“I´d rather be the person I am now than the one I used to be”
Nuria Rivas (Zaragoza, 1976) had to give up basketball in 2000, when she was diagnosed with bone cancer. After six years of surgery and therapy, she decided to have her leg amputated. That traumatic experience brought up a new person, one that while still holding her older self, came to improve it. Nuria will be one of the speakers at the De los Pies a la Cabeza multiconference events.
– Do you feel like you’re living two lives inside one?
It is more like I used to be one person before and another slightly differente now. In my case that had to do with my illness, but many people may experience something very similar without going through such a traumatic process. For me, being diagnosed meant a turning point. It was like a new birth in many ways… And today I look at myself as a different person.
– So, two persons in the same life.
Actually the person I used to be had to be there, it was necessary to allow the evolution into the one I am now. All her experiences, the things she learned, her frustrations… It was kind of a continuum. There was a common thread and out of it came up different versions of myself.
– Have you managed to balance all those versions?
I’d rather be the person I am now than the one I used to be before the illness. If someone told me: “You can get your leg back and be like you used to”; well… I’m not sure I would take the chance. My frustrations now have nothing to do with the fact that I lost my leg; they are related to other things that were there all the time. Back then I wouldn’t appreciate what I had. Now I really acknowledge how much I have learned, and I feel all those things are a godsend. It’s like I’m standing on happiness soil; I don’t lie on it all the time, but I bounce back off it and keep going. Now I can see a brightness in everything.
– When you talk for an audience, do you achieve to transfer that learning to people who have not gone through an equivalent experience?
I believe the message gets across, although you need to be careful to avoid frustration: someone might feel they are not able to react in the same way or achieve what you did. I’ve always been the restless kind of girl and that really helped. Everything can be done if you put the effort, even if it takes a lot. And if something can be done, then you will get to do it. That’s a message I like to pass on.
– You show people their inner strength.
We are able to overcome anything. I knew from the go that my situation demanded the best out of me. And that attitude can make the difference.
– Having a need of help makes you more capable to help others?
Going through a experience of the kind makes your mind and heart much more flexible. Your capacity for empathy grows and you feel closer to people who have undergone experiences completely different to yours. I can understand now how inmigrants or people in risk of exclusion feel about theirselves and their lives; I feel their emotions can be exactly the same as mine. And I can put myself in the shoes of
other people who worry about their up and downs, no matter how ordinary they are. I see the heroics that go with the simple act of setting up a family, for example.
– The things we lack may not be physical… but they are not less important just because we can’t see them.
A good thing with cancer is that everybody gives you their support and stand by you. I felt really cared about and loved when it happened to me, and everybody would show the utmost respect for the way I did go about things, my emotions and the way I would express them. The toughest part comes later, when you are recovered and people do not perceive you still need their help.
– How did you get them to still see you at that time?
Making myself understood became really hard at that time. You need to learn to speak out your emotions. I couldn’t handle my circumstances and my reaction to them. I didn’t want to miss a single thing, I was out of myself, couldn’t stand the idea of leaving anything for the next day. And that is hard to manage because the others dont’ look at things in that way.
– Your urgency to live was rocketing…
Absolutely. I was afraid not to live, not to do everything I wanted to do. That is stressful and you need to adjust and manage it.
– How do you make people understand you have become another person?
You still need them around, no matter the illness is over. And you need them to be there and take into account that you may not be exactly the same person they had known before; your perspective has changed, your emotions have been modified… and you are as lost about that as anybody can imagine. Being there you need to really work onto your emotions, you need to know how to put your anxiety into words. You need to know where it all comes from and how to express it. That requires will and effort, it’s not an easy task. You need to remake all the bonds again. Get to recognise yourself and be recognised by the others.