Interview om FPOWER, November 27, 2017
#FPower: Who are you, where are you, what do you do?
Anastasia Vernicou: My name is Anastasia Vernicou, I’m a law student at the University of Athens and an International Business student at Deree College and you’ll usually find me on my PC, working on PAMEMMAZI (in English it translates to ‘Let’s move forward together’), a newly founded Non-Profit Organization which I have co-founded. PAMEMMAZI started as a dream my sister Emma had, who passed away on October 2016, 5.5 after her initial diagnosis. PAMEMMAZI (you might have noticed that Emma’s name is formed when Pame and Mazi are connected in one word, referring to the true founder of our organization) aims to promote psychosocial care of oncology patients, to encourage a well-rounded approach of cancer and to eliminate the social stigma surrounding cancer. Our actions fall under three categories:
#FPower: How did you end up working on this subject?
Anastasia Vernicou: From an early age, I had the urge to do something that would have a greater social impact. I often found myself wondering “Why am I fortunate enough to have everything – a warm family, a home, a beautiful school and friends, while others happen to live under much worse conditions than me?”. I believe that the women in my family, my mother and grandmother, made me understand the value of giving to people around me through participating in philanthropic actions themselves and engaging my sister and me in them. Giving back to society was so deeply embedded in our upbringing that my sister and I were even dreaming of turning our home into a place of creative work and training for children with special needs.
Through PAMEMMAZI I have the opportunity to provide support to a group of people who, being within the hospital walls, are usually “invisible” to our society. PAMEMMAZI wants to change how the world sees people living with cancer and above all how cancer patients think of themselves. We wish them to understand that staying in the hospital doesn’t necessarily restrict them to medical exams, medicines and innumerous wasted and “empty” hours – on the contrary, we want patients to acknowledge their rightfi in entertainment and in creative use of their time and their right to go on living with this illness.
My focus on the area of psycho-social care of oncology patients is definitely influenced by my personal experiences, since, from the beginning of my adulthood, I experienced from up close how it is to live with cancer at the age of 20, a period of one’s life that under normal circumstances is the most productive and creative. From early on, I got to learn so much about all this. To this end, I feel that it is my obligation to communicate all these experiences and this “atypical” knowledge acquired to transform my loss into something that brings joy to people who need it and of course to keep Emma’s philosophy alive!
#FPower: Which was the biggest obstacle in your professional course till now and how did you cope with it?
Anastasia Vernicou: Given my lack of professional experience, the biggest obstacle I’ve come across so far is the fact that I really like learning new things and engaging in new projects, without always having the required amount of time to do so. As controversial as it may sound, although taking part in different projects helps you develop new skills and explore parts of yourself and talents you never knew you had in the first place, it can also lead to incomplete results or exhaustion. I believe that admitting that you cannot do it all sometimes and setting priorities, a rather difficult task, is one of the key ingredients for success in someone’s professional and personal course.
#FPower: If you could change one thing in the world today, what would that be?
Anastasia Vernicou: Hmm, such a hard question to answer! There are so many things I would like to change given today’s political, economic and social state. If I had to choose, it would be two things: to develop resilience in the face of adversity and to promote empathy towards others from a very young age. The ability to face any type of difficulties with a feeling of acceptance and a positive attitude, as well as the ability to “step into someone else’s shoes”, to be active listeners, to accept, understand and empathize with the ones next to us, I believe these are signs of a truly educated person and it’s something that should be taught throughout one’s life in an experiential way. As Adam Grant, writer and psychologist, once said, “we can’t control what happens to us; but we do have some influence over how we respond to the events and hardships in our lives”. The skill to control and navigate our feelings and reactions should be developed from an early age.
#FPower: What are you reading at the moment?
Anastasia Vernicou: I am currently reading Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal”. Atul Gawande is a surgeon and professor of Health Policy and Management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In his book he challenges the way western, contemporary medicine is practiced using his experiences as a physician with his patients. What I found to be extremely interesting is his observation that doctors are great problem solvers and often focus on finding a solution to a given health problem. However, when faced with a health issue for which cure is not an option, physicians fail to ensure quality of life for patients, despite the contemporary means and evolved medicine and techniques available. This is the matter PAMEMMAZI aims to address and contribute to, from a different perspective: to improve the quality of life and everyday life of patients living with a chronic illness like cancer.
#FPower: What does “Female Power” mean to you?
Anastasia Vernicou: For me FPower – the female power (and dare I say human power) – is to surpass all obstacles – internal or external ones – that we come across, by showing resilience and at the same time by preserving the feeling of empathy and respect towards the ones around us (even towards those setting the obstacles), as well as to choose to live free of stereotypes and taboos that surround women’s behavior in the various roles they undertake. I have an optimistic outlook and I believe that we all have this strength within ourselves; all we need to do is find it and make good use of it!