I am Survivor!

Well at least I am on my way to becoming one. This weekend I was able to participate in the the Relais pour la Vie (or Relay for Life in English), which has been an incredible, emotional and uplifting experience. Over 300 teams took part in this event to show solidarity towards cancer patients and raise money for cancer research. I had signed up with a local cancer charity and walked for an hour early Sunday morning dressed in a pink tutu and a pink running shirt. I can tell you I looked hot (and I still not understand my all the athletic men in the sports hall did not drop dead when seeing how gorgeous I was). I was joined by family and friends on my walk – and I am incredibly grateful to all of them for supporting me through this stage of my journey as well!!! I am a bit speechless to be honest and it is hard for me to find the right words to express myself right now, so just know that I really felt the love!

A key moment for me though was the Survivor Tour, which is dedicated to current and ex cancer patients. During the opening ceremony the survivors were seated in the middle of the arena just behind the VIPs. As soon as the official speeches were over, which included the testimonies of 4 cancer survivors, the survivor group got up from their seats to walk the first lap of the Relais pour la Vie. The VIPs presented each cancer survivor with a beautiful orange rose and then we walked, in unity, while all the spectators applauded us.

It was wonderful – originally I thought I was going to cry, but I didn’t. Walking that first lap, under the applause of the participating teams, made me realise how far I have come, how much strength I have shown over the past 5 months, how I have grown beyond limits which I would have thought unimaginable a year ago. I felt so proud of myself – and the best thing was that I left the running track thinking, no not thinking, knowing that I was not alone in this journey, I had tons and tons of supporters with me, a whole army of them. During the Survivor Tour I was honoured to be able to walk arm in arm with a fellow young adult breast cancer patient – both of us giving each other moral support. I don’t think I have ever felt so good in my life, so balanced, happy and serene. I am so ready for the next step in my treatment, bring on Round 3!

Saturday night was also the night where I came “out” – I properly “outed” myself as a cancer patient – showing the world, or Luxembourg for that matter, my bald skull covered in lovely soft baby hair. Up until that point only about 5 people had seen me without my wig or my headscarf, so this was a big thing to do for me. Just before the event I started doubting this move– but my warrior inside me urged me to do it. So I took all my courage and took off my headscarf. I hope I will always remember myself like this – proudly wearing the survivor t-shirt, delicately holding a rose, looking confidently into my friend’s camera and smiling my biggest smile – like a true warrior of the pen.

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An angry letter to cancer

Dear Cancer

I hate you with every fibre of my body and every little piece of my soul.

You just completely and utterly suck!

Yours sincerely, 

Steffi

P.S. I don’t know why I used the word “dear” to address you cancer, or why I finished the letter of with “yours sincerely” – because there is nothing dear about you and I am most certainly not your servant. Also you will never ever be allowed to call me Steffi. Take that stupid!

P.P.S. Stop spreading around those who are really dear and near to me – it is enough that I have my battle with you, the others don’t need it. Stop it. Right now.

 

Signed – the Warrior of the Pen.

New Year’s Resolutions

Technically speaking I wanted to write an inspiring post today about me rocking it in Geneva at the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child, but due to heavy snow this morning in Luxembourg my flight got cancelled – and this amazing opportunity to speak up and be an advocate for children’s rights in Luxembourg was not meant to be. I am obviously a bit gutted, but no need to dwell on it.

So today’s post is about New Year’s Resolutions (which I actually wanted to post on Monday). To be absolutely frank and honest with you I have never thought much of New Year’s Resolutions. Why come up with a resolution on New Year’s Eve, when you might be under the influence of the booze, knowing full well that in a sober state you will not be able to stick to it? However this does not mean that I never have made resolutions – or goals as I like to call them. When I moved back to Luxembourg in June 2011 I had set myself the goal to make a conscious effort to build up a strong and fun social life and this meant for me joining the Luxembourg Expat and (repat) Meetup group, which has become one of my major social outlets. I have been going out so much in these last 18 months as I have been trying to make up for all the times I was unable to go out while at university or in my first years of my professional life.  In spring 2012, after having been to a Rea Garvey concert, I realised that I actually had never been to many gigs in my life before, and this was a good time and place to change this. The Rockhal gets some amazing acts at very decent concert prices – so no excuse there. So far I have done really well. In 2012 I have been to see and hear James Morrison, Silbermond and Florence and the Machine and for 2013 there is another Rea Garvey as well as Amy MacDonald, The Killers and Mumford and Sons concerts planned (and tickets purchased). So goal accomplished, me thinks.

