On June 28th, our Fundraiser, SMM&Comm. Manager – Cristina, accompanied by the photographer Acy Varlan, went to visit the mobile palliative care services team in Orhei. With the team, they also visited four different patients which are being taken care of by the mobile palliative care team. Below, Cristina describes the visit to Mrs. Raisa, woman suffering of cervical cancer in the 4th stage, how the visit was and her personal impressions about it.
When we arrived to Mrs. Raisa’s home, before entering, Dr. Tintiuc warned us: “here the stage of cancer is so advanced that it arrived to putrefaction. So the smell is very particular.”
We said OK, thanks for the warning, and started to carefully enter in the apartment.
The apartment had multiple rooms, all cleaned up. The entree was a little bit dark, as the light there was coming only from the rooms. As we entered, we started to feel the smell. Something that is indescribable. A pungent smell, almost acid, of decomposition. The first impulse was just to turn and leave, but we knew very well we could not do that.
We enter the patient’s room. Mrs. Raisa, who opened the door, is now laying on the sofa-bed, on some blankets and a nappy pad, visibly in pain. The room is almost empty. There is Mrs. Raisa’s sofa-bed, an another couch, a chair. Lots of light is coming from the window.
Mrs. Raisa is laying on the bed. She’s probably between 50 and 60 years old, but it’s difficult to say, as the illness can make anyone look much older than reality. She’s mince, she probably lost a lot of weight because of the disease. Her hair are cut short, her eyes are very clear. They make you understand that she knows and understands much more than she says.
She looks determined. And, despite the position we find her in, she looks strong to me. I don’t know why, but I think that she looks like a teacher, one of those for whom you really want to go to the classes, listen and learn.
Dr. Tintiuc and Mrs. Olga – the nurse, start asking her questions about how she feels, about the disease, about how she keeps things under control. We learn that she has cervical cancer, stage IV. Her genital organs are gone, eaten by the disease. She’s uncomfortable to speak about this, but forces herself. She’s been in the program for long and knows that she must tell.
The pain she feels is immense, and should be kept under control with tramadol, but she doesn’t take it. Instead, when she feels that she cannot bear it anymore, she drinks some Voltaren pills and the pain diminishes. Still, it never disappears. Even after drinking the pills, it’s a constant 3 on a scale from 1 to 10. But it’s bearable for her.
Frankly speaking, I do not remember very well what happened in those moments while Dr. Tintiuc and the nurse where checking the state of the necrosis. I only remember that I found myself putting a hand on Anastasia’s shoulder, saying that everything is going to be okay, but also observing that my hands were shaking.
Mrs. Raisa put her clothes back on and Dr. Tintiuc explained her that it is much better now than it was last time she visited her, but that she should take tramadol in order to control the pain and that the pills she’s taking now are also impeding the healing process of the scars left by the disease. Mrs. Raisa understands very well what is told to her, but we can see back in her eyes the determination and strength, the desire to do as she wants. When Dr. Tintiuc asks why she wouldn’t take tramadol and Mrs. Raisa answers simply: “I’ll start taking it and I’ll die on it”.
Shortly after we left the apartment. The smell persecuted me for hours. I could feel it in my nostrils, impregnated in my clothes, in my hair, in my skin. I can still feel it now.
The visit to Mrs. Raisa was probably one of the most difficult to which I have ever been. At first I thought it was because of the physical inputs added, the smell, seeing so clearly and vividly the effects of the disease on somebody. But reflecting on the visit I realized it wasn’t just that.
Mrs. Raisa awakened in me the fear. Genital cancer, indifferently if it’s male or female, is different from the other types of cancer, for what it represents. It’s much more sensitive. It takes away the organs that most of all define your identity. It robs you a part of your psychological self. You arrive not to be a full self anymore, but only an undefined shadow of what you were.
An another reason is the how she was apologizing for getting undressed in front of us. As a person who is often visited by doctors who need to inspect the situation of her cancer, I supposed the feeling of shame had somehow been diminished. But this wasn’t the case, on the contrary, I had the impression it was even more accentuated by the illness. Probably, in cases when our normality is taken away from us, we try to cling even more to the small things that make us feel as if everything is normal in order not to fall apart.
And finally, there was Mrs. Raisa’s stoicism. She decided to endure physical pain without taking the drugs which could make her life much easier, for what does drugs represent to her: death. Taking tramadol represents for her the acknowledgement that there is nothing more to do, a sort of white flag to the illness, white flag that she’s not willing to show and against which she’ll fight probably till the end.