With Easter approaching, I am reflecting and thinking back, to where I was one year ago. Last Easter I was neither in shape nor in the mood for any Easter egg hunt, as I had just completed my second chemotherapy. A week earlier my younger daughter had shaved my head, as I could not stand seeing my hair falling off in clumps. As a result, I did not recognize myself any longer when looking in the mirror, seeing a totally bald person.
In hindsight, losing all my hair was hard and it gave me the "cancer look", making it obvious to everyone that I was seriously ill. Nevertheless, I could adjust and I gradually got used to the new me. Going through six cycles of chemo was of course tough and I suffered from some side effects. However, with the help of half a Pharmacy, most of them could be managed.
One effect of the chemo drugs that I never got used was the post-chemo "run over by a truck" feeling. The hours just after having got the infusion were the worse, with a strange, horrible sensation of not only being totally exhausted, but mentally and physically severely bruised and battered. After a week or two, this feeling slowly wore off. I sincerely hope that the chemotherapies I have undergone, have killed all cancer cells, as I definitely do not want to be run over by a truck again.
This year I feel a lot better and I look forward to the Easter break. In between painting Easter eggs and enjoying some sunshine, I will watch the amazing Netflix series Our Planet. If you have not seen it yet, do so! It contains some extraordinary wildlife scenes that will impact how you view our planet and what needs to be done to protect it. Happy Easter! 🐣
Why do we talk about cancer in military terms? "He is a warrior and is fighting his cancer. She is heroic and is winning the war." I am fed up with the language of war. If you die from cancer you do not give in and “lose”. That suggests you lacked courage, did not try hard enough and were beaten. Cancer is a decease not an invading army, and I believe we should use the same language with cancer patients, as with anyone else who is ill.
The battle language also suggests that having cancer is a one-time event that you as a patient controls. I know that almost every patient is prepared to do what it takes in order to survive, and believe me treatments are extremely tough. However, survival is not something you as a patient alone can control, it depends on so many other correlating factors: cancer type, cancer stage, spread, patient's age, genetic predisposition, surgery outcome, treatment response etc.
Language matters, but why is the language of war used when talking about cancer? My theory is that we in a way are stuck in the past, when most cancer types were a lot more deadly than they are today. Surgery and treatments have developed immensely over the last 10 to 15 years, and today three out of four persons diagnosed with cancer will survive. I guess before all cancer types can be treated and cancer is seen as a fully curable decease, the image of cancer, as an invading army, an immortal alien no human body can resist, will prevail.
"We still lose too many people to cancer. If things work out and people do well, are they any more a hero than somebody who did everything they needed to do, but unfortunately the disease was stronger than they were?"
Len Lichtenfeld, Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society
One of my passions is alpine skiing. Since I grew up in Sweden, skiing was an essential part of the culture and tradition. I started skiing at the age of two, by standing in front of my grandfather on his skis, going down a small hill, loudly screaming: faster, faster, faster!
The Stone Age
It almost feels like I grew up during the stone age and not in the seventies, when thinking of the equipment being used in alpine skiing, when I started. My skis, with practically no side cut, where heavy and a lot taller than me. Safety equipment, like ski stoppers had not been invented. This resulted in plenty of extra exercise when I had to run down the slopes chasing and trying to retract my skis after having fallen. The ski boots hardly had any insulation, giving my toes permanent frostbites, since I was too stubborn to take a break indoors when my feet got cold. Ski pants and jackets where not waterproof, and where made out of thick fabric, resulting in me not only getting wet by the snow from the outside, but also from the inside from sweat. Merino wool, Gore tex and breathable textiles had not entered skiing at that time. Nevertheless, I had found my passion and kept on skiing with my parents and sister. Today alpine skiing is a vital part of my own family’s tradition.
Last weekend, I enjoyed the best possible skiing company, when spending a weekend in Trysil, Norway with Hasse, Johanna, Karin, Patrik and Niclas! You might think I am crazy to travel from the Alps, with its fabulous slopes and sceneries, to go skiing in Scandinavia, but then you have not met my amazing friends! I travel not mainly for the skiing part, but to hang out and socialize, eat superb food, drink good wines and have a great time. Last year I was unfortunately too ill to join. As my health condition has improved, nothing could stop me from going this year. This year was special as it was our 10th anniversary, and we celebrated with an extra glass of Prosecco.