Whereas for this year, which is still very new and fresh, I started it off with creating a blog with the aim in mind to be posting 5 days out of 7, as this is my 15th post in about 3 weeks, this is not bad so far. I got a nice production line going and quite a few topics on my draft list, so I should not run out of material to write about. I know that most people would think that for 2013 I could only have one major obvious resolution – becoming healthy again. But the funny bit is that is not one of my “resolutions”, I know I will be healthy again, I never questioned that and because I knew it would happen I did not want to make it an aim.

One major wish for 2013 is one I have had for many, many years and that is to fall HAPPILY in love and end up in a relationship. I have wished for this for every Christmas, birthday and New Year for the last 9 years, it is what my heart desires the most. But as I said this is a wish, it feels silly making it a goal, as for this thing to come true another person needs to be involved, and I cannot have control over someone else’s feelings, if you know what I mean.  As you can probably guess, things with Roux did not develop as I would have wished, which is a bit sad, but that is all I will say on this particular matter.

So what goal for 2013? Fortunately enough Kid President posted another amazing video on Facebook, which really inspired me. Have a look at it here: https:/www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=GQOcEDD5hR8#t=4s

And with that I had my goal- in 2013 I want to make life awesome for someone else. I am thinking along the lines of random acts of kindness like muffin baking and giving out session; buying flowers, giving loads of hugs, etc. Let yourself be surprised.

Mr. Guitar-Heartthrob made my life awesome on Monday, when he sent me a package: he had written a song, inspired by my blog, composed it on his guitar and recorded it before sending it to me. I love this song called “Miss Raspberry”, I love the lyrics and the melody and cannot stop listening to it – it touches my heart and makes me smile. It is so wonderful, and probably by far the most personal and amazing gift I have ever received in my life. So far the song has only been heard by him, me and Miss Watson. I am not ready yet to post it online, it is just too special. Maybe in time? And knowing what an effect something so amazing had on me, I realized that I wanted to do similar things for other people – we all need some love once in a while.

I also want to make life for other young adult cancer patients awesome as far as that is possible – what I miss the most at the moment is being able to talk to someone my age who is in the same situation as me, who is battling cancer too. There does not seem to be a support group for young adults in Luxembourg – and there we have a more long term goal – maybe actually I need to become proactive and set this group up….

Exciting times lie ahead; feel free to ask me about how those goals are going!!!

Making the World More Awesome and Random Acts of Kindness

This week I came across this viral video on youtube, which I found really inspiring:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=l-gQLqv9f4o#t=4s

“So what would make this world more awesome?” I asked.  “Random acts of kindness” was one answer I received. I could not agree more! One friend of mine, Miss Snoopy, is in my eyes the absolute queen when it comes to random acts of kindness. Over the last 3 months she has been sending me over a dozen cards – some are written as a letter, others just have a little note saying “I am thinking of you”; others feature a little story, anecdote or joke to brighten my day; sometimes even a little token or object is included like earrings, a sticker, a book mark explaining the origin of my name, or a label from a wine bottle produced at one of the wineries we visited together last summer (what a beautiful way of bringing up a cherished memory). These cards arrive randomly and every single one still surprises me.  Just seeing the envelope with Miss Snoopy’s handwriting puts a smile on my face. These cards are some of the most thoughtful and personal gifts, full of love and friendship, I have ever received.  With every card I open, I feel truly blessed of having such a loyal and wonderful friend in my life! Thank you very much Miss Snoopy as your cards have not only made my room more colourful, but have also helped in turning some crappy days into truly awesome ones.

 

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A random Saturday

Saturdays are just great – I am referring to the weekday here, not the band, just in case anyone was wondering. J And after the week I had, Saturdays are even more wonderful.

