OK…..here we are with Part 3 of Living Beyond Fear – The Italian Job:
The day after the Shumei gathering in Florence, we were invited to visit the Montalbano olive oil press, with another sumptious lunch. There was to be a dinner also up at Antonella Rastrelli’s wonderful Midolla olive grove but since I had already been there previously, I had to pass.
It was time for the next leg of my journey – a long awaited visit to my American friend Michelle. Two more shortish’ train journeys through the mesmerizing landscape of Tuscany, and Umbria here we come!
And there they were waiting for me outside the station at Arezzo (Famed for the wonderful film – It’s a Beautiful Life). The whole family-Michelle and her 2 dog-buddies- Sofie and Sailor. Such a welcome sight!
Michelle and I go way back to our time in Hollywood – and Italy has been her home for over ten years now. In less than an hour we are arriving at her wonderful abode. I always marvel at what she has done – having seen the original bare canvas of an old barn- I am astonished at the sheer accomplishment of her dreams.
In 2009 I came here to put the finishing touches to my book ‘And So We Heal’.
Having written many screenplays in her time Michelle’s input was a blessing. The cover of the book was an offspring of that visit, when a postcard of Boticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’, fell onto my desk as I was ‘cutting and pasting’. Trying to decided on a cover, was haunting my every day, and ‘voila’ there it was – serendipity having landed it directly on top of the photo of my own naked self ‘ minus a few body parts.
At the end of that book I was happy to be considered ‘cancer free’ – at least that is what the ECT machine had said when the bell went off. Oh were life that simple! I was already eight years in on the journey, and true I had survived thus far where so many had not. The reality was – there was just no ‘one way’ – to chemo or not to chemo?, to believe in an alternative way or not to believe? – these were the questions and unfortunately I did not have the answers. The journey then would indeed continue, and rather than embark on another book I had started a blog designed to help others share their experiences.
So seven years later – here I was again – with a different set of circumstances – and with a renewed determination to once more overcome. The shock of ´Brexit´, was still very much on my mind, but there was no ignoring the ´leg´. I needed to follow up with my research and contact the two micro surgeons Professors Campisi and Gennaro. The reality however was that it was so darn hot and oppressive that my body cried out to just rest, and with Michelle´s guest room affording such a splendid view and the bed so very comfortable, I followed orders and let my body and mind relax. Well, as much as the mind could that is with the daily news reminder of what was happening in the UK post Brexit……and of course the comedy of errors happening in the USA.
A chest infection was a cause of worry for a few days but inhaling steamed eucalyptus took care of that. Before leaving the UK I had set up a consultation with Professor Corradino Campisi in Genoa, having found a blog by two American ladies who had done the microsurgery. I knew that the potential cost of the treatment was out of my range but I needed a proper evaluation and research showed his expert competence in the field. Between googling the latest news on the Brexit fiasco I kept googling ‘lymphoedema’ and potential treatments available to me. Serendipity lead me to a forum with ‘healthunlocked’, and with that I came came across another microsurgeon – Professor Paolo Gennaro based in Siena – http://www.lymphedema-treatments.com/en/
Siena – it came with a whisper…..and then I remembered – St. Catherine of Siena – of course, how could I have forgotten? Years ago now, Siena had been on my list of places to visit in Italy because I had been born in a hospital named after her, in Birkenhead. It was at St. Catherine’s hospital 50 years after my birth that I would return to have holistic healing for the breast cancer. Come to find out that not only was she patron saint of Italy, proclaimed for her work with the sick, but she had been proclaimed co-patron of Europe. I cancelled my appointment with Campisi and proceeded to make plans to visit Siena determined to meet Gennaro. His practice is housed in the hospital of ‘Santa Maria alle Scotte,’ and the best news is that he will see me free of consultation fees.
And this is how I always seem to make my decisions. Is it intuition or some mystical connection to the past? – I don’t have clear answers but I have feelings that go beyond earthly explanations, and when in the writing of this third part, I decide to once again refresh my memory of St. Catherine, I find a book entitled ‘Set Aside Every fear’: Love and Trust in the Spirituality of Catherine of Siena. Aha! No coincidence then that I happen to be writing about living beyond fear… Catherine resisted the accepted course of marriage and motherhood, on the one hand, or a nun’s veil, on the other. She chose to live an active and prayerful life outside a convent’s walls following the model of the Dominicans.Eventually her father gave up and permitted her to live as she pleased. Catherine ranks high among the mystics and spiritual writers of the Church. She remains a greatly respected figure for her spiritual writings, and political boldness to “speak truth to power”— it being exceptional for a woman, in her time period, to have had such influence in politics and on world history. In 1367 she began working tirelessly to help the sick at the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala.
