Sometimes it helps to be Wonder Woman

Tired of crying: Micheanish Catanzaro tries to be Wonder Woman for the good of her kids. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier.

Tired of crying: Micheanish Catanzaro tries to be Wonder Woman for the good of her kids. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier.

Considering she does not know what the future of her six-year-old daughter holds - or whether she will even have one - Micheanish Catanzaro is encouragingly bubbly, talkative and full of life.

But that is just one way of masking her desperation, it transpires: "How long are you going to cry for? It can get so tiring that you just do not feel like it anymore.

"If the mother collapses, everything else would. I am not Wonder Woman but the children get annoyed if they see me cry."

Even her surroundings are bright: Mrs Catanzaro, 31, sits in her kitchen, the walls of which are green and plastered in photos of her two children, an eight-year-old boy and Mariah, six, some images of which depict her without hair and with a tube emerging from her nose. Others show her to be the restless, playful and sharp tomboy that she truly is - before she was diagnosed with a form of cancer, found primarily in children, which attacks the developing nerve cells, neuroblastoma Stage 4, "the worst", in September 2006, and even now that "what could be done was done".

That is how her mother lives: "What's done is done!" Mariah has undergone treatment and it is now a waiting game. Will she relapse or won't she? If she does it seems there would not be much left to do.

For the moment, however, life goes on and Mariah is at school. Her mother quit her job as a facilitator when she learnt her daughter was sick. "It's not fair; you can't have a responsible job like that, taking care of children, when you're not in your right mind."

Mrs Catanzaro is not quite sure of the technicalities of her daughter's illness; she is told but forgets the ins and outs.

Her family changed completely on that fateful day of diagnosis: Routine went out the window and the dynamics were never the same again. Somehow, she had sensed there was something not quite right when her daughter came down with a fever.

"I took her to the hospital's emergency on the second day - that's how much I knew."

Things go haywire when a family faces such traumas - it's not only the sickness you have to deal with but also the psychological and financial matters. Mariah and her family spent over six months in the UK while she was undergoing treatment. But, thanks to the Puttinu Cares Cancer Support Group, many of their expenses were covered, particularly the costly accommodation.

Mrs Catanzaro is eternally grateful to Puttinu. "If it were not for them, we would not have met here today," she says, referring to her Fgura home. "Our first thought was to put the house on the market the minute we knew of the rental expenses we would incur."

But Puttinu came to the rescue and eased the financial burden considerably, also funding treatment, flights and living expenses.

"We could even walk to the hospital from the apartment and, therefore, saved money on travel."

Knowing they had a "home" to return to after a day at the hospital gave them strength. It was also a mental aid, she said, adding that foreigners were impressed with the generosity of the Maltese.

Those who have to travel with their children can put their minds at rest that they have a home as they would not know how long they may need to stay, Mrs Catanzaro tells anyone sharing her family's predicament.

Her husband had to quit his job to accompany the family to the UK but his company took him back.

Thankfully, money was never lacking also through the support of family, friends and neighbours, who collected funds on their own initiative.

"I cannot even begin to put the zeros behind the cost of the medical treatment" - which comes for free.

"When I donated money to Puttinu in the past, it was like an investment... God forbid we did not have the support group," she says, referring to the Puttinu Cares' 60-hour football marathon being held over the weekend at the Marsa Sports Ground to raise funds to buy three apartments in Sutton, the UK, to accommodate the families of patients undergoing treatment at the neighbouring Royal Marsden Hospital.

"My children are proud to be associated with Puttinu - they do not totally understand the implications," their mother says.

In fact, Mariah has no idea she has cancer. Mrs Catanzaro wants to protect her, knowing her daughter is already aware of the gravity of the illness, having witnessed her mother's uncle die of it.

"I don't want her to give up," she says, admitting that she has always been extremely fussy about her children's health, always making it a point to do the right thing and putting them in a glass box, so to speak.

"I've become even fussier: If she rubs her eye, I ask why; if she scratches her neck, I question it too... I feel her everywhere to see whether she hurts," she says, laughing at herself.

Mariah is slightly spoilt and tends to get the better of her these days. "But how can I deny her the things she wants, which normally include anything to do with Spider Man and sporty, boys' clothes. If something happens, I would regret it," she says.

It's hard to figure out when to be strict and how much to give in as well as how to treat her son, who does not get all her attention these days and had issues when his sister's hair fell out, fearing she would be teased.

But Mariah is made of steel - she is like a little adult, her mother says.

At the moment, she seems fine, but the fear is lurking: It's a matter of wait-and-see.

Mrs Catanzaro says her faith comes and goes: Sometimes she swears and sometimes she prays. "But without God, you are nothing!"

She still has hope, and then again, she tells herself that when the time comes, so be it.

"I could walk out of my apartment and something could happen to me. Like this, however, you're always waiting and you know they can suffer."

It's a yo-yo attitude but the fact that she still has dreams is positive: "That my daughter is cured; that I have a home in Valletta, which I so love; and an Alfa... in that order." She clearly has not given up!

Donations to the Puttinu Cares Cancer Support Group can be made at the Marsa Sports Ground where a host of family activities will be taking place, apart from the marathon.

They can also be made via telephone: Go donation numbers are 5004 9543 for €7; 5004 9545 for €11; 5004 9540 for €23; Hello numbers are 5003 6803 for €7; 5003 6805 for €11; and 5003 6810 for €23; and SMS on 5061 7380 for €2.33; 5061 8939 for €6.99; and 5061 9225 for €11.65.


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