This week was super-productive and I am really pumped about how much I have achieved this week, it really felt like I was back to my “old” self. So here is a little summary: I wrote a proposal to receive funding for my 2013 awareness raising project (on the topic of quality education in developing countries); which I also had peer-reviewed and then sent off to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  I was then busy preparing and rehearsing the introductory presentation I will deliver on behalf of on NGO group in front of the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child in Geneva next week. I also eventually managed to complete the analysis of the last questionnaires from the Film Festival I coordinated last year, which prompted me to start preparing the power point (inclusive of nice graphs) for the evaluation meeting with the whole consortium (17 NGOs in total). Finally I reviewed and rewrote the objectives and activities on the Development Education and Advocacy section which will feature in my NGO’s 5 year strategy plan. I am definitely not trying to show off here, I just wanna share with you how amazing it feels for me when I get this much work done and rejoice in the fact that my productivity levels are high again!  It makes me feel rejuvenated.

As a “reward” I decided to give myself off on Friday night to dedicate some TLC (tender loving care) to my blog. Saturday involved a nice lie-in and a fantastic Scout’s session, which involved loads of games. The kids were really excited about this and I I really wished I could have joined in because deep down I am still a kid and I love to play and fool around. The Scouts had a lot of fun and there was laughter all around. I feel blessed that I get to spend every other week with them, it is kind of like recharging my batteries.

Tonight I am going to take myself out on a date to the cinema and I am going to treat myself to Ben & Jerry ice-cream (they do indeed have the apple pie flavour out here, but I do miss the Ben & Jerry Sundae with three different flavours, hot caramel, whipped cream and chopped hazelnuts from the UK!!!). Thank you Miss Oz for having given me, on top of the James Morrison CD, a cinema voucher for my birthday! Awesome birthday present! When enjoying in this sublime pleasure of movie and ice-cream, my thoughts will be with Miss Watson, with whom I always used to have Ben & Jerry double dates; which meant that we would spend the evening together – me with a tub of chocolate fudge brownie and her with a tub of Cherry Garcia – watching a romantic comedy and talking about guys.

Writing this blog has also made me reminisce about my weekends when living in abroad. In England a perfect Saturday or Sunday for me involved spending time in a cosy little coffee shop reading the newspapers. The Independent has been my favourite newspaper since university, and there is nothing better than reading it back to back, including all the weekend feature sections, while sipping several cups of coffee or tea. One of my current colleagues said she did not think that The Independent really suited me and that deep down I really was more of a The Guardian reader. This reminded me of an article I had read online in the New York Times entitled “Explaining Londoners” (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/04/magazine/explaining-londoners.html?_r=2& ). In the section on what a newspaper says about a Londoner, it stated that apparently The Independent readers are “slightly depressed and overeducated underachievers who are really worried about the environment”; whereas The Guardian readers were described as “Bikram-practicing middle-class liberals preoccupied with ending all wars and rolling their own cigarettes. Now well, I am definitely not an “overeducated underachiever”, but it is true that with a degree in Development Studies, I could have easily ended up in that category. However I have in keen interest in world peace. Has this prompted me from giving up on The Independent (which I only read when spending time in the UK, which is about a week each year)? Nope. I am loyal to that newspaper! And I do not intend to break up with it and end our blissfully happy 9 year love affair, just because another newspaper thinks that I have not amounted to much in my career (Dear New York Times please read the first paragraph of this blog post and you will see that an The Independent readers can indeed be an achiever!).

In Hamburg, Germany, my weekend ritual would involve having brunch in my favourite café/bar on the Schanze (the “alternative” area of Hamburg). I would usually arrive, at let’s say 10.30 or 11.00 am to avoid the lunch-time rush-hour, get a table next to the window, and order the “Vital Breakfast” (featuring a bread basket, a cheese platter, fig mustard/chutney and a fruit salad) with a latte macchiato and a freshly squeezed orange juice. After having feasted on this amazing breakfast I would then lean back and loose myself in a good book, sipping one latte after the other. That is what I loved about this café, I could stay for hours (mostly til about 3 or 4 pm) and no one would mind. For my journey home I would just drop by the Portuguese place around the corner and get a couple of the Pasteis de Nata ( a Portuguese custard pastry). What a bliss!

Right I am off to enjoy my weekend, will update you soon!!!