I was planning to take the train to Siena but Michelle insisted on driving me so we decide to make a day of it. I had mistakenly thought that there were some works of art in the hospital but the truth was that the whole complex is so enormous that just navigating the corridors to meet up with Professor Gennaro took more time than anticipated. Having seen him interviewed on Youtube-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFTIJ29G0QE, I knew what to expect, and luckily he spoke English. I was hoping that he could perform a lymphiscintigraphy, or better still the Indocyathine green test which I believe is less invasive, which determines if microsurgery is a suitable option. But it was not going to be that easy. He suggested that I have another scan to see the condition of my veins and then we could hopefully start the necessary paperwork if he was going to be able to treat me under the EU guidelines – meantime he suggested that compression stockings would help a lot. I would take his suggestions to my oncologist and get the ball rolling before Brexit really did mean Brexit!
Before heading back to Umbria, Michelle suggested we at least get a little sight-seeing in and I am grateful we could manage a ride up into the old town. Siena is a really beautiful city, and I envisioned myself coming back at some point and getting my leg fixed – “with the ghost of Santa Caterina to watch over me please.”
So….I put ‘Lymphatic Venous Anastomosis‘, as it is officially called, on the wish list; and decide to prolong my stay in order to attend the Umbrian Film Festival. Michelle had been telling me about it for years but my visits never quite co-incided. And, since this time was all about trying to enjoy the ‘living’ part of ‘living with cancer’, I was excited to be able to attend an event that focussed on one of my all time favourite topics – film.
Sitting outside in the piazza of the small medieval village of Montone watching films, and getting to hear how the film makers had brought their projects into completion, was very inspiring, bringing back long ago dreams dreamt in Hollywood – a million miles away now – but still indelibly etched inside this creative mind of mine. For a few hours at least I could take my mind off what was happening to my body and instead appreciate how this art form can elevate spirit.
Time passed all too quickly but as always, Italy proved to strengthen my resolve in so many ways. Despite the heat and the demands of making such a journey, I am blessed to have a good friend in Michelle, and don’t get me started on the unconditional love that emanates from her beloved dogs – just wish they all lived a little closer.
Luckily I found a direct flight from Pisa to Liverpool, but still necessitating an early morning drive into Arezzo, a train into Florence and a bus to Pisa airport. And as a reward – you got it – another gelato vegano, and what the heck – a slice of pizza. I mean come on – is it really ‘living’ to come all the way to Italy and not indulge in a piece of pizza?
Back in the UK – a bus, two more trains and another cobbledy walk from the station home, since not a taxi in sight – see what I mean about the ‘demands’of the journey? I’m not complaining, just trying to get the point across that the human resolve is as good as it’s power to imagine that all things are possible.
A few days rest with my legs up and I was good to go – time to see my oncologist and get the necessary scans done.
Luckily, the scans showed no evidence of excessive pizza on the brain or other extremeties, and all traces of gelato vegano have disappeared.
Seriously though – the scans are still showing that everything is stable – no venous blockages, so I can go ahead and try to get a green-light for the micro-surgery somehow, some day, and God only knows somewhere. In the meantime the long awaited appointment with the lymphoedema clinic came through and I am the proud wearer of support stockings. Apart from feeling like I am going into battle everytime I pull these stiff protective garments onto my legs, they are not too unbearable especially now that the weather is cooling. I am under orders to massage strategic points on my body to aid with the lymph flow, and thanks to the loan of my sister’s bike I am flying like the wind on the good days and resting sensibly on the others, having recently added LDN Low dose Naltrexone to my regime, and I am blessed with a summer of amazing sunsets from my window.
Who knows how long it will take to get this leg of mine fixed…..but in the meantime I am living as fearlessly as I can. Alongside my computer I find the smooth stone that I collected on that steep sojurn to to Villa Viviani. At the time I chose it because of it’s smoothness – something to touch, to remind me just how fortunate I am. It holds a different kind of memory now – as little more than a week after I return to the UK I am saddened to hear of yet another devastating earthquake in Italy, not too far from where Michelle lives. I had already shed my tears….
By the time this overdue part 3 hits the press I shall be long gone on yet another ‘journey beyond fear’ – time to get back to Javier and see what this summer has bestowed upon him – as all too soon the seasons change…(to be continued)