In this interview, Oriana shares her unique coping mechanisms, from introspection and emotional expression to the therapeutic power of furry companion. Oriana imparts the best advice she ever received, the moments that instantly light up her life, and what makes her purposeful, both personally and as a psychotherapist.

What is your name? How old are you? Where are you from?

My name is Oriana, 34 years old and I am from Portugal!

What’s your diagnosis?

Small cells Ovarian cancer – hypercalcemic Type, a rare type of ovarian cancer that mainly occurs in girls, adolescents and young women. It is so rare that when I was diagnosed only 300 cases were known worldwide.

How and when did you find out about your diagnosis?

I learned my diagnosis on 24.12.2011, at the age of 22, while I was hospitalized to recover from surgery. I went into this surgery knowing that I would have a tumor, but there was no confirmation that it would be cancer. This after a few months of going to the emergency room to repeatedly be told that everything was fine, that it was anxiety or an atypical urinary infection.

What has the journey through cancer taught you?

The key takeaways are the power of knowledge and hope, and learning how to deal better with uncertainty, as in the blink of an eye what we take for granted can change drastically. Fortunately, hope helps you to build resilience and gives you space to thrive and rebuild yourself 🙂.

What helped you the most during the treatment process?

Introspection and emotional ventilation were always there- spoken, written, shouted, or cried! Reading books about cancer AYAs survivors, watching TED talks, and chatting in cancer online communities. Researching cancer treatments and holistic approaches, establishing routines of meditation, exercise for cancer patients, and cooking. I also volunteered in foster care while I was doing immunotherapy.

What has changed in your life since your cancer diagnosis?

It changed everything because it changed my perspective on life, my ambitions, my motivation, and my relationship with myself (my self-perception and the way I manage my self-care). I guess one of the most visible changes relates to my involvement in “Patient Advocacy”.

If you were to meet yourself the day you heard a diagnosis, what would you say to your younger self?

I would like to hold my younger self’s hands and say “This is not the way you expected, it’s hard to process and will be long and tough. You will doubt yourself, you may want to give up, but you will find an enormous resilience and passion for life. The resources you need are in you, in your family, and even in strangers. One day you will give meaning to all of this”.

What would you like to accomplish within EU-CAYAS-NET?

I wish that through this network we could mitigate the feeling of loneliness that many cancer AYAs face and that our work can contribute to educating the general population, politicians, healthcare professionals and other stakeholders about cancer AYAs needs during and post-treatment, to equitable responses to AYAs health and psychosocial needs, across Europe.

What are your achievements to date (formal or informal, education or hobby)?

I can list all “adult milestones” that happened in my life – finishing my master’s degree, starting working, dating, and marrying- as I saw those things slip away from me and I felt I had to strive to achieve them. However, my greatest achievements were recovering my self-confidence to make plans ahead and cooking my first Christmas dinner for my family 10 years after the diagnosis.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“Sometimes we need to make risky decisions and for you, this is the time!” This was told to me by a doctor while I was reading the immunotherapy informed consent. I was overwhelmed by the possible side effects and his words were what I needed to feel empowered and take my decision!

What makes you instantly light up?

comfort animal for ovarian cancer susrvivor

My feline soulmate – my cat Paxá 😀! He has been by my side since the chemo phase and continues to melt me in the same charming way every day (he makes my husband jealous)! Delicious food also works or looking at photos/videos of a trip I took with my husband or from our wedding day.

What makes your life feel purposeful?

Apart from the love I feel for and from my family and other meaningful relationships, embracing my vulnerability and making sense of it completely transformed my purpose, so trying to contribute to changes I would like to happen makes me feel grounded. I also feel purpose in my work as a psychotherapist, it is very rewarding to see improvements in the well-being of others.

What lesson was hardest for you to learn?

Losing innocence about life by facing mortality, mourning myself and the future I imagined, and feeling segregated from everything and everyone! Then I felt I had changed and did not see “the world around me” accompanying this change. It’s like you have one foot in “two worlds”, and you need to balance this transition, not to mention you need to cope with side effects forever.

What’s the last thing you watched on Netflix and why did you choose to watch it?

Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones” I was interested because I generally feel inspired by people and I’m curious about what people do and how it impacts their quality of life. It helps me to think I have choices and that there are things I can focus on to improve my well-being. I also wanted to understand if the findings were in line with other things I had already read and seen.