The Touch of Healing: Navigating Cancer’s Emotions

Interview: Margherita Galli, Psychologist and Psychotherapist, Hospice Bentivoglio (MT Chiantore Seràgnoli Foundation)

Every story brings with it success, for me and for the person who chooses to rely on me.” Margherita Galli, a psychologist and psychotherapist, has worked in hospice care for years and has long supported women as they face their fight against cancer. Her work is filled with gratitude for the patients who decide every day to share their journey with her, “because each story is equally unique and precious, and its success is inherent to its uniqueness.” For her, it is also a daily challenge: that of turning that particularly difficult moment into a teaching moment, discovering unexpected resources and strengths.

What inspired you to specialize as a psychologist in the field of women’s cancers? In this context, what are the most rewarding aspects you have encountered?

I will start from the beginning. When you finish psychology school, you feel as lost as when you started it. Over the years, you have received considerable input, and once you finish, you believe, just like at any key moment in life, that what you choose at that moment will be a kind of judgment, an irrevocable decision. I graduated with an experimental thesis in Architectural Psychology, so explaining how I then came to specialize in clinical oncology might not be easy. Actually, I initially left it to chance, and when my therapist and I were thinking together about where I should do the long, mandatory, one-year internship, I accepted the proposal to apply at the Hospital Psychology Department of a major hospital in Bologna. This is how I came to know the world of women’s cancers. I was supposed to stay there only for a year, and I remained there, at least metaphorically, for my whole future life. After all, as the film “Last Tango in Paris” teaches us, for one to be able to talk about love, one must be able to turn chance into fate. And for me, this work is a great love, with much suffering, but above all, endless mutual gratitude.

Could you describe in detail how you provide emotional and psychological support to patients during cancer diagnosis and treatment, perhaps sharing a success story or one of the cases where your intervention had a significant positive impact?

To answer this question, I have to put things straight. For several years already, I have been working in a hospice, a place where the patients I work with are still receiving active therapies only in some cases. I say this because the point I want to emphasize is that the meaning of my work does not change depending on the settings. This means that there is not just one “how”, one “way”, let alone a right or a wrong way to do it. This is not the main issue. Instead, what is important is the sense in which it is done. I always tailor my work to the individual person, whose need will always differ from that of others. My work, therefore, will have a significant positive impact only if I am able to capture that singularity, that specificity. For this reason, I do not feel like sharing just one success story. Each story brings with it a success, both for me and for the person who gives me the gift of relying on me, because each story is equally unique and valuable and its success is inherent to its uniqueness.

Are there specific psychotherapeutic approaches or interventions that you have found particularly effective for women coping with women’s cancers?

I always like to look at something in all its complexities and trying never to leave out any aspect. It is true that cancer, like any other disease, primarily affects the individual person, but I think considering that individual person outside of their context, of their social, family and emotional relationships, amounts to having a limited view of that person. I think, therefore, that the systemic-relational approach can be an effective psychotherapeutic approach because, as the name implies, this approach means considering the problem in terms of systems, and thus both seeing the ill person as a single mind-body system, and considering them in relation to all the systems with which they are mutually interconnected. For the same reason, I believe it can be very effective to use a mind-body mindfulness practice such as Meditation, when used to complement and support any other type of treatment.

How do you deal with the long-term psychological impact after treatment, and what key resources or networks do you recommend for ongoing support for patients and their families?

Illness is not a point of interruption in life. It is a point on the lifeline. It is one of a thousand events that happen to us, it is one of our “countless deaths” to quote Professor Recalcati. It is one of our experiences. It is all about making sense of it and understanding, through the pain, what lessons we can learn from it. Psychological support during illness is essentially for this: at that stage, the more we can consolidate and internalize teachings and habits that are more functional for the person, the smaller the long-term psychological impact on the ill person. During an illness, like during any traumatic event in our lives, we discover that we have resources we never thought we had, and it is precisely those resources we must continue to draw on in the aftermath. Then, during the illness, our lives are often studded with many new people, because the therapeutic journey requires you to be in contact with associations, healthcare workers, fellow adventurers. I believe all of these people are the stars of a new firmament. They are the stars that light up a new sky, different to the one you looked up at before, but just as beautiful.

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