Archive for April, 2011

the plan…

ok, it’s been said, it’s been felt…it’s been written, it’s been discussed. Yes it’s breast cancer, yes, the breast/nodes will have to come off, yes, my clavicle has cancer in it….yes, I’ll need chemotherapy, maybe radiation on that clavicle. But it’s nowhere else. Nowhere. Everywhere else  is clean…cancer free….schoon. I feel better, we have answers. We have a plan. I begged for this weekend and Koninginnedag (Queen’s day here in the Netherlands..AND my sister Kate’s birthday)..I LOVE Koninginnedag and all it’s celebrations!…the surgeon laughed. She thought it was funny that I imagined having to be operated tomorrow or something like that. But here it is…May 10th, my surgery and 2 days in the hospital…then waiting for chemo which will come a few weeks later. Wilfried and I are elated!

I decided with this newfound good news to drive the few kms to my practice to let them see my face and share the plans. They hovered around me like little chicks..little chicks wanting to be near me, to touch me, to check my reaction and listen to what I had to share. They were teary-eyed and listened..all eyes on me. I felt warmth, I felt home. I was happy I went.

Sometimes these kind of situations..things which weeks ago were too horrible to be imagined are now  like music to my ears.  I seem to be holding my own…the last nail hasn’t been plunged as yet into my coffin…I have some time.  Watch this space…I still have SO much to say!!


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waiting game

I’ve never been good at waiting for anything, always impatient. I’m the type who likes to do things for myself, arrange stuff, solve problems. I abhor waiting, waiting for others to plan my life, waiting for results, good or bad. It really is horrible. Today is THE big day, meeting the powers-that-be, getting the low-down…yes, I NEED this, but my stomach is in knots, my head hurts. Breathe….breathe in, breathe out…..

Sitting here this morning, waiting, I’ve reflected on this journey…life lessons, important life lessons have been learned these past few weeks. Who means what to me, who I am, what I want, what have I contributed to society, what I can still contribute….am I ready to leave yet? if I’m allowed to live, who will I then be? So many questions, so many theories. Life goes on. I feel I’m on a big merry-go-round and everything’s static and I’m twirling faster and faster. I always hated rides in amusement parks. I was never amused.  

Oprah always has an interesting column in her monthly magazine…things she knows for sure. What do I know for sure? I am 100% convinced that Wilfried is here for the long run, with me every step of the way, holding my hand, reassuring me, reminding me I’m beautiful, reminding me he loves me. I’m also quite taken with the amount of people I have around me who care…warms my soul. The hugest lesson I’ve learned so far (and please don’t tell me it’s just cliché )  is NOT to SWEAT the little things. God! All the little and stupid things I’ve worried about over the years. Let it go guys. What you did, what you didn’t.. what you should have said, what she said, what he did…what’s for supper, what will they think, do I look fat? am I happy? The pink shirt or the blue…..does this colleague like me, does that? WHY?…NONE of this is really important…none is worth losing sleep over…none is life and death. I’m glad in a way to have had the opportunity to learn these lessons…and wanted to pass them on. Over the long Easter week-end we just drove…we drove to every beautiful nook and cranny within 100kms of our little white cottage. I soaked it in, loved every minute. At one point Wilfried asked me “where to next” …and I just smiled…I loved just being together, it didn’t matter…you choose.

We talked a lot over the weekend over death. My death. I don’t mean a screaming and crying and gnashing of teeth conversation, I mean gently, with a glass of prosecco in hand, now and then through teary eyes. How will it be for me, for Wilfried? Crazy concept, death. Finality. This side of the door or that. The in-crowd, the out. How will it be, does it hurt? Am I ready? Is anyone ready? I’m not too sure if I’m so scared anymore to die. It was always so taboo growing up, my dad could never wrap his head around death. Strange coming from an undertaker, isn’t it? But amazing, truly amazing.  How one minute home renovations and gardening is your big focus…the next, your death and funeral…. crazy….

The weather didn’t fail me over the week-end. If you must wait in agony for the rest of your life, then make it in cool, gorgeous sunshine. Today is cloudy, white skies, cold. A tad reflecting my feelings as we trek back to the hospital which I’ve become so familiar. As a nurse I’ve always attempted to give my patients a secure feeling, a feeling I knew what I was doing, a safe-place. I wish I felt like that now, but I don’t. Good or bad at least I’ll know, we’ll know. The next weeks will be crucial, life changing, life saving. Who knows….who knows…breathe….

