Standing among survivors, forming a v for victory

Every story has its worth. To fall down, pick yourself up and carry on. That’s survival.
— Sarah Cachia, mother of Malta’s Titanium Man

When Sarah Cachia asked me to attend an event a few days ago, I felt I couldn’t say no. It was the 12th and final photo shoot for the Survivors Malta Calendar. This is going to be a calendar of photos of survivors of various illnesses and conditions celebrating life.

The Cachia family when Jacob was in hospital in 2013

The Cachia family when Jacob was in hospital in 2013

Why I felt I couldn’t say no
I felt I couldn’t say no for two reasons: firstly because Sarah has been nothing short of supportive from the day I shared my story. And secondly because Sarah and her family are a huge inspiration to me and true examples of determination, positivity and never losing hope.

Sarah’s son Jacob is Malta's very own Titanium Man. For the sake of anyone who hasn’t heard their story, here it is in brief or you can read the full story here.

Sarah, her son Jacob and their family’s story in brief
In January 2013, Jacob was diagnosed with a rare condition which led to part of his skull being removed and several other complications. He was given a 50/50 chance of survival and spent 5 months in hospital, during which time the family were asked to prepare for the worst twice. A titanium plate was eventually fitted to replace the missing skull bone, which is why Jacob has come to be fondly known as the Titanium Man.

The Cachia family celebrating life during the calendar photo shoot

The Cachia family celebrating life during the calendar photo shoot

As Sarah says, they were devastated by this experience and till today the scars of their trauma run deep. But when Jacob was discharged from hospital, instead of wallowing in their sorrow and worrying about all the challenges which lay (and still lie) ahead, they decided to set up a support group called Survivors Malta

Apart from sharing their story of surviving this trauma, they encourage others to share theirs too as they believe that this can inspire and motivate other families facing traumas. They have helped an infinite number of people and Sarah says that helping others has also helped her family to heal and that they no longer feel alone in their struggles.

Meeting Malta's own Titanium Man Photo by Joe Costa, an incredible stroke survivor

Meeting Malta's own Titanium Man
Photo by Joe Costa, an incredible stroke survivor

Why I’m so glad I didn’t say no
And I sure am glad I didn’t say no. Just getting to meet the Titanium Man, a Maltese superhero, and his family of superheroes was enough of a reason for me to be glad I didn’t say no. And standing among so many other superheroes – some with obvious scars of their traumas, all with a survival story and all joyful and celebrating life – was an experience I won’t be forgetting in a hurry. 

Standing in the V (representing our victories) with Dermot behind me also reminded me how far we’ve come.  Not only am I no longer housebound but I didn’t even need to think twice about driving all the way to Smart City from Swieqi for this photo shoot after a day at work. It feels amazing to be able to plan to do things and to be able to meet people. (You can read about my health journey here). 

Charlene Mercieca Photo by People of Malta 

Charlene Mercieca
Photo by People of Malta 

Why I almost said no
And yet I almost did tell Sarah no. I worried that people might think I’m a cheat or that I’m trying to seek attention. That I’m not a true Survivor. That my story is insignificant in comparison to the amazing stories of other Maltese survivors, including Titanium Man’s. Stories of people who battled cancer, strokes, falls and other horrific conditions. Stories of people who didn’t know whether they or their loved ones would live through their battle.

But Sarah kindly explained that everyone’s story is valuable and that anyone who pulled themselves out of a dark hole can give hope to others, whether their battle was life threatening or not.

And this reminded me of an article I read recently which might have led me to start worrying about these things. I won’t link to the article because I don’t wish to promote it, since I feel that while everyone is entitled to their opinion, no one should judge or humiliate others, especially not people who are brave enough to share the story of a difficult experience in the hope of inspiring others. 

Sarah Zerafa Photo by Kurt Paris | Photography

Sarah Zerafa
Photo by Kurt Paris | Photography

In a nutshell the author compared two Maltese girls and discussed who he thinks is braver. He said that Charlene Mercieca, an incredibly brave young Maltese woman who has been sharing her journey after being diagnosed with breast cancer is braver than Sarah Zerafa. Sarah is a 20-year old Maltese model who suffered injuries to her face after an incident with her dog but then took photos showing her new scars and announcing to the world that she’s back. She said that she decided to make the best of the situation despite being devastated. 

This author even went so far as to say that Sarah shared her story for attention and that Charlene is an excellent role model but Sarah isn’t. And yet I beg to differ. Yes Charlene is one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met. But I also consider Sarah very brave for having shared her story. No it's not cancer, but she never tried comparing herself and no one should. She still inspires many people. And she still took a difficult situation – difficult for anyone, let alone a young and upcoming model – and turned it into something positive.

So I’m happy I went to the Survivors Malta Calendar photo shoot. I’m glad I didn’t let the author of this article make me feel that my story is insignificant because my condition wasn’t life threatening. Yes I know that some people might think I’m sharing my story for attention. But attention is honestly the last thing on my mind. 

My hope is to show others suffering from mysterious, chronic illnesses that they too can recover the way I did. I also hope that others reading this might be inspired to share their own story – big or small. Not only will it inspire others but it will also help them in their own healing process. And Survivors Malta offers an amazing support system for such survivors. Being at this photo shoot for the Survivors Malta Calendar is an experience I’ll never forget.