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What I Really Know About the First Day of School

A cancer survivor begins an Italian immersion program

Peggy Young in Florence, Italy. For What I Really Know, first day of school.

Photo by Kelly Rashka

Peggy Young dances in a courtyard in Florence, Italy.

The day was filled with firsts. My husband and I woke after spending our first night in an apartment we had rented in Perugia, Italy. I opened my eyes to see an arched brick ceiling, part of a medieval tower.

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We had seen pictures of that ceiling on a website earlier in the year, but in person the ancient mortared bricks with their graceful arc reaching from each corner of the room were so much more beautiful. It was the first morning peering out the window and seeing the swallows swoop around the valley below. Most important, it was our first morning walking to the immersion school where we would start Italian class.

It had been a dream of mine to go to Italy and take an immersion course for as long as I could remember. I was 53 when the plan was finally beginning to take shape. However, before we made any of the reservations, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Throughout my treatment, I calculated my recovery period. I could not let go of this trip. I wondered often if I would choose to go to Italy and learn a foreign language if I really was on my last breath. I held on to that trip like an anchor keeping me healthy: I would recover and go to Italy to learn Italian.

As I walked across the piazza on my way to class with jet lag pulling at my ankles and hazing my vision, I could not help but snap awake to the fact that I was alive and cancer-free. The anticipation that I would finally be learning a foreign language in Italy, which had been my guiding light for so long, suddenly dulled in comparison to the fact that I was living life. That in the end was the miracle.

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