Piero's story

Piero tells how his learning in Classical Philology helped him face his tumour without fear.

On November the 1st 2010, at the age of 46, I was diagnosed with a grade 2 astrocytoma.

The tumour was of the approximate dimensions of 10 x 10 cm and so deeply embedded in my right hemisphere that no resection was possible. I had lived with it most of my life, without knowing it.

The brain is a versatile organ, I was to learn, and the extent of the damaged area, spread over four lobes, had not prevented me from gaining a PhD in Classical Philology and playing two instruments up to diploma level.

When I had my first partial seizure I recognized it was epilepsy from my reading, in my student's years, of Dostojevsky's 'The Idiot'. A journey out of space and time: that was it. But I thought it was due to tiredness. The first time I heard this name uttered by my wife was when I woke up in a hospital bed after my first proper seizure.

I fear humans more than any natural disease, so, after being offered a whole-brain radiotherapy, I asked to wait and watch, and the tumour remained stable for two and a half years. My conditions were overall excellent, and I learnt very soon not to look for a meaning in my 'illness'. But since I work as a researcher in the history of medicine, I was still puzzled by the meanings of health. I became more and more interested in the history of hospitals and healing sanctuaries, and decided that the time had come for a proper journey along the ancient routes of disease and health. With my wife and our two children we sailed our boat down the Adriatic, to Epidauros and the shrines of the Aegean, to end up in Kos, the home of Hippocrates. It was our way to show our friends and relatives there was not much to fear about it – and to conceal how effort it had taken to reach this conclusion. I brought the ritual offer of a rooster to the Asklepieion, only to discover there existed no more the priests to accept it.

In July 2012, after declining once again an offer of whole-brain radiotherapy, I started a six-month course of chemotherapy. The scans showed a reduction in the size of the tumour, and in two days I will have the results of my last MRI.