Supporting others, while dealing with my own fears

Maria Kritikou, Chair of the Cancer Patient Association of Dodecanese "Τogether with power for life"

My first cancer experience came in September 2014. Then the second cancer followed, to finish what the first has left … There were long surgeries, chemotherapies, double mastectomy, dark thoughts, pain, despair. And I always needed psychological support …

Maria Kritikou with Eleni Kounaki

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was lost. I looked for active support from a cancer patients association in Athens, Greece, because there was nothing relatively in our region. Unfortunately, our island’s (Rhodes) cancer rates are considerably high. As a patient I realized that there were great needs, there were many people who suffered like me and that there was a lack of support for cancer patients. And then the big idea was born in my mind. The idea of ​​setting a cancer patients association. I shared my thought with my friend Elena Kounaki, a year ago, during the period of my second cancer attack. That time we didn’t only share our ideas but also the same room in the general hospital of Rhodes. She had cancer too. During our chemotherapy treatment, I expressed my plans about the “big project” to her and she approved it. She had the same thought as well. So, along with our treatment, we started the procedures for setting up the association after our recovery. And it happened. I completed my treatment cycle last January and the association named “Τogether with power for life” was set officially one month later, in last February. On the opening ceremony all of us who supported this effort we were emotionally touched and we couldn’t hide our tears. Tears caused from satisfaction and happiness. I became the chairman of the Board of the new association and Elena became the vice-president…

The Board members are five but the voluntary participation of doctors, psychologists, therapists and ex-patients is enormous. Even my daughter helps. Today she is 17 years old but when my adventure started she was at 13. We have never hidden anything from her. She supported me during my chemotherapy and she has now become one of the best volunteers. Although she has confessed to me that she was afraid I might die, now she feels stronger. I have thought of dying too, many times. I often tortured the people I loved, my children, my husband, my friends. When I had pains, I behaved aggressively. For 1.5 years I couldn’t sleep. I was locked in a room by myself to manage all my issues in my head. It was a hard time. Now we have overcome it.

Group photo of the members of the Cancer Patient Association of Dodecanese “Τogether with power for life”

Our association currently supports around 190 patients. In the mornings we visit patients in the hospital and in the afternoons we go to patients homes. I’m already chasing my next personal bet with myself: a full operation of a radiotherapy department in the Rhodes hospital because patients are forced to travel to Athens or to Crete for curative radiotherapy and this has an unaffordable cost for them.

I focus on supporting the patients with cancer but I have to manage my own fears also. It’s only four months since my last chemotherapy. Sometimes I feel like collapsing. I hope I will manage it at the end. I believe that you can never cure cancer. Cancer seems like to be in a coma and you wish it will not wake up again. I know it might be metastasized at some point, but that does not scare me anymore. I want to live with quality, to help other people, to travel … Now I want to spend every moment of my lifetime in the best way…

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