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It was wonderful yesterday, driving up to the coast, setting the TomTom to avoid highways. I love that…I love avoiding the fast lanes. I’ve decided to avoid stress now. Just take every day easy, enjoy and savour every single moment. Most of my life has been one big lump of stressing. I sort of did it to myself, making everything difficult, thinking about things all day, lying in bed at night worrying. You name it, I’ve worried about it. When you’re aware you have cancer, it trumps all the other worries and they seem petty and small. But a day like yesterday made even cancer sit on the back burner. I was in my glory. Small villages, blooming fruit trees, lambs springing in farmers fields next their mothers. The sun sprung to life on the Waddenzee, twinkling and clean. We treated ourselves to mussels, the best darn mussels I’ve ever eaten…eating them by the harbour where the ferries cross over to Schiermonikoog. Heaven. I breathed the fresh sea air in and felt a smile coming to my lips…maybe the first time I’ve really smiled in weeks. It made me happy from the inside out.  I want these stress-free moments. I want more of them. Do you think it’s possible?

Does cancer change us so much? Does it open our eyes and our hearts? Does it allow us to switch gears and appreciate the lovely things in life? I wonder. Am I odd? Maybe at some point I’d like to sit around and gab with other cancer patients…not as a nurse, but as a patient myself. But I don’t want to yet. It’s too fresh. It makes it too raw, too real. I need to pass through my own stages of acceptance. I have this overwhelming feeling that everything I’m experiencing now I’ll be experiencing for the last time…eating mussels in Lauwersoog with Wilfried, spring sunshine, friends for BBQ’s, cuddling my dogs…how much time will I have? Will I live to see Christmas? This isn’t the panic I first felt, this is me…me trying not to miss anything. We talked last evening about opening our doors to people, letting people come over. I so want this….step sons, my sister, friends from back home, colleagues, expat buddies. But I’m afraid. Afraid of not being able to spoil all of you, showing you a good time, cooking for you. I’m afraid of being treated differently, of being seen as the poor cancer girl. I want and need you all….shall we play it by ear? Let’s not wait too long though…

The Easter sunshine beckons me…I’m going to slip on my new skirt and top and go out with Wilfried. We’re going to fill our day with memories. It makes me happy.

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Carpe Diem

It’s been a difficult few days for me. The seriousness of my sickness is creeping over me. It’s deeply rooted inside me and is itching to be free. The rich  warm spring sunshine outside is such a ridiculous contrast to the cold, stark reality of what my body has become.  I’ve had medical tests, too many to count, too many to come. Too uncomfortable…very scary.   I even had a technician who creepily resembled Lurch from the Adam’s family perform some ungodly test on me, making me painfully contort my body on a cold table. Why wasn’t I surprised with a call from one of the doctors the following day with another gut-wrenching announcement. That the pain in my shoulder wasn’t just some innocent muscular thing, but apparently a break. A break caused by cancer…the cancer is probably in my shoulder as well. Bad news. This also means I’ll become radio-active next week for a bone scan…AH! lovely bones herself. We’re hoping so. I sat there after her disruptive call, completely numb. Are you ok she asked? I laughed…I had always wanted to laugh like I did then, laughter at the ridiculous…like in a movie. No, my dear, I’m not ok…I’m cancer..I AM CANCER. Wilfried held me, also crying…we allowed ourselves this moment. I imagined how was I supposed to enjoy our best friends who were coming over for a BBQ, how could we be normal once again. Turned out, we didn’t have to be normal…we got to be ourselves.  Lovely few hours of peace…peace, hugs and sharing…I love these people.

In stark contrast to that dark afternoon, I awoke yesterday feeling pretty good. My shoulder hurt like hell, but I was ok…fresh-faced and ready. I was a woman on a mission. I was going to buy clothes. I never shop, I hate it. Everything usually looks goofy or is too tight. But miracles do happen…I chose a lot of what I considered Suzie-type outfits and bought them all.  Price, you see, was no object  Pretty spring and summer fashions. I tried nothing on and everything fit when we arrived back home. I’m going to be pretty. I refuse to hand an ugly old lady over to the hospital. If I have to have chemo, I’ll do it in a pretty summer dress, if I go bald I’ll play up my eyes. If I get a mastectomy, so be it. If these things prolong my life, I’ll allow them. You see, dear readers, I really am not ready to die. I have now finally accepted my illness, I have cancer….but i am NOT cancer…..I don’t want to be….. I’m a 50 yr old woman who happens to have breast cancer, like many before me, many after. Many have fought and won. Many have died. If I do die, I will leave memories behind. You will not forget me, I know you won’t. You’ll all take an extra glance at your breasts, a tentative touch.