A Good Day

Today has been a really great day, for which I am incredibly grateful!

I had an appointment with my cardiologist to see whether or not my heart muscle has been affected by the chemotherapy and the Herceptine. And it was thumbs up all around – my heart is really healthy! During the echography I actually got to see and hear my heart; that was pretty awesome. I know it sounds silly, but I was really moved seeing my little heart. I think the experience can only be compared to an expectant mother who hears the heartbeat of her unborn child for the first time. It was just utterly amazing!!! When I got back to the office I did my little happy dance – comparable to the scene in Love Actually when Sarah does the silent dance on the stairs after Karl had told her that he wants to come in after their first date. I was just so happy knowing my heart was healthy!

On top of that I had the thumbs up from my gynecologist last week – she found no other lumps in my breast and the scar from my surgery is healing nicely.  Both of my oncologist and gynecologist also seem very pleased by the fact that I am still having my period while undergoing chemotherapy – this apparently is a sign that my ovaries are still working (I know this is slightly embarrassing, but it seems such a miracle to me that  my body is fully functioning).

Health wise everything looks positive. I am so relieved, grateful and humbled; it is hard to describe it. And I am VERY happy. So I think this really calls for a little celebration – cocktails with friends, a nice meal, anything to toast to my health and my wonderful body which is doing this unbelievable job fighting the illness. I am already booked for sushi with Lulu and drinks with MFC (My First Commander). I am currently also brainstorming ideas for my chemo graduation – any suggestions welcome. Just leave them in the comments below.

Thank you to everyone who has been rejoicing with me today!!!!!!  It means a lot to me knowing that you are as excited about my progress as I am!

Something else happened today as well, which made this ordinary day become a wonderful day. My productivity and enthusiasm seem to have come back from their sabbatical to replace procrastination – at work I not only managed to finish off my proposal (to get funding for my awareness raising project this year from the Ministry) and send it off for peer review, I also did my background reading for a meeting tomorrow, sorted out the financial report for my awareness raising project from last year and drew up a to-do-list for the next few days. What a success! I literally felt like I was back to my old self!!!! YES I CAN!

Getting cancer, holding it together and it being ok not to function

Lunch with a L. on a random January day – I have just given her an update on how the treatment is going. And then the question that completely threw me – “So what is the reason why you got cancer?” Surprised look on my face, please someone just tell me that I misheard. I answer honestly “I don’t know”. “Surely the doctors must know, L. says. They don’t. “Well if it is not genetic, as it does not run in the family, it must be something else, something in the air, in the food” she continues. I don’t know if it is genetic, I haven’t been tested yet.

I am surprised, because this is not something I have ever really been thinking about. Getting cancer is something that I actually have considered as a fact of life, bad luck, coincidence, the lottery of life picking me out randomly, a stupid accident, something I just never had any control over. Research has come a long way to finding cures and treatments for cancer, some forms can be treated better than others, but as for the reasons why you get, that still remains a mystery most of the time. Some of my body cells decided to clump together and developed into a malignant tumor. That is the story for me.

I guess some people find it hard to accept this, and of course it would be so much easier to know the cause as to why it happens so that we could avoid it from happening, but it happens and it can happen to anyone. To babies, children, adolescents, young adults, elderly people, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, professionals, unemployed, women, men, the healthy and the sick, the athletic ones and the couch potatoes, no one is safe from it, and that is what makes cancer so unfair, so unjust. It is a real bloody bastard, a real sucker.

For me personally there has been no point in worrying or questioning as to why I at age 28 was diagnosed with breast cancer; that for me is a complete waste of energy. I got it. I cannot change that fact. Full stop.

But what I can do is everything possible in my power to beat the little sucker. Here is a little list of my tasks:

1.   Following my medical treatment: I endure this bitch of a chemo (6 sessions in total) with its stupid side effects (nausea, tiredness, lack of appetite, unable to taste things, lack of concentration, insomnia) as well as the pain (yep that is the newest addition thanks the whit blood cell booster shot, which makes my bones hurt). Then I will endure 6 weeks (25 – 30 sessions) of radiation therapy that will turn my breast into a roast chicken, and then I will receive 18 sessions of Herceptin (a monoclonal antibody adjuvant therapy to treat my aggressive form of breast cancer known as HER2+) on a drip. On top of that are the regular check-ups with my cardiologist (yep chemo can adversely affect your heart) and my gynecologist.

