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.

The tree

Brr, it’s cold outside, but mama wants some fresh air for her and her little one. The rain has kept them at home too long.

“Come on Luc, get ready, scarf, boots…”
“And my yellow jacket… I’ll carry the umbrella mama.”
“But it’s not raining.”
“Please mama.”

They go out, their yellow and orange jackets two splashes of rainbow amidst the grey all around.

The wind is blowing, the sun might as well be a moon, pale in the pale sky.

A puddle! Luc loves jumping in the puddles, there is nothing that brings him more happiness these days than the sound of the splashes, the water on his hands, the jets gushing all around.

After a lot of laughs, mama says: “Shall we walk to the playground?”

Luc is a bit reluctant, but then takes her hand and happily they go, humming a song, jumping now and then on the sidewalk’s lines.

On a street lined with trees, Luc stops, lifts his head to follow the height of the majestic beech he is under. He touches and caresses the slender and bare trunk, all around the tree, and then says: “Mama, do you think this tree is cold?”
His mother waits.
“Yes, mama, look, no leaves on the branches, it’s all empty. I think this tree is really cold. I will warm it up.”

Luc cups his hands around his mouth to funnel the warm air to the bare tree. He breathes with so much energy!

An old man comes by, his cane an aid more than a need.
“What is the little one doing?” he asks kindly.
“He’s warming up the tree with his breath,” mama answers.
The old man smiles. He moves on, tears in his eyes.

For the whole winter, every time they go for a walk on that street, Luc hugs the tree and gives it all the love and the warmth his little body is capable of.

Then, one day, at the beginning of Spring, diggers, cranes, trucks come to that corner of the town, and fill the air with noise and dust.

“Mama, what are they doing?” Luc asks.
“They will build a new house here,” his mother says, a tinge of sadness in her voice.

Luc is curious, wants to watch the progress. He asks to go back often, and one morning he is devastated to see that his beloved tree lies flat on the ground, its roots exposed, its branches cut, removed to make room for a large house.

Mama hugs Luc, holding her tears.

The old man lives nearby, he has seen everything. He is sad too, but he invites mama and Luc to his garden where he’s growing many little trees. He tells the child to choose one. He takes it to Luc’s garden, he plants it.

Luc will love it, but he will never forget the cold, lonely tree that he hugged that whole winter.


Bonnie called the other day:

“Mena! We are going to buy some frozen blueberries, from the organic farm where we get the fresh ones in the summer. Would you like some?”

Hmm, blueberries, I love blueberries, and I have only a bag left in the freezer.

“Yes, of course! Bonnie, how big are the packages?”
“Well, they sell boxes, 30 pounds each”
“30 pounds? How big is 30 pounds? Will it fit in my freezer?”
“We are getting three boxes for us, and if you want we could split a fourth one with you”
“Hmm, no, it’s fine, I will get a whole box and split it with Serena.” A clear answer, haunted as I am by the fear of missing out on blueberries.

Serena went to Bonnie’s house this afternoon and called me when she was fifteen minutes away from my place.

“Mum, the box is big and we don’t have any room in our freezer. Do you have room in yours?”
“I will try to make room. I’ll give you the full bag of frozen ones I have and try to fit the box in.”

A knock at the door signals that my daughter has arrived. I open the door: Serena is standing five metres (not TWO) away from my door, the box is right at my feet, an enormous box that I don’t dare touching both to avoid hurting my back, but es-pe-cial- ly because Serena has touched it, and her kids had a running nose ten days ago, and it might have been, who knows, it might have been coronavirus that they had, and if it was that, I might get it, and if I get it, I might die, and so, to exorcise my dying, Serena doesn’t want me to be closer than five metres from where she is.

“Wait, I will give you the bag of the frozen blueberries”

I go to the freezer, come back with this bag, put it on the hallway, back up 5 metres, she approaches, takes the bag, leaves. I push the heavy box with my feet inside the condo, I go to the kitchen, get thick gloves, exercise my muscles, lift the little monster and put it on the counter. How the hell am I going to fit this box in my freezer? I can’t even scratch my head to find an answer, because now I have to wash the gloves right away, to avoid that some viruses from the box, from Serena’s hands that touched her son’s running nose ten days ago, might find the way to my lungs, even though during all this time Serena probably washed her hands two thousand three hundred and forty five times.

I wash my gloves, I wash my hands, carefully, for 40 seconds to be extra careful, put the gloves back, open the box, open the blue bag inside the box and the ocean of frozen blueberries has a toll on me. Thirty pounds, oh my, they look like thirty tons.

