People - December 21, 2018

The Blonde Salad meets… Ramona

“I want my life back. An ordinary, normal life”. This is Ramona’s dream, a 32 years old girl from Turin that, almost three years ago, had to “stop” her life to beat cancer. She had to renounce her left leg, but she never gave up on her strength and her dreams. She’s the girl Chiara Ferragni and Fedez decided to help with the fund they opened for their wedding. The Blonde Salad met Ramona: here’s her story.

Hello Ramona, do you want to share your story with us?

I was born on May 18th, 1986, in Switzerland, but I live in Turin with my family since I was 6 years old. I had a peaceful, easy life, just like all the other girls, having fun, studying and working. I graduated in marketing and business communication and, after collaborating with an event agency, I started working in a gift shop. 2015 was a very positive year for me. I ended a very important relationship and I really turned the page. I was working a lot and felt ready to make a qualitative leap. I loved practicing a lot of sports, such as running, gag and hydrobike. But despite these busy days, I was also committed to “Buba’s smile”, a no-profit association founded in 2010 to remember a dear friend of mine who died from cancer when she was 25 years old. We celebrate her birthday every year with a theme party and on September 19th, 2015, a day I will never forget, we were celebrating with a Thirties party.

What happened that night?

Who doesn’t love to have fun at a party? Actually, I had drunk a few more drinks than usual. That’s why, when I suddenly fell on the floor while I was changing my shoes, nobody paid much attention. I’m not used to crying or screaming for pain, but I immediately understood that something was broken, especially because I have had pain in my left leg for almost a month. At the hospital, doctors told me that I had a displaced fracture of the left femur. How could I have caused such damage, without having made an accident?

In the beginning, doctors thought I was suffering from malnutrition. But despite two months of treatment, I was feeling so much pain in my leg. In my heart, I already realized what the real problem was, probably because I’ve helped many cancer patients with my work for the association. But nobody paid attention to my thoughts. One day, in the middle of a bad argument with the doctors, I finally found the results of the histological examination, which I had undergone the day I arrived at the hospital with the broken femur and that was dating back to a month and a half before. The report was clear: “unidentifiable cells”. I immediately went to a doctor specialized in orthopedic oncology, who noticed the presence of a tumor on the first X-ray. At that moment, I felt reassured: finally we discovered why I was feeling so much pain in my leg that I wasn’t able to sleep. On November 11th, 2015, with magnetic resonance and a new histological examination, we had the diagnosis: telangiectatic osteosarcoma. I was the 7th case in Italy.

So you started undergo chemotherapy…

Yes. The magnetic resonance identified two pulmonary metastases, which exploded in 46 micrometastases while I was doing my first cycle of chemotherapy. I was anemic and I was continuously undergoing blood transfusions. I was also losing weight, that is a bad signal when someone is doing chemotherapy. It was almost Christmas and I asked the doctors to let me go home for the holidays. Surrounded by my loved ones overturned the situation and I finally started feeling better. But I was completely paralyzed in bed, without being able to move, and I was going crazy. During the third cycle of chemotherapy, I faced the situation with the doctors: after seven months of immobility, I was no longer willing to endure one more day. At that point, they could only be honest: the only solution to save my life was to amputate my left leg. I was so overwhelmed by the situation that it seemed to me the least painful solution. On April 22nd, 2016, I entered the operating room.

How did you deal with that moment?

I was calm. I knew I could face that situation. I wasn’t sure to survive the surgery, but I knew that if I opened my eyes, I would be able to take my life back. I’ve never been afraid of dying. The pain really scared me, as much as the fact I I couldn’t even see what was outside the window. After five months, I finished chemotherapy: I did six cycles before the surgery and six after the amputation. I was finally healed, but I couldn’t imagine I would have to face another challenge…

What do you mean?

I’m talking about prosthetics. In Italy, we have a document that is called Nomenclatore tariffario: it establishes how National Health Service can supply prosthesis. Its publication dates back to 1999: orthopedics has made giant steps, and it’s obvious that a cutting-edge prosthesis from 20 years ago can’t be the same now, as their prices of course. It’s true that this document has been updated in 2017, but new tariffs have not yet been established, that’s why the situation is still the same. People with disabilities have only two choices: to live with non-functional prostheses, or take on very high expenses to purchase a modern prosthesis. My first experience with a prosthesis wasn’t positive: it weighed more than 8 kilos and it was so complicated to use that I even cracked two ribs. After a few months, I decided to put it aside, hoping, one day, to have the chance to buy an electronic knee, a prosthesis that would give me the chance to have my life back.

Last summer, Chiara and Fedez posted a video on Instagram to announce their decision to open a fund to support a special cause…

I remember everything of that day. When I saw the video on Chiara’s account, I even wrote her a direct message because I couldn’t find the e-mail of the charity project. A friend of mine called me and said: “Why don’t you tell them your story?” I wasn’t completely sure. I thought; “Why me?” In the end, I convinced myself: a couple of days later, at 11.45 pm, I wrote an e-mail from my cell phone and sent it. I didn’t worry about language or words: I did it more for myself, just to let off steam. I didn’t tell anyone and I continued my life as if nothing had happened. In September, I underwent a few more surgeries to fix the stump. It’s been a hard time, and pains came back to keep me company. Sometimes I had hallucinations for drugs. On November 7th, when I received an e-mail confirming that Chiara and Federico had chosen my case, I thought they were not finished yet! It was a beautiful, liberating moment. It’s a new date to add to the many other dates that have marked my path.

How was meeting Chiara and Fedez?

They waited for me to get out of the hospital to come and see me at home. It was a beautiful day. I always thought they were special. I admired Federico for his songs, while Chiara… well, it’s Chiara! How can I not love her? They are two happy and peaceful guys, a really beautiful couple.

What’s next?

I have to do a few months of rehabilitation. When I’ll be 100%, I will finally buy an electronic knee. Budrio Prosthetic center, an Italian excellence in the supply of prostheses, will make a tailor-made prosthesis for me. I will walk, run and swim.

Which is the first thing you’re going to do?

I can’t wait to go for a run in the park next to my house.

Can a negative experience like this give something positive in return?

Absolutely. I owe everything to my cancer because it helped me to know who I am and what I want. I always hear that we must fight cancer, but I don’t think this is the right attitude. The tumor is part of us, that’s why we have to accept, understand and respect it. I often say that I had to lose a leg to finally feel complete. Before this experience, I was very angry, but today I’m afraid of negative emotions. I’m a very calm person, I made peace with myself and I like to convey my positive attitude to others. My family was very supportive: we never talked about cancer at home. Today I have no problem joking about it. If someone asks me what happened to me, I reply that a shark ate my leg!

I think that an experience like this force you to stop and to fill your days in a different way. I started reading again, a passion that I always had and that I put aside because I felt I never had time. I realized that, actually, it was only an excuse. I rediscovered my creative side with writing and drawing.

What would you like to suggest to the people who had a similar experience?

Accept yourself. It’s the first step. Don’t be afraid of the mirror. After Chiara and Federico’s announcement, I was so happy to receive so many messages from boys and girls who are facing the same problems I had. I want to encourage them with my positivity.

What are your dreams?

Volunteering has always been important in my life, I hope one day to have an experience abroad. I can’t wait to regain my independence, maybe finding a house for myself, and going back to work. Three years ago I put my life on pause, now it’s finally time to push the play button again.

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