2.   Getting psychological support: by seeing my psychiatrist once a month and going to art therapy once a week for 6 months

3.   Thinking positive thoughts: I keep telling myself that I will get through this, that I will be cured, that I will be healthy again

4.   Being proud of myself for little things: like getting up in the morning and going to work, for accomplishing little tasks, handling this challenge; being grateful for making it through every single da

5.   Living my life: I am grateful for when I am not feeling sick and can go out and have a social life. I find pleasure in the little things in life, be it the sunshine warming my neck, pampering my body with lovely smelling shower gel and body cream, savoring a delicious meal, listening to some great music at a concert.

These 5 steps are pretty much my job description as a “cancer patient” and I am really proud of how well I have been doing so far. I have been doing my utter best to be holding myself together, to NOT allow myself to curl up in bed and expect the world to feel sorry for me. I am doing the best I can to survive, to enable my body to cure itself with the help of the doctors. It takes up a lot of my time and energy, and no I am not always achieving, I failed on a few occasions and broke down. I am only human after all, and I am NOT functioning at a 100%, but you know what, I think that is perfectly ok. But are you too?  Can you accept me for whom I really am at the moment, with all my flaws and imperfections, and cheer me on in regards to what I am already doing to win this battle?

Cracks in the Wall

Wednesday is the day I fell into a black hole – I got up in the morning, showered, brushed my teeth and ended up crying uncontrollably. That is the moment I abandoned my efforts of trying to go to work that day. I have literally had enough – I did not want to try anymore. All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball in my bed and cry my eyes out. I wanted someone to take me far away to a remote island and only bring me back once I was completely cured of cancer. I was done – done trying to stay positive, done fighting, done facing the real world.  Four months of cancer treatment had just literally taken its toll – my body was exhausted, my soul was empty, my batteries depleted.

I had had an ugly week featuring the longest chemotherapy session since I started treatment, combined with bone ache, followed by the depression hole. I had been home for a week – I had hardly left the house, had hardly seen any daylight, hardly spoken to anyone outside my family. I knew in my head that this situation was pure poison for me, that it was not doing me any good; I knew I had to get out, that I had to do stuff to keep sane, but I just could not get myself to do it. I did not want to function anymore, I did not want to perform anymore; I did not want to put on a show anymore. Looking at myself in the mirror in the bathroom, seeing the 15 cm scar on my breast, seeing me bold, seeing what the illness had done to my body, I hated the cancer so viciously.  I was tired fighting it, I just wanted to give up; I wanted to let it win. At night all I craved for where for someone to wrap his arms around me and let me cry, let me scream out the pain.

This is a side of me most people do not get to see, apart from my mum. She gets to see the ugly side of cancer; she gets to see what it really does to me. But she is also the one that gets me through it, who gets me up in the morning and hugs me tight. She is the one coaching me through those treacherous waters with as much love and kindness as is humanly possible. Thanks to her I forced myself to work today, even if I did so unhappily.

Today I had a new challenge waiting for me – I met a new companion on my journey and he is called FEAR. What made him materialize? My check-up appointment with my gynecologist. I had felt tense all day until I realized that I was scared the doctor might find something. Fear of another invisible yet tiny lump having formed in my breast. But I got the all clear, and only when walking out of the practice did I realize what a weight had been lifted off my shoulder. I then remembered that I had “two more good weeks” ahead of me before my last chemo – two weeks of where I could go out again, drink wine, taste great food and enjoy the company of my friends. I remembered that there was something left inside of me; that the black hole had not eaten me up completely– and this something was called hope. I knew there were things to look forward to – a friend’s birthday meal, a Ben&Jerry double date weekend with Mrs Watson, Mrs MoneyPenny’s party – knowing this made things bearable and acted as a reminder that I can get through this stupid cancer. I know I will come out of this standing and breathing, but I am not sure how whole or broken I will be at the end of this journey.

The cracks in the wall of my fortress have started to show, they are clearly visible to me – and right now I don’t know how to patch them up or whether I can actually repair them….