Thank you Hasse, Johanna, Karin, Patrik and Niclas for a great weekend! I am looking forward to the next 10 years.
"Wow, you look good!" is a comment I have heard several times the last months. Please do not misunderstand me, I love compliments and I really appreciate every time somebody says that I look good. However, the well meant and kind comment, often comes with a question attached, that brings a need for explanation and justification. "You look good, why do you not work full time?" or "You look good, have you really had cancer?"
Many people hold the misconception that you must “look” ill in order to be ill. I have come to realize how it is for the thousands of people who live with illnesses that can not be seen on the outside. People who break their arm or leg, or experience another form of injury may be in rough shape, but others can see their injury and understand their limitations. With chemo behind me and the hair on my head having grown back, nobody can see that I am not 100% up to speed and still in the recovery face. I am of course happy that I have a healthy look, but it is somewhat tiring having to face skepticism and needing to justify that my appearance does not say everything about my health. For me this is hopefully just a phase when looking healthy but not being fully okey. However, it is beneficial to have experienced what people with chronic illnesses encounter. It is also clear that in order to know how people really are doing, empathy and a willingness to truly listen and understand, are required.
Please do not stop giving me compliments, just do it with the understanding that looks and appearance do not say everything about a persons health condition.
Somebody commented that I do a lot of things and always seem to be looking at the next project and after that the next one. It is true that I, for obvious reasons, am super happy that I am alive and can have things and projects to look forward to. However, I am also a rather lazy and easy going person that enjoy the simple pleasure of doing absolutely nothing or very little!
As I still need time to recover from the chemotherapy and build up my body again, my current tempo is lower than it used to be before I was diagnosed. I cannot rush my recovery and it is challenging, but I have become better at accepting that it is my present reality. A slower pace can also be pleasant and I try to make the best out of it. It is nice to be able to sleep a bit longer some mornings, do yoga, look up at the passing clouds and just feeling grateful to be alive!
Yesterday was one of those "doing very little days". I was tired and did not leave our apartment. I just read my book, ate Ecuadorian dark chocolate and watched Star Trek on Netflix. I had bought four different types of dark chocolate, and I tried them all! My favorite was the one from Los Rios with 72% cacao content. Very tasty and the perfect company for my "doing very little day".
We have lived in the same house, ever since moving to Switzerland, almost seven years ago. We have loved our house and it has been perfect for the four of us. Enough space for our two teenagers and their friends and easy access to public transportation, making it convenient for me to commute to the office and to the airport.
Ever since our oldest daughter moved out to start studying at university, we have felt that the house was getting too big for just three persons, and we decided to start looking for an apartment. In Switzerland many people rent and the housing offering is quite large. Nevertheless, you need to decide relatively quickly and be able to present references and employment confirmations.
Last weekend it was time for us to move into a newly-built apartment! Fortunately, we have known the moving date for a couple of months and could start the downsizing, sorting, selling and getting rid of stuff well in advance. We have sold three sofas, donated sacks of stuffed animals and found things we thought were lost. It was a time-consuming, tedious and boring yet fun, rewarding and satisfactory process. For example, we know that we do not need to buy any toilet brushes the coming years, even if we would change them very frequently, I do not need to buy any black socks at all and my husband would definitely make it to the finals of "Dismount and mount your IKEA closets in the shortest time".
Right now we are in the middle of unpacking all the boxes, going to IKEA to buy all the small, complementary stuff we need. Hopefully, we could soon start decorating and putting up curtains and paintings, but no stress, we will take our time. We already feel very much at home and adore our fantastic mountain view. Action 43 is completed, you are warmly welcome to come and visit us in our new apartment!
My dream trip!
The last weeks I have been on my dream trip: Galapagos Islands! These green, lush, tropical islands in the Pacific Ocean, turned out to be even more fantastic than I ever had imagined. I am a bit of a nature freak, enjoying being outdoors and have of course watched most BBC nature documentaries, with David Attenborough. Galapagos has been one of my dream destinations for a very long time, and I booked the trip, right after I had had my first clear scan last summer. For me it was top priority to get a chance to visit these enchanted islands.
