The cancer first discovered in her breasts had spread to her bones, lungs and liver. The pandemic had brought travel to a halt almost everywhere.
But Lisa Maksym, 57, from Phoenix, refused to give up on her dream of bringing her son and daughter to Rome, where she spent a year in 1991 and became so obsessed with the city’s food, culture and people. .
Last summer, she and her twin sister, Camille Maksym-Schorr, decided that they would return to Rome in May 2021, hoping the travel restrictions would be lifted by then. They rented a house on the Amalfi Coast, where the sisters and their families would meet Mrs. Maksym’s old roommate and the friends they had made decades ago in Italy.
Subsequently, Ms Maksym-Schorr tested positive for the corona virus in November. The twins lived together and Mrs. Maksym-Schorr stayed in her bedroom so as not to infect her sister. Two weeks later, Ms. Maksym texted her sister from her room, telling her that she had also tested positive for the virus.
“I was wailing,” said Mrs. Maksym-Schorr. “I was literally wailing.”
Mrs. Maksym immediately went to a hospital, where she was given steroids and monitored closely. Her doctor said she should stop the promising experimental chemotherapy treatment that had begun to shrink some cancer cells.
Both sisters recovered from the virus.
“The cancer,” said Mrs. Maksym-Schorr, “had the chance to get revenge.”
In March, Mrs. Maksym’s doctor told her she had three months to live.
‘We were in our twenties. We were in our prime. ‘
Ms. Maksym was working in marketing in Scottsdale, Ariz. In 1990, when she decided to move to Rome. The plan was to spend at least a few months in a new country, learn the language and maybe find a job.
She moved in with Brenda Barton, a friend she had met at Arizona State University in 1982. Mrs. Barton was recently married to an Italian man, Gian Paolo, and the newlyweds invited Mrs. Maksym to stay with them in their small ground-floor apartment.
Mrs. Maksym slowly learned Italian and scraped a small income by teaching English to Italian businessmen. She used Gian Paolo’s worn out Motorino scooter to get to her teaching assignments.
“I had never seen a city as beautiful as that city in my life,” said Mrs. Maksym. ‘When you think of the ancient ruins. I drove past them and thought, ‘Here I am, circling the Colosseum, and this is my ride to work.’ I couldn’t believe that was my job. “
Mrs. Maksym came back from her assignments, sometimes sweaty and dirty from towing the Motorino, which was prone to bad luck, down a street. The housemates usually ended the day by drinking wine and eating pasta.
“She was unaware of how breathtakingly beautiful she was,” recalled Mrs. Barton. “The Italian guys followed her down the street and asked for her phone number, and she just smiled and put them sweet.”
Lisa and Camille in Rome in 1991 Credit … Thanks to the Maksym family
In 1991 her twin sister came to visit her for the summer. The two traveled through Italy, dated Italian men, and explored Rome on the Motorino.
“It was this magical, wonderful time in our lives,” said Ms Maksym-Schorr. “We were in our twenties. We were in our prime. “
A cancer diagnosis followed by the pandemic
After a year in Rome, Ms. Maksym returned to Arizona and began working for the State Tourism Bureau.
April 26, 2021, 9:37 a.m.ET.
She went on to advertise, got married and had a son, Sam, in 2000. In 2002 her daughter Sophia was born.
Mrs. Maksym and her husband eventually divorced, but remained friends.
Her love for Rome remained constant.
“Sometimes I think I just love it,” said Mrs. Maksym.
She started a flower business with her twin brother and older sister who they called Sorella – Italian for sister. The twins, who have three other sisters, considered opening a restaurant of the same name.
When Mrs. Maksym was in an accident and destroyed her Honda Pilot, she and Mrs. Maksym-Schorr bought a light green retro-style Fiat 500 with the Roma91 license plate.
In 2016, Ms. Maksym discovered she had breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy, and after several radiation and chemotherapy treatments, she felt well enough to travel again. She went to Hawaii with Mrs. Maksym-Schorr. In 2018, the twins returned to Rome with their father.
Then they started planning a trip to the city with their children.
“This would be a gift for my two girls and her two children,” said Ms Maksym-Schorr.
But last year the virus turned out to be almost debilitating. Both women had pneumonia and Mrs. Maksym has had no cancer treatments for two months. During that time, the disease spread to her brain.
The twins thought about simplifying the journey – instead of a whole reunion, they would go out alone and spend a few days together in Italy. But even that felt like too much of an ordeal for Mrs. Maksym, who now uses a wheelchair.
“This is not going to happen,” said Mrs. Maksym-Schorr.
‘There’s a part of me that never wants to give up’
Mrs. Maksym-Schorr said she remained determined to find a way for her sister to experience Rome again.
On April 17, she and her daughters sneaked into Mrs. Maksym’s room while Mrs. Maksym is resting in the living room.
They put up a huge poster of St. Peter’s Basilica and pictures of the twins when they were young.
They included pictures of Mrs. Maksym on the Motorino, pictures of the twins with their Italian boyfriends, and homemade plates from friends they hadn’t seen in months. A friend in Rome sent a picture of a sign saying ‘Roma loves Lisa’.
On the ceiling, Mrs. Maksym-Schorr projected her sister’s favorite movie, “Roman Holiday”.
Mrs. Maksym-Schorr then drove her sister into the bedroom while Italian singer Amedeo Minghi’s song ‘Vattene Amore’ was playing through loudspeakers.
Mrs. Maksym gasped and then cried and stroked the pictures gently.
“I was amazed,” she said, remembering the surprise. “It was just so beautiful.”
Mrs. Maksym goes to bed at night and looks at the photos, she said, but she can’t stop herself from believing she will return to Italy before she dies.
“I find it difficult enough moving from one room to another,” she said. “But there’s a part of me that never wants to give up.”
On May 10, when the twins turn 58, they plan to eat pasta carbonara and tiramisù and watch ‘Roman Holiday’.
In her will, Mrs. Maksym left instructions for her children to visit Rome, along with money to travel there. Mrs. Maksym said she wanted to scatter some of her ashes somewhere in town, probably in the Tiber River.
Mrs. Maksym-Schorr said she would take one of the wind chimes hanging outside her sister’s window and place it in a tree on the Amalfi Coast.
“I’m telling you,” said Mrs. Maksym. “This journey is still going on.”