Challenges and Life: What I learned from Bullying and Cancer

Life comes with challenges. Obvious, I know. The tricky part is to avoid letting the fear overwhelm you. Do challenges build resilience? Well, if you surround yourself with family and friends who care and support you by being there, yes, they do. Certain challenges should not be faced alone or in solitude, because sometimes there is a great deal of physical and emotional pain involved. 

I’m forty-five years old and, so far, I’ve faced quite a few life trials. I imagine there will be others down the line, but, I’m ok with the idea, now. Identifying the biggest challenges I’ve had to overcome to this day is not difficult: bullying and cancer. They are part of my life but they are not me. We are not the challenges we take down. We are the best of what they bring out, regardless what the name of the toil we are called to withstand may be.

Bullying. This was and remains a huge, painful challenge. One I face and win on a daily basis. It happened. It lasted for many years, since I was six years old straight through to grade eight. It ended with me being physically assaulted by seven girls, my classmates. Throughout life I had to learn how to build self-esteem, and how to trust and have faith in people. It’s something I still struggle with. Likewise, I battle with a veil of sadness that never truly disappears. It became part of me the first time I was bullied. There are days and moments when I feel I’m drowning in sadness. That’s when I search for beauty, in the people I love and who love me in return, in all that takes my breath away, like a blue spring sky, a rose in June, a field full of sunflowers. Sometimes I sit quietly with my dog or we go for long walks by the seashore. Being aware of myself, of my feelings, writing, doing things I enjoy creates balance and helps me move on, instead of dwelling on events of the past I cannot change. However, there is one thing above all that makes me a bullying survivor: helping others. I came out publicly with my experience four years ago, after writing a book about bullying. Since then I have been travelling through schools and talking to students all over Italy. I’m doing my part to help, I’m giving the wounds and the anger sense. It’s the best therapy around. Negative thoughts and feelings disappear when I am able to reach out to children and adolescents who are tormented by bullying or cyberbullying, when I see hope light their eyes and hear curiosity in their voices. I feel pure joy when a connection is made and children feel they have someone to turn to. 

Cancer. One day, almost two years ago, I happened to run my fingers along the side of my neck. I felt one little bump, then, a little further down, another one, bigger. I booked an ultrasound scan. The doctor advised me to see an endocrinologist as soon as possible. I did. Intuition is strong in these situations. I knew something serious was happening. There was a storm brewing over me, I felt it. I remember sitting in the specialist’s office listening to the words thyroid cancer, surgery, radioiodine therapy, as though it was happening to someone else. Tears streamed down my face, silently. My heart raced as I reached for my husband’s hand. I did not have enough courage to look at him, I was afraid of seeing fear in his eyes. There were no words. Nothing came out of my mouth. I froze. The only thought I fixated in my head was: ‘It’s over, I’m going to die.’ 

As we drove home from that appointment I began thinking of all the joys the illness was going to deprive me of, if I let it win without fighting. In my mind it was like watching flashes, picutres of a life I would never have the opportunity to live. I would miss seeing my children grow and become good, kind men. I would not be there to help them, to talk, or simply watch a movie or listen to a new song together. I would miss out on becoming a grandmother, on loving and spoiling my future grandchildren. I would never see my family’s smiles or hear their laughter around the dinner table again. And what about my husband, the love of my life? Cancer is like a horrible punch in the stomach. It takes your breath away. It leaves you gasping for air. I wanted that disgusting mass out of my body, out! It didn’t belong inside me and I became determined to make it leave, immediately. 

I underwent a total thyroidectomy. After three months I was back in hospital for radioiodine therapy. There were days, and there still are when I feel scared, when I panic. Stepping out of the shower and seeing the scar on my neck in the mirror is a reminder of how fragile we are, of how important it is to seize the moment, to love those who love us with all our might. I no longer wait for ‘the right moment’ to do certain things, because that moment could never come. Not only because of cancer, but for any reason at all. I let go of silly issues (and people) that used to get me upset and angry. They are just not worth it. A positive attitude does wonders for our health! Carpe diem is my new life moto! Now, I am truly and profoundly grateful for every new day. Every moment we are granted the gift of spending time on this Earth has the power to generate something good. The good we create becomes a memory for others and a legacy of love for humanity. 

Love is often perceived as a cliche, yet, it is the only thing we cannot live without, and the only word and desire that appears with constancy when hardships come forth in our lives. It represents the only real solution, capable of saving us when desperation sets in, as well as the world we live in and pass on to our children. A challenge faced in absence of love cannot be won. This, is what I know to be true at forty-five. 

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