I open the freezer, a tiny, sleek freezer that belongs to the skinniest smallest fridge available in North America. In normal times my freezer is empty and receiving. In normal times, when I go grocery shopping and then my fridge becomes one fifth full, (which I consider as extremely full), the merely act of opening the door fridge and seeing it one fifth full gives me palpitations, as I am a minimalist at heart, liver, kidneys, feet and all the rest. But at this coronavirus time even though my fridge is relatively manageable, my freezer is full. Or almost. I bought some spot prawns yesterday. Spot prawns, which I bought only another time in my 71 years of life. What am I going to do with 40 and some prawns if I cannot invite anybody and I eat two prawns every eighteen months? I have two loaves of bread in the freezer, and a lasagna I made, and bags of soup I made and chickpeas I made and tomato sauce I made. Why? Why? Why all this cooked food? What happened to my mental sanity? Is the fear of coronavirus giving insatiable hunger? I am desperate, I start loading my fridge with the bags of soup – that will be my diet for the next seven days – with one loaf of bread, with the frozen escarole. And frantically look for freezer bags in the kitchen drawers. Nope, I only have tiny sandwich bags. Of course, I never need freezer bags, except for the summer, when I freeze blueberries. And now it’s spring. And the blueberries are already frozen. And they are waiting for their rightful place in my freezer.

I could go to the store and buy some bags. Yeah. By the time I go and push the elevator button with my sleeve and open the building door with my arm, and reach the store trying to be 5 metres distant from everybody I meet, and open the store door with my foot and go through all the acrobatic exercises to avoid touching, looking, getting infected, or infecting, if I happen to be an asymptomatic carrier…oh my, I am already exhausted, no, I’m not going to the store. I will manage at home. I recycle one bag, I fill a few tiny ones – pointless, I will need 155 of them and I have only three left.


Idea: If I can’t fit the whole box in my freezer maybe this blue bag where the blueberries are can get in. I could push, and flatten and shape the bag. I lift the full blue bag out of the box and the blueberries start running down my sleeves. Darn, I didn’t close the bag properly. There you are, now it’s closed. I move a few steps towards the freezer with this 27-pound newborn and… countless blueberries run down my body and to my precious hardwood floor. Oh nooooo the bag has humongous running holes!!! At this point I run to the freezer with the corpus delicti, damp it in, push with all my body to make it fit, close the drawer, slam the door, breathe deeply and… I wish I could sit and relax, but no, I have to collect the tens of little blue marbles that are doing their best to give splashy colours to my counter and my floor.

I should check my temperature. Blueberries fever.

Or: blueberries party anyone?

Grocery shopping at the time of coronavirus

I went to the grocery store this morning. 

It opens at 9am, but seniors can start shopping at 8am. I was there at 8:05, oh my, if it was packed! With seniors of all sexes and ages. In French they have a jolly name for our age, they call us tamalous. It’s the contraction of ‘tu as mal où?’. “Tu as mal où? Where does it hurt today my dear?” and there follows the endless list of the ailments afflicting an aging body. With my husband, early in our seniority, we decided to keep the tally of our aches and pains between 9 and 10 in the morning, just to be open to other subjects of conversation for the rest of the day.

Well, I am here with my fellows tamalous, several … I would have never believed that Kitsilano, a young and trendy area, could also accommodate so many specimens of a not so cool population. 

It is depressing looking around, the years make havoc of the human body. Some shoppers can hardly move, or see, or hear, and of course we easily forget about the two metres distance, we overlook the other fellow opening the freezer and we stand there half a metre from him, carelessly opening the adjacent door.

I would run out of here, but I need fruit and vegetables. And I don’t want to go through this ordeal any time soon. 

After a short war easily lost, I am at the cashier and ask her if they take back the Avalon milk bottle. I read on their website that they do, so I brought mine along. I can see fear in the cashier’s eyes as she looks at the bottle. Distancing herself from me even more, she hints at the extreme corner of the till and tells me to leave there my bottle. I do, but instantly appears her colleague who scolds her saying “No, no, the returned bottles go there”, and she points to a trunk with a tight lid. She opens it and in a military way orders me to pick up my nuclear bomb and bring it there, where it is safely out of sight.

So much trouble for a humble bottle of milk. if I weren’t obsessed with recycling, I would have thrown the bottle in the glass container bin.

But of course I understand our reactions. We all understand this time. What did our Prime Minister say this morning? That we are made of steel. Well no, we are not made of steel, we have a soul, we are fragile human beings. We pretend that we can cope. We are chameleons, we adapt, we suffer, we go on. The steel doesn’t feel, we do, and tragedies tear us apart.

