She is a woman warrior. A mother. A wife. A friend. A Miracle. Vera Kondili has been healing from cancer pretty much all her life. She has encountered pain, fear, frustration, desperation, hope, and with every day, with every step her faith grew stronger and stronger. Now she is here to convey her personal message, to share, to pour her heart out in hope it might help at least one person… It makes me wonder, where does one find so much strength to fight the adversity and yet live life to the fullest?
Note: the name of the person interviewed was changed as per her request.
I am aware that you have been healing from various forms of cancer since the age of six. How old are you now, Vera?
I am 38 years old.
How are you now?
The last two months I feel much better and have less pain. But there are days when I ache, feel dizzy, weak, and yet every day I hope that it is the last illness and the first day of my new healthy life. I keep praying and hoping for the miracle, Jolita. I have no intention to give up. Lately the amount of medicines I have to take has decreased, there is no metastasis at least until this moment and the doctors are much more optimistic.
You have been healing from various forms of cancer since the age of six. Tell me please, does the fight and healing get any easier with time?
There are moments when I think I am a very tough fighter, that I am stronger than the illness that keeps reoccurring in me. When I was a child, I did not understand the gravity of the situation, I took it easy. Hospitals, doctors, drugs, interventions within time denied me my childhood, because most of my childhood I spent healing. I used to ask my mother why I was not like other children, why I could not play outside with my friends, but instead had to stay indoors, why I was not allowed to attend kindergarten… To be honest, not being able to attend kindergarten and be surrounded by other children was a huge problem for me. This is my biggest complaint to life to this day.
Within time I realized what was happening to me and by then I already knew that I had to stay strong in order to heal. I had to stay strong for my parents, because every time there was surgery to come, family seemed to fall into pieces, and so I chose to be calm and go with the flow in hope to ease the situation. And I fought, I healed and I lived. However, I don’t say it was or is easy. It never was easy and never will.
There are moments when I feel weak and afraid. That’s when fear grabs me with its claws and shakes me. That’s when I begin questioning my life, the purpose of these illnesses and the outcome of everything…
What forms of cancer have you experienced so far?
There was a tumour in the thyroid gland. When we realized it, it had already metastasized to the lymph nodes in the neck, it effected metastatic lymph nodes and doctors operated on the armpits and belly. A few years later a tumour appeared in the pituitary gland of the brain, it was extremely painful, I began losing my eyesight, but after a satisfactory surgery I began to heal once more. However, soon afterwards it harmed my spine and kidney, and surgery was necessary again. Then, the doctors discovered that cancer cells infected the intestine and they had to remove a section of it. Uterus, ovaries and cervix are ongoing, but this did not and will not frighten me. I am a fighter, I am a strong believer. I am a Healer.
How many surgeries have you had in the year of 2010?
Previous year alone I have had four surgeries: three gynaecological and one on the spine. I had to have one on the neck, but doctors stopped me from having it. According to them, it was too much. So, therefore, I had a therapy for the neck.
You mentioned to me that you are going to have one more surgery soon. What kind of surgery is it?
This time will be done specifically for my throat the one that I could not do in 2010.
Vera, what dialogue do you have with yourself every time you go through such kind of challenges? Your journey in this life is truly very tough…
The dialogues vary. I remember, when I was six years old, I wanted to run to my grandfather and hide behind him once I saw the door of the hospital. I yelled to my mom, “Let me go, I want my grandfather, I want to go to the sea, I want to play!” When I was coming out of anaesthesia, I saw my stepfather holding my hand. He was encouraging me with his loving words and gently touching my hand, while my mother was hiding somewhere in the back of the room and crying. It was then when I first time spoke to myself, “It hurts so much, oh God, help my mommy, don’t let her cry. My God, what is happening to me? I want to go home and be a child once more.” I was just a little girl then.
The older I got, the angrier I felt towards myself, towards God, towards life. I began to get angry with myself whenever I felt alone, helpless, different, I argued with myself, I was tortured by my own thoughts and at times this resulted in losing the power that I had. However, I also started to believe in the uniqueness of every living being and the possibilities available to all of us. I must say, my grandfather helped me a lot. He lived quite away from us, but I used to spend lots of time with him, especially while sick. His house was in a small village next to the sea with plenty of fresh, clean air. Whenever I went home from my visits to my grandpa, I felt more and more mature, stronger, I felt I had a lot of power within me and I even had courage to admit having to battle cancer. I was determined to grow up, to have a family, children and see them mature into happy adults. Every time I arrived at the hospital door, I smiled with unwavering faith determined to heal and go home as a whole healthy being. And I succeeded every single time.
