mark Anthony?” “Here, I am Mark Anthony!” “What about Adam? Who is Adam?” “Hey, Eve, I’m here.” The couples, once formed, must dance together for at least three rounds.

“I am Tristan” says Mark. “Where is Isolde?”
“Here I am!” Lucy runs to him waving her bit of paper. She gives him her hand: “Hi, my real name is Lucy, and yours?”
“Come on, be serious.” Her eyes are like fawn’s eyes.
“Mark, pleased to meet you.” His hands have tapering fingers, like a musician.

They dance for three rounds, six, ten. They forget about the others and when the party ends, they vow eternal love to each other. They meet for a few minutes after school every day, they discover an isolated alley where they can squeeze into each other arms, steal a kiss, feel the softness of her hair, smell the whiff of orange from his lips. In furtive moments, donated by life.

Mark’s parents see that their son is less concentrated on his studies. They find out about this Lucy girl. They manage to meet her parents.
“Our son is the best in his class. We want him to become a doctor. Tell your daughter to leave him in peace.”

Italy of the 1950s, and a small town life. Lucy’s parents, very religious, are ashamed and outraged. They no longer let her go alone anywhere. Her mother takes her to school, her father picks her up.

Gone are the alley and its secret kisses.
Even in school they feel trapped. They don’t know who might spy on them, who might gossip to their parents. Through their best friends they send each other scraps of paper, love letters scribbled in Latin, or in a strange code that only they understand. Magic and innocent first love, in which they believe, against all odds.

The following year Mark leaves for university. He writes letters to Lucy through his friend. The friend gives them to her. She destroys the letters soon after reading, even though her heart aches, but she has no choice: disaster might follow if her parents find out. He dares to send her a postcard, signing with a girl’s name, he writes ‘I love you’ under the stamp, knowing she will recognize his handwriting, that she will search for his love hidden under the stamp. He feels her heart beating fast, sees her hands shivering, imagines her lips kissing the words under the stamp. As he has done, many times.

As he will kiss her several years later when, after a long separation, overwhelming obstacles and a wrong marriage, they will find each other, at last.


Ellie, now ten years old, has been adopted by Nana and Papa, her childless godparents, since when she was two. Her Nana adores her, and she venerates the old lady. The two live in symbioses, they sing, play, work, they knit and read together, they love each other like in a fairy tale.

“Papa is coming home, the light went off in his store. Nana, may I use the binoculars? I want to see him walking!”

The old lady opens the dresser’s drawer, and gives Ellie the ornated binoculars. They are by the balcony, on the highest floor of a nineteen-century building.

Ellie loves exploring places through the binoculars’ lenses. She looks at the town, and at the moon, which is so big and bright tonight.

“Nana! The moon seems so close to me… I can almost touch it.”
“And Papa? Where’s he now? Can you see him?”
The girls lowers the binoculars to search for Papa on the street.
“He’s walking fast…”
“He’ll be here soon. Come, let’s set the table.”

Ellie would like to linger on with her magic tool, but it’s time for dinner, and the two get busy with dishes, pots, and tablecloth.

“Where’s the milk? Why didn’t the farmer deliver the milk tonight?” Nana asks, her voice tense and worried. Ellie smiles: “He came already, don’t you remember? The milk is there, on the windowsill.” She runs to get the bottle, but she hears a crash, she turns around: the old lady is on the floor, lifeless.

“Nana, Nana! What happened? Nana wake up!”

Her cries and screams reach the neighbours. They come, they shout, they whisper, they take the old lady to her bed. One of them runs to call the doctor.

From the commotion, felt already from the first floor, Papa fears the worst. He dashes home, his wife is unconscious on their bed.
“She’s alive, she’s breathing.”
“Don’t panic. She’s still with us.”
“The doctor will be here soon.”

The neighbours’ voices try to console him, but Papa is desperate, as if madness had entered his body. He questions Ellie for the details, but she doesn’t know more than what she has repeated already several times.

The doctor can’t help. Nana had a stroke. There’s no ambulance or hospital in this small town.
Only a few hours later the old lady dies, without getting the chance to reach the nearest city with an emergency room.

Ellie lives through the funeral, the burial, the denial as in a nightmare.

“Nana, Nana!” she cries in bed, sobbing and muffling her screams in the blanket wrapped around her face. “Nana, come back, don’t leave me.”

If she sleeps, she is mad at herself: how can she fall asleep when her Nana is not alive anymore? How can her body forget? In her frightful dreams at night, a witch strangles her. She wakes up sweating with dread.

She lived in heaven, she drowns in hell now, burnt by a tremendous guilt: she feels responsible for her grandmother’s death.

Only several years of psychotherapy, much later, will help her unravel the truth.

The moon follows us

“Rosana, it’s dark, let’s go home. Mama says that when it’s dark I can’t play outside anymore.”
“Let’s just run to that streetlamp. Ready? Let’s see whether you can beat me this time!”

The two little girls, only six years old, run until they are breathless, alone in the alley. Rosana wins, she is so determined, as much as Lena is fragile, like a whispering breeze on a humid summer night.

At the end of the alley there is the beach, the rolling of the waves, the darkness of the night surrendering to the moon glorious in the sky.

“Let’s run to the end of the beach Lena, come on, it’s not that long.”
“But it’s dark, and late.”
“No, it’s not dark, there is the moon. Come on, fast!”
“Rosana, Rosana!”shouts Lena, all excited, “look at the sky, the moon is moving with us.”
“Ohhh, it’s following us! And if we stop, it stops!”
“Let’s run faster Rosana. It’s running with us!”
“Lena, maybe the moon is following me. Let’s do this, you go to that end of the beach and I’ll go to this one.”

They agree, they walk first and then they run, their faces turned to the sky.
From her side of the beach Rosana’s loud voice pierces the silence: “Lena, the moon is with me, right here on my head!”
“No, no, the moon is above me, here on my head, not where you are!” Lena’s frailty has disappeared, she is assertive now. “Come here and look, I won’t move.”
“Lena, I tell you that the moon is with me.”
“No and no! It’s here, come and see!”

Their shrill voices almost unnatural in the abandonement of the beach.

Rosana stomps her feet: “You are so stubborn tonight!” She flashes to the other side of the beach, looking only ahead, to be faster. She lifts her eyes, the moon is there above them. She is a bit puzzled and then she says: “Yeah, I brought the moon here, it ran with me, that’s why it’s here now.”
“No, it didn’t come with you. I looked at it all the time, and it never moved from here.”
“You’re a liar!” screams Rosana.
“No, you are lying! The moon stayed with me the whole time.”
“Liar, liar!”

“Let’s do it again” proposes Lena “We’ll start from the middle of the beach and then you run there and I run here.” They agree to the truce. Rosana is again the first to reach her goal.
“Told you! The moon followed me all the way here, and now it’s right above my head!”
Lena is still strong: “I don’t believe you. The moon was always with me, there are no two moons. Do you see two moons in the sky? No, and the moon is with me. Here, here, where my finger is pointing.”

Rosana runs away shouting at the top of her lungs: “I will tell everybody who you are: a cheater, a liar!”

They never played together again.