After a second stop at another organic  grocery store, I go back home, my bags full of produce. Home, sweet home, that nowadays becomes sweet only after forced labour and an endless repetition of the same maddening tasks.

Three grocery bags to empty. I start with the easy one. The packaged rice cakes. They are properly washed with soap and water and left to dry and hopefully disinfect on the balcony in the ultraviolet light, as the virus, I read, can live up to 14 days on metal and cardboard. A can of salmon, same destiny. Why did I buy this salmon if I hardly ever eat canned food? Mystery of the corona time.

The cottage cheese is moved from its container to one of mine, and the same is reserved for the cream cheese. The egg plants, oranges, apples and lemons are soaped and washed one by one and while doing this, the hands, as if keeping the rhythm in a musical score, are washed again and again. When will they give up and start peeling, I wonder.

The chard and the kale go in one of my plastic bags and finish in the fridge as I can’t pretend to wash with water and soap every single leaf, and I am almost at the point of explosion doing this pointless task. But I keep going, a robot. The almond milk container is scoured with a cloth imbued with alcohol. The bread goes from its plastic bag to one of mine, the chocolate bar is carefully unwrapped from its paper box and left in its foil, which now I avoid to touch, as my hands are for sure, again, contaminated. The eggs are individually washed and dried, the butter is removed from its foil and re-wrapped with a new one.  My lungs are bloating, are to the point of explosion, are almost lifting me from the ground, two aerostatic balloons filled by rage. This is a Sisyphus labour, and I am Tarzan trapped in a cage: I just want to SCREEEEEAM!!!!!!!!!

I will NOT go shopping for another fortnight at least. I have enough blueberries and rice and lentils to keep me going. The 40 frozen prawns no, no more.

I took three of them out of their box a couple of weeks ago. They still had all their legs on, which meant that I had to deal with thirty spiked points at once. Frozen, sharp and wounding my skin.

I roasted the prawns on the stove. They were delicious, but the smell from the cooking was unbearable, and I had to open all the condo’s windows. My body reaches fast the freezing point. Before falling to numbness I remembered owning a hot water bottle. And so I spent hours, wrapped in sweaters and blankets and pillows and hot water bottle while there was a downpour of rain outside and of cold inside. And all of this because of three stupid prawns.

After an eternity the smell subsided, it did not disappear. When the following day I opened the freezer and a different smell, but always from the prawns, reached my nostrils, my patience twisted for the worse. I grabbed the box, wrapped it in a heavy paper bag, run downstairs and damped it in the compost bin. With a grin of satisfaction, mad as everything else.

This afternoon my three-year-old grandson came over. He likes to sit on the balcony while eating his orange.  He spotted the rice cakes and the can of salmon sitting in the sun. With his big, innocent eyes, he asked: “Mimi, why are these here?”

Walking at the time of coronavirus

I went for a walk with my friend Christine yesterday. We are both seniors, and as it happens to people of our age, the senses at a certain point start to fail. Christine is very bright and fit, but she is hard at hearing, even though she gladly wears hearing aids.

I have a soft voice, but still quite a strong sense of hearing, probably due to decades of earplugs use trying to fall asleep. In most cases the earplugs didn’t do much for my sleep, but they perfected my sense of hearing, as every night I pushed them stronger into the ears and still kept listening to all sorts of rustles and crackling.

As I am going out, I wonder what kind of dialogue we might have, considering my thin voice, Christine’s poor ear, and the two-metre distance between us. Not that anything might be enlightening these days, as all the words and thoughts and actions are depression-inducive-coronavirus-topics, a collective maniacal masturbation.

Christine is in a very good humour and I let her do the talking. I already dread when it will be my turn to start a sentence besides the hmm, yeah, and all the nodding of the moment. I know that I will need to scream to be heard.

As we go, and I shout, and we keep our distance, and we try to pay attention to whomever comes our way, I imagine a magic button stitched to our jacket in which to whisper and instantly be heard, a scafander covering the head,  and – why not? – a walking sentry-box shielding the entire body, a sort of transparent frame promenading us across the globe. Nightmare after nightmare.

With all the concern, my voice comes out coarser than usual. I tell Christine that my right lung is compromised, that I have bronchiectasis.

“You mean bronchitis” she says.

“No, no, bronchiectasis, it’s different, it’s a chronic condition due to a childhood illness and I have had it for 16 years. This is why I cough sometime, but my cough is not contagious at all.”

At the words bronchiectasis, cough and contagious, the few passersby in our horizon turn their head, look at me, sprint up and instantly disappear from my view, or better said I disappear from their view.