I remember when my first daughter was just six months old I had to go to the hospital for the test results. I went there on my own. My doctor said then, “Vera, there is a tumour in your head. You must go to England for the treatment. We cannot deal with it here, in Greece. The sooner you go – the better.” I left hospital crying. Then I looked at the sky and began to speak aloud, “Hey God, where are you? Can you hear me?! Why are you doing this to me? What have I done so wrong to be punished in such a way? Come on, look at me and talk to me. I am angry with you, do you hear me?!” The people looked at me curiously. I could not stop crying. I walked for hours, my family was worried. I felt so terrified; I was looking for ways to regain my strength for the upcoming fight. I thought about my newborn daughter, my life, my dreams, the rising sun… I was determined to succeed and live. So, eventually I went home and told my husband and mom the news. Then I hugged my daughter and swore to be back healthy and well. It was very difficult then, Jolita…
Who helped you to become a person you are now that has such a strong faith and belief in yourself?
My grandfather taught me the meaning of life. He was the most loving, caring, kind man I have ever known. He seemed to be always calm and have answers to everything. When I came to live with him, I was locked in myself. I did not want to play or socialise with other people. Grandpa did not complain. Once he took me for a walk to the seaside. We went to the beach and looked at the horizon. Then out of sudden he asked me, “What do you see, Vera?”
“I see the sea, the waves, the sky, seagulls and the horizon. Is that the reason you brought me here, grandpa?” I answered.
“Take it easy, baby. Help yourself, so I could help you. You are just a little child, don’t be so angry.” Then he hugged me and tenderly spoke further, “See? The sea is your life, so long, so big, so beautiful. The horizon is your dreams. You can see them everywhere and you have to believe that one day you can touch them. The sky is God who loves us, protects us, takes care of us. The waves are your problems, but just for now and not for so long. One day the problems will be gone just like these waves and your life will be so calm and easy like the beautiful sea. Seagulls are the beauty of nature, all you see is beautiful just like your face.”
His tenderness and love made me cry. I collapsed in his arms and cried.
“Please don’t leave me, grandpa,” I begged, “promise me that you will always be here, close to me.”
“I wish I could, but someday I will be over there in the sky, although I promise you that I will always be close to you here in your heart.”
His words touched my heart, my mind, my feelings… That’s when I changed and opened up to life and its beauty. When we got home after our walk I was very happy and relaxed. I immediately telephoned my mom and said, “Mommy, I am so happy! Grandpa taught me that I am special. He said that my strength is my treasure. I will be back soon and nothing and no one can take my life away from me.”
Now I am living with my husband and our daughters in my grandfather’s house. Every day I go to the sea, to the same place I went with my grandpa. I see the sea, the sky and I feel him close to me. I know he is not in his physical body any more, but at the same time he is here with me – in my heart. I am sure he is proud of me. He taught me that the most important thing in life is life itself and that I should always dream and make my dreams come true. He taught me to be courageous to live my dreams, to smile because the wave of my life someday will be gone and then the calmness will take its place.
It was the first time that I believed in myself. By then I consulted him every time. There was days when the pain was unbearable and every time I felt bad, I closed my eyes and remembered my grandpa’s words. Even now I can hear his voice encouraging me and telling that nothing can be stronger than me, than my faith in life.
You wrote this beautifully. When writing these words on the piece of paper, did you cry, Vera?
Oh, my dear, yes. I closed my eyes and memories of my grandfather flooded in. I remembered his face, his voice, his love…and then I wept. I cry every time I speak to grandpa and ask him to help me. I cry sometimes because I want to talk to somebody and I have no one to talk to.
I see your grandfather played a very important role in your life. The belief he installed in you kept you going to this day. I am aware you are married and have two beautiful daughters. I know that Motherhood was another dream of yours since the early age. Would you like to share about it a bit with me and your readers?
I met my husband when I was very young. It was summer. I went to spend my summer holidays with my grandpa, and my mom and stepfather came with me. At that time I had no hair because of chemotherapy. That summer I met my husband to-be, we walked together on the beach, played our guitars and spent lots of time talking. He told again and again how beautiful I was. I shared with him about cancer and he told me, “Nadia, I don’t care about your hair. You seem to be very happy as you are. I like you and I want to be with you”. Eventually summer passed and I had to go back to Athens. I felt very sad, because I had to leave him and I was not sure whether he will be there next summer again. But when we were on the boat just about to leave, I saw him. He came close to me, hugged me and said, “Did you think I would let you leave so easily? I will be with you and I will never leave you, Vera”. It was the first time he told me that he loved me. And since then we have been together for almost 22 years. I love him so much. He was close to me whenever I was in hospital and gave me dolls and toys and flowers. His support brought me back to life every single time. Once my grandpa told him, “You seem to be a good guy, but please do me a favour, never make my girl cry and never tell her lies.”
We got married when I was 25 years old, and one year later doctor said that I could have a child. Three times I got pregnant and three times I lost my babies. The fourth time everything was fine, but I had to stay in bed and take medicines in order to keep my baby safe. I was afraid, but I was sure that everything will be alright. I was right this time, my baby was born healthy and well. I felt ecstatic. I felt the happiest woman in the whole world. I am so grateful.
