Gvantsa Laghidze, 32 years old, Tbilisi
In 2011, I was diagnosed with stage 3, malignant invasive breast cancer. I was 27 back then. Due to my acting career, I had a period of intensive filming, which I had to get a tan for, so I visited solarium a couple of times. Following one of the visits, as I came back home and took off the dress, I’ve noticed a nut-size lump on a breast. Naturally, I went to the physician shortly after and yet it took me three months to take a biopsy, and later surgery, due to my stressful schedule. I could feel an utterly foreign organism living within my body affecting my everyday mood during these months.
At first, no one considered it a malignant tumour. However, biopsy results turned out to be alarming for my doctor, who advised immediate surgery the very next day. While having a positive attitude receiving calmly the news about the operation in the doctor’s office, the worried expression on the doctor’s face made an extremely disruptive effect on me and on leaving the office I felt sick. The young nurse brought me some water to drink and comforted me saying it was not going to be a difficult surgery. They were only going to remove lumps.
The surgery lasted for 40 minutes. The doctors decided on breast mastectomy on the spot. Luckily, I’m a kind of person who can very quickly get ahold of herself in difficult situations and gather strength. Having woken up from anaesthesia, I saw the group of doctors surrounding me. They all were trying to encourage me. Realizing the breast mastectomy was essential, the only thing I thought was that I must find more strength to defeat the disease.
In the hospital, I remained in a positive mood. I met a lot of patients there who has the same diagnosis as mine. Many of them were in despair, some were afraid. Talking to them and encouraging made me also stronger. Making somebody else stronger helped me to gather strength too. I wanted them to feel what I felt.
Why I had this positive attitude? First of all, because I was hopeful and more importantly, I believed that I could defeat the disease. My daughter/son, family and friends – people who needed me, were the source of my optimism and I felt I had to fight to not dash their hopes.
Naturally, as a living person, I can’t always control my emotions, but in those days I was concentrated on rational thinking and tried to focus on things that were more important – on my otherworldly feelings expressed in communion with outside world. Not only during illness but while making any significant decision. It means a lot – your attitude, and how you focus your mind on different issues since it controls everything including other people’s attitude to you.
The year of treatment
That entire year of treatment was a time of inner peace, fighting and overcoming many obstacles in which the theory of attitude played a prominent role. I’ve undergone 8 courses of chemotherapy. It was emotionally damaging and hard to endure, not to mention physical pain. I’ve been trying to work and spend more time with people while chemotherapy, though.
That was a time in my life you can’t call cheerful, yet it gave me one important thing – significant experience through which I started to better understand the world and listen to myself, and acknowledged the vanity of everyday problems. Most importantly, I’ve learned how to use each minute and moment in my life. Time became more precious to me. I’ve learned that living this way can really improve life quality and make it more balanced in a way, for everyone. It’s true that as various things come before every now and then, you eventually forget more important ones and drown in routine. So, every time I recall those tough times I try to think about first priority which is life itself. After 8 months of chemotherapy, Herceptin regimen and radiotherapy I’ve defeated cancer.
Naturally parting from my body part wasn’t that easy. But I never thought of it as a tragedy. I had a much more serious challenge, more serious obstacle to overcome than appearance. It was my family members I was worried about and, in particular, my daughter/son being 3 back then. I kept thinking I mustn’t plunge into despair for I had a child to raise.
During chemotherapy, I didn’t even use to look in the mirror. I knew I didn’t look like before, but I took it as a temporary condition, as a process that was going to end. I knew my hair would grow again and I was going to get back in my usual shape. I just had to survive those days to win.
Though there are many means of breast reconstruction these days, I reject breast implant for I believe I’m still the same girl, same old Gvantsa, and the scar on left side of my body is the part of my life and struggle.
Being a cancer patient still carries a stigma in the society. Mostly because of low awareness, many people reckon it an end. For many, cancer is a taboo subject. Doctors often keep the diagnosis in secret from patients and try to conduct treatment without them knowing. I believe that a proper, positive approach makes cancer a conquerable disease. A cancer diagnosis is not an end; it’s a beginning of a new, a bit different and a bit tough life that has nothing to do with an end.
People around me
One of the biggest obstacles was finances. Being listless, I wasn’t capable of finding means to cover treatment costs, so my friends had to do it. Unfortunately, with the state financial assistance program for cancer patients being so undeveloped back then, it was impossible to undergo timely treatment, so together with my friends, we managed to raise funds with the help of one of the private finance service companies.
Many people stood shoulder to shoulder with me to win this fight including complete strangers. So, now, as I consider myself a survivor, I want to help others too by starting a charity that will provide financial support to cancer patients.
I was lucky to have a mother with a very strong personality. She’s an example to me. She never gives up. Amazingly optimistic, she overcame many obstacles approaching all problems rationally. Seeing her stamina encouraged me a lot; her emotion made me stronger and vice versa. We won this fight practically together.
Author: Maiko Chitaia
Photo credit: Nina Baidauri