Where would I go if I needed to blow my nose? If I went to a washroom I might be accused of pornography as people who are peeing, hearing my sneeze, would probably run into the street with the pants halfway down their legs, to escape the droplets and the viruses rushing at them. No, the bathroom is out. I could hide into the bushes, stick my face into the thorny branches and sneeze there. The chickadees and the crows woudn’t run away, and the seagulls would keep hooting up the trees.

That was last time I went for a walk with a friend. I came back home worn out and determined not to repeat the experience.

But I do need to go out, for my mental sanity. I live alone. Yes, of course, I have my harp, painting, books, writing, phone, flowers, my meditation and yoga mat which I resuscitated after decades of neglect, my children and grandchildren who reach out through skype or facetime, but my mind is mostly looking forward to the time of the day when – even though equipped as if on a nuclear mission – I can step out of the condo and into the street.

And here I am, all by myself, gloves, rain jacket, backpack with an umbrella and a roll of toilet paper in (handy to open or close the unexpected door or gate or whatever metallic object may come my way), a hat, a scarf… wait a minute, do I need a scarf as I have planned to use a mask today? Yeah, just in case, better to take one for extra protection. Maybe I’ll take a pair of disposable gloves, just in case. Or better two pairs, as they are disposable and won’t be usable again. Pretty soon for my walk I will need to carry a suitcase.

My mask is on, the shoes are on, I open the door. Oh no, again! I forgot my keys, they are in the kitchen and to go and get them I have to take off my shoes and while doing that my mask moves around and I adjust it with the hands that have right now con-tac-ted the shoes from the street. Oh my, I might have infected them. What do I need to do, run to the bathroom and have a thorough shower with tons of soap? Maybe washing the face and the hands would be enough. I am already boiling, I take off my jacket, leave the backpack, no, no!!!! not on the floor besides your shoes, are you out of your mind? Sober thought: I will be, if this continues.

The keys are in my hand and so is the mask. I don’t panic at the sight of the two together only because my brain recalls that I have sterilized the keys when I came back from a walk the other day. I put the mask on, a scarf over it, sunglasses on the eyes, a woolen hat. Covered up from head to toes I look like I am going to rob a bank. Never mind.

Finally I am in the hallway. My smart-elbow calls the elevator and, once in, presses the button for the main floor, right on the first attempt. My smart-shoulder easily opens the building door. I feel so proud, so smart-equipped in mastering these fundamental survival steps.

The street is large and beautiful. Completely empty. Coronavirus safe.

I remember the first time my mother came to see me in Vancouver, in 1985. She was living in a small town by the Adriatic Sea in Italy, where generations of the same dwellers had been living for years, and where everybody knew pretty much everything of everybody else living in the neighborhood. When she came to my house in Kitsilano and went out for a walk, she observed: “I like this place, it’s really nice, but there is nobody in the streets, I never meet anyone…it reminds me of the cemetery…”

And this is how I feel now. I am in a cemetery.

No one around for the first few minutes. Then I spot a couple, very far away, coming my direction. We approach each other scrutinizing the horizon and the escape routes in between. When they are fifty meters from me, they step down the sidewalk and do a large semicircle so that our ten-metres-diameter-auras do not – God forbids – get in touch of each other. Fantastic. The tactic is repeated again and again. A few people are a bit careless, especially if they are running, but most walkers have learnt the lesson: keep the distance. We respect social distancing so well that going for a walk means designing an arabesque. We go left, right, on the lawn, on the pebbles, on the neighbor’s property, on the concrete that used to belong to the cars, round and round lines, just to be sure that the coronas standing on the viruses of the others do not reach our way.

It works, but… it is difficult to even have eye contact now. We avoid looking at each other, afraid perhaps that our eyes, being alive, could produce and squirt out billions of bullet viruses straight to the mouth, the nose, the lungs of the enemy passerby.

The ground, these last weeks, seems to absorb all our attention. We keep our eyes on it. We study it in detail, it is the wonder of wonders.

Gone is the Canada where people used to be so friendly and say good morning, hi, to each other. I remember my mother again. When on a weekend we went for a walk together and we met a few people, we greeted each other with a large smile or a cheerful ‘Good morning!’. My mother would remark:

“How come? You know everybody!”

“No, no, mum, it’s just the habit here, we do that when there aren’t so many of us around.”

“Ah, and you don’t know these people?”

“Not at all.”

“Strange…but nice…”.

We did use to smile in the not so far away past and search for each other’s eyes. Now we meditate upon the ground. We will get a PhD about the ground.