Four years ago, I told my husband that I wanted to have another baby. He was not sure about it, he felt afraid for me, for all of us. My doctor warned me that I might have gynaecological problems afterwards. It did not scare me any more; I yet chose to have another baby. When he asked me why I was so determined, I said, “One day I will be gone and our child will be alone in this world. We must have another child for her.” On the same day I went to the seaside and prayed. I looked at the sky and I talked to my grandpa, I spoke to God. I asked for their support and protection. For some reason, I felt it was a right thing to do, I was so sure that it was a perfect time to have another baby. A few months later I got pregnant and for nine months I had no problem in carrying my baby daughter. My doctor thought it was a pure miracle.
Now I have the most beautiful family in the world. I talk with my daughters a lot, I teach them about life and love. I encourage them to be strong, to look at life with love and gratitude. I invite them to greet every morning with the smile. I teach them what my grandpa taught me. I go with them to the seaside and play.
Sometime ago my older daughter told me she did not feel beautiful. Then I took her to the beach, to the same place where I went with my grandpa. I hugged her and said, “My baby, look, the sun is rising. Is this beautiful to you?”
“Yes mammy, very beautiful, I love these colours.” She answered.
“Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. We all see it differently. There are so many people who can see your beauty – your beautiful face, your beautiful heart and what a beautiful soul you are. And you must see the same in yourself. If someone cannot see your beauty, then they are blind.”
“Have you ever felt like me, mammy?” She asked.
“Yes, sweetheart,” I answered, “many times, but I did not know then that we all were beautiful the same like our mother nature, the sea, the sky, and life… If you manage to see this beauty in yourself, in others, everywhere, then others will see your beauty too. But first of all, you must see it in yourself.”
A few days later, my girl gave me a big hug and a kiss and said, “You are the best mammy in the world”.
What a beautiful legacy you are carrying forward! What would be your message to people who are going through similar situations like yours?
The most important thing is to love ourselves. To know what is truly important in life, and this is not to live only for money and only money. Many people believe that if they had a lot of money, they would be happy, however that is not true. Money makes our life easier on material side, but that’s all. People must know how to live, must know that it is very important to wake up and be happy every morning. Every morning I give a big smile to Life, to God, to my family and that brings lots of goodness to all of us. Be happy for being alive. If we love ourselves, then we have so much love to give to other people. See the beauty we have inside, then we can make other people see their beauty. Being strong makes us good fighters facing difficulties in life. That allows us to have experiences, to receive and give life lessons to anyone who need. Have faith. We have to believe to something stronger than us. We are all the same. We are so beautiful, so magnificent, so amazing… We must be proud for who we are and what we have within us. It does not matter whether you have a beautiful face, nice clothes, lots of money, big house… What matters is what you see when you enter your home and close the door behind you. See love, respect and a strong united family inside there. Just like the fingers on our hand – one needs the other and one helps the other. It is very important to give all the good feelings we have inside ourselves, even if we do not get anything back in return. Every night before we go to sleep, we must know that we are being looked and cared for. There should be no space for doubt and fear. We have to believe that we can accomplish our dreams and touch our chosen stars. Some people do not believe in dreams, some people do not dream at all. I am very sad for them. Dreams are necessary in life. They are our mirrors. Dreams are like flowers of life – we can touch them, we can smell them, it can make us feel good and give hope for the next day. And if some dreams never come true, it’s ok, at least we tried and this is very important. I can speak about life for days…
I must tell you something, Jolita. A couple of weeks ago I had a check up and my doctor informed me that I need to have one more surgery. I will be going to Athens soon again. I told it to my mom and she cried, but I will make sure I am fine. I am determined to make it for one more time. I am sure about this.
How much long can you continue going like this, Vera?
I have learned to live with my problem. Once I heard the doctor say to my mom, “Have you got other children because Vera is dying?” But, you see, I am here – alive. I do not want to die. I want to see my girls growing, I want to see them be mothers, I want to see my grandchildren… And yet I am so tired… Sometimes I think I won’t be able to tolerate one more visit to the hospital, one more surgery, but then…I love my life no matter how hard it is. I will survive.
How do you feel now openly sharing your story, your feelings, your experiences in regards to cancer and challenges you have been encountering since the early age?
I must say, it feels strange talking about myself and my problems, although I am a very joyful and happy woman, I yet prefer to speak and share. One of the reasons why I opened my heart to you is because I see so much pain, suffering and too many weak people around me. I believe that telling my story some people might begin to see the beautiful side of life and that would change their thinking for the better. The solution for our problems lies in our minds and our hearts. Each of us has an incredible power inside, it is well hidden and sometimes we need for someone to come forward and wake us. I hope my story, my thoughts and choices I make in life will help at least one person.
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