Elena Ruggero Gallucci

I know about fear because 5 years ago I had the shock of my life. It started quite simply. I accidentally hit my knee. Then the pain grew worse and worse. I had to miss a day of work as an elementary school teacher. Then I missed another, and another, and another.

I saw my doctor about the pain and my lack of energy (which I was used to as a working mom with a lot on my plate). The doctor referred me to a hematologist because my blood levels were off.

I was so confused. What could this mean? He said it could be anything from a vitamin K deficiency to cancer. Of course, I laughed it off, thinking I’d be the type of person to get a vitamin K deficiency. But later I got the call.

The hematologist wanted me to come in and talk. I knew then it had to be cancer. The wait for the appointment felt like an eternity. Yet, when the day came, I sat in that office with my husband, feeling like a fly on the wall. When I heard the word leukemia, it seemed as though it were happening to someone else.

I’d already had my time to cry. Now the hard part would be breaking the news to my family. I’ve never had such a difficult time telling my mom anything in my life. I was so scared. But her response to the news was so amazing!

“Elena, don’t cry,” my mom said. “This is going to be a nightmare. But it will be okay. I feel it in my heart of hearts.”

Her words meant the world to me. I felt so reassured, because even when you’re grown up, mom still knows all.

But there was another hurdle to overcome. My children were only two and five years old when I was diagnosed. How would I tell them? We all got into bed together. I said mommy has a sickness in her blood. And the medicine would make me sick and lose my hair. And I’d be away in the hospital for a while.

My little boy, Luca, was so worried about me losing my hair, he later went out and bought matching baseball caps for the whole family, saying we were now all part of a “team”.

I was diagnosed on a Thursday, and by Friday morning I was at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre for my first appointment. How can I adequately describe the hospital staff? I can only say they were like angels -- handpicked by God.

One of the first people I spoke to was a wonderful receptionist. She said the most inspiring thing to me:

“You come back here on Monday morning … you put on your army boots and your army pants … and you come back here ready to fight. You’ll get through this.”

Believe me, I took her words to heart. The first few months of my treatment involved intensive chemotherapy. Every morning my husband would ask me, “What are you doing today?”

“I’m fighting,” I would say.

And, I started to believe it. I was determined to fight for my children’s sake.

I’m in remission now. I’m thankful for every minute of every day that I have on this earth with my precious family. I know I can’t take anything for granted anymore. I have The Princess Margaret to thank for that.

As Canada’s largest and most advanced cancer research and treatment centre, The Princess Margaret gives the gift of hope to patients every day.

Today I’m back at work part-time. My kids seem changed by this whole experience: they’re a little more understanding, a little more caring. My daughter, Sofia, loves to cuddle and hug. Maybe because when she was smaller I was often too sick or too weak to hold her.

I still see one of the The Princess Margaret nurses at church. She gives me a hug and asks how I’m doing.

The answer is I’m doing great! I got better and I couldn’t have done it without the amazing staff at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre -- who always had smiles on their faces.

 

Reviewed: October 2013