If I feel strong and energetic, I try to initiate a conversation with my eyes, or whatever part of my eyes that are visible on top of this uncomfortable mask.



But then, a miracle. A couple of orientals in their thirties, coming my way and keeping the 3-5 metres distance say: “Good morning!” Their voice is fresh, welcoming. I answer, with a smile, as if a torrent of good wishes were thrust upon me. I want to rush after them to say thank you again, tell them how I elated I am, but no, they’ll find it weird. They might even stop saying ‘hi’ to strangers in the street and deprive them of the sweetness of being acknowledged in this cataclysm.

While looking at the ground I ponder about how confused our brain might feel nowadays. We do things we have never done before, like awkwardly using elbows, wrists and even shoes to call the elevator; we twist our bodies to open doors, rush away if somebody approaches us, suppress the need to cough to the point of suffocating. Ah, where have gone all these coughs during the various musical movements in the concert hall! which I used to hate, but that now I even miss.

We look with horror at metal and plastic that might come our way, line up forever outside markets and stores, never ever touch anyone anymore. ‘Have I forgotten how to live?’ might our disoriented brain ask. But in the doubt, in this unusual lifestyle, new synapses might form, our brain might become a firework of never before activities. Who knows, we might emerge with new capacities from this abyss.

I keep adjusting the mask on my face, pulling off my glove first and using only my bare hand. The mask is humid from my breath. I simply hate it, it becomes clearer by the minute why staying home is the easiest way out in this chaos. But I am very hard at hearing on this matter. I do need my little walk to keep living.

Once back home, I push the main door metal handle with my smart arm, call the elevator with the smart elbow routine, open the door with my naked hands that might be, by now, ex-treeee-me-ly infected! The shoes are out. With still everything on I rush to the kitchen tap, no first to the balcony, where I leave my woolen gloves in the sun or in the rain, then run to the water and soap, twenty seconds of intensive rubbing with a strong soap, followed by another twenty seconds of vigorous rubbing with a milder soap.

The urge to pee, that till now I have kept at bay to avoid going to the public washroom and the excruciating routine of three days ago, when I unbuttoned my pants and took down leggings and panties and whatever else with only one hand and then pulled everything back with the same single hand – try to do it! – all this while the other hand was holding the phone that couldn’t fit in the pockets full of scarves and gloves and Kleenex and toilet paper for the emergency knob handling, this agonizing urge to pee is killing me at the moment, and I rush to the bathroom with my hands still wet, my jacket still on and all the other paraphernalia, mask included.

After nature is satisfied, my jacket joins the gloves on the balcony, the mask rests on the counter, the hat and scarf go in the fresh air and the condo keys, infected by the hands, rest on a piece of paper. Armed with a bottle of antiseptic alcohol and a disposable cloth, I thoroughly clean the keys, the tap, the door handles, the balcony door and whatever else has come in contact with my, eventually infected hands.

I am exhausted.

A crownless virus

The word coronavirus sounds intimidating. A virus with a corona is not an everyday stuff. It’s more like a tyrant sitting on a bulletproof throne, a tentacular monster on the lookout for its next victim. This crowned virus is red, the colour of danger, it is compact and menacing, a nuclear atom bringing havoc to the world. Followed by the number 19, it strucks with the thought it might hit 19 and more times.

If we could dream for a while to enthrone this covid-ball-of-fire. If we could colour it in pink, in green, in light blue perhaps, like a soft and chubby woolen ball, puffy and mushy, the corona hardly balancing on its clumsy head.

The modified coronavirus jumps up and down amidst daisies fields, does summersaults on gently sloping hills, unable to keep the dear corona on its clumsy head. It falls, it rushes, it tumbles down, it’s up again. So much turmoil for just a crown. Exasperated, the virus gives up the crown. And it becomes an armless virus that, sick and tired by all the media attention in every possible language all over the planet, takes a jump into the morning breeze, flies back into the forest up the mountains, to the alpine meadows where it decides to resume living in the body of a stranded bat lost in flight. “Here my lovely host, let’s fly together to the land of nowhere, so much publicity has destroyed me.” And very far they go, and forever more they disappear.

Then we will say: “I got the cou (or, better, the clou), but now I am fine.” “She was really sick with the coucou, covid, divoc, whatever, but now she has recovered and is stronger than ever.”

At the moment though, before the fairytale comes true, we read on the papers interviews to ‘Covid survivor’. And I wonder why Covid survivor, and even with a capital letter. We don’t say pneumonia survivor, or stroke survisor.

There is no gain into spreading terror when what we need instead is strength and positive attitude. We must keep faith that our humanity, our perseverance and resilience will bring us out of this difficult time.