The Galapagos Islands are home to many endemic species, which means they cannot be found anywhere else on earth. About 80% of the land birds, 97% of the reptiles and mammals, and more than 30% of the plants are endemic. My favorites among the species unique to Galapagos, are the marine iguanas, the fur seals and the Galapagos penguin, the only penguin to be found in the Northern Hemisphere. This penguin has never seen snow or ice and it loves hunting fish and crustaceans in the shallow waters along the western islands.
Most animals have no enemies and are not at all afraid of people. It is a strange feeling to walk in the middle of a bird colony, among marine iguanas or giant Galapagos tortoises, without them paying any attention to us humans. We did not only hike but also did a lot of snorkeling. In the clear, nutrient-rich waters there are colorful fishes in abundance. We swam with sea turtles, sea lions, penguins, rays and sharks!
Robinson Crusoe and I
Several islands have no human settlements and tourist access is limited to protect the precious wild life, hence giving us a Robinson Crusoe feeling. It was relaxing and recharging to be far away from the civilization with no telephone or internet access, at least for a while! Action 26 is completed and I have many unforgettable memories of animal encounters to cherish.
The last couple of days I have been experiencing the dreadful, every three months occurring scanxiety. I had my CT-scan on Monday and have anxiously been waiting to receive the results, and meet with my oncologist. This time I was utterly uncertain of what to expect, as I have been experiencing increasing stomach discomfort the last weeks. I have tried not to think of it, but that has been easier said than done.
The blood tests and scan results were excellent, with no signs of a cancer relapse! Knowing I am cancer free, is for sure fantastic news. The stomach discomfort is a consequence of the surgeries I have undergone. My bowels are still in a bit of turmoil and not fully back to the normal pace. What a relief! I am so happy that I do not need to go back to the hospital until the next planned check-up. Today I have been celebrating with a nice cup of coffee, and yes I have put the champagne in the fridge for tonight!
Today, I can proudly say: I have learnt to play the saxophone! I have taken saxophone lessons during the last six months, and I can now play cool, classical jazz melodies in swing mode, as well as, more modern pieces like ABBA. It is great fun and I enjoy it big time! However, I must thank my family for being extremely patient, coping with all my beginners mistakes and having to listening to the squeaking noises a beginner tend to make. As always, if I start something I take it seriously, and I have practiced a lot. I believe we would have a major family crisis, if I ever play "Let it Snow" or "Winter Wonderland" again.
Learning to play the saxophone, was one of the first things I put on My Survival List, as I have always wanted to learn to play. As a kid I started my musical life, with the mandatory recorder flute. After that, when I got to select my next instrument, I heedlessly did as all my friends and chose the piano, even though we did not even have a piano at home. Of course my parents had no intention of buying one, as they realized that my piano interest was not really a serious one. Unfortunately, I did not dare standing out from the crowd and did not pursue my true interest for the saxophone at that time. As it turned out, that was the end of my music interest.
Last summer, I decided it is never too late to learn to play an instrument, so I started taking saxophone lessons at our local music school. Now I can play and action 3 is completed! If you need a saxophonist for your band, let me know, I am for sure interested 😄🎷
This week I started working again! After the tough 2018, with the surgeries, treatments and the long sick leave, it is great to be well enough to return to working life.
I was fortunate to have three different roles to choose between, and I decided to run a sales strategy project. I need to start gradually and listen to my body. The treatments I have been through have for sure taken a toll. I do not know if or how I will react, but first and foremost I feel strong and I am definitely motivated. The biggest challenge for me will be to limit my working time to the 25%, that my doctor recommends starting with. I know myself and when I get into something I like and am passionate about, I tend just to go on, wanting to finish and complete the task. Time for recovery, physical training and other fun and joyful things, like time with my family and saxophone playing are imperative for me. I am still in the post cancer build-up phase, and need to take care of myself. Therefore, self-awareness and clear priorities where my health comes first, second and third are key, when starting working again.
I have taken a big step forward, and I am happy to be back to work!
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Hi, my name is Lena and I am a cancer survivor. I hope you enjoy reading my blog posts. If you want to subscribe, click on Contact.