Easter, a time of re-birth. Gorgeous, sunny weather. This weekend’s mine…free. We decided last evening we’ll seize the day…go up to the sea, breathe in the fresh salty air. Fill my lungs with happiness….my soul. Next week it all begins again….and the plan will be tangible.  But this weekend is heaven. We’ll drive, we’ll listen to music, we’ll sit in the garden with the dogs…we’ll drink prosecco, we’ll BBQ glorious Irish steaks. We’ll be Wilfried and Suzie..we’ll be ok…..we’ll seize the moments….

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Hou me vast…ik kan het niet alleen…a beautiful song sung yesterday by Glennis Grace at the memorial service for those killed in Alphen aan de Rijn. Hold me close, I can’t make it on my own. I’ve had that same feeling these past weeks, but haven’t felt alone at all. I realize that I have wonderful friends holding me up and won’t let me fall. This post has been my most difficult of all the others to write, written actually over 2 days. I wondered why…why writing about friendship should be so difficult, why? I have had an incredible amount of support, messages, sms’s, calls, cards and flowers over the past weeks since I announced my breast cancer.  A sort of unwanted instant celebrity, awashed in friendship.  I have found offers of friendship in so many places…those expected and those very much unexpected.  The power of social networks has made it possible to reach so many… just touch a screen and be touched in return. My lovely expat women have been amazing, all of us in a similar situation, all of us holding the other up in troubled times. I cherish these women….

It is rough beginning a life in a new land, rough on friendships. …extremely difficult leaving your closest friends behind, and even more difficult making new ones. Once I was convinced that the simple fact that someone spoke English or came from the same continent made you friends…but that isn’t at all true. Friendships run deeper. Caring, loving,accepting, understanding. I’ve been in some creepy situations over here, some people  trying to buy friendship, some sucking the life’s blood out of you.  That isn’t friendship. It should be easy. Expats are a breed apart, all of us. I’ve been active as an on-line expat for years, living far away from the Randstad, no other choice. My first few years were bloody lonely, No computer except one I had to fight over in the near-by library and no luck making friends with neighbours or at school (inburgeringscursus). …I had actually even put active friendship on hold for a few years while i studied and worked and sat in a difficult relationship. Thankfully last year things slowly began to change for me and my heart healed and allowed people back in. But through all these years my little core group of expats have been there for each other…wrapping our arms around each other for years.

It’s also been amazing hearing from old school friends…messages of encouragement from kids who I played barbies with 40 years before…amazing!  Old neighbours and colleagues, surprising me suddenly with wonderful messages written in English!! geez! I never knew you had it in you!!!!haha! Lovely….and thank you.

But a difficult question has been burning inside me and I need to throw it out there…why is it that it takes a moment like this to open some people’s eyes? Why now? Is it the cancer and the threat of loss that shakes you awake? Is it guilt? I have been so incredibly hurt by some people who had shut the door on my friendship in the past ….receiving them back now has been a gift…but a gift which i hesitate to open, am afraid to open.  Why wait for this particular moment? WHY? There, I dared to write it….I feel elated. Do with it as you may…but please remember …although this cancer has weakened my body…my mind and spirit are stronger than ever.

Sometimes playing the cancer card can allow you to do crazy things, tell it like it is, make your own rules. In some ridiculous way cancer has changed me. In a few short weeks I’ve become someone who vaguely looks like Suz, but has changed inside. My body has betrayed me, but not my mind, I won’t allow that. I have become incredibly strong, taking on issues, dealing with physical pain and sorrow. …even daring to have one too many glasses of wine last night sitting in the garden with Wilfried…listening to music, laughing together, crying together….it lifted me.

But let’s get back to the topic at hand, please forgive my tangents, sometimes awakening at 04h30 gets my creative juices flowing and the words spill out on this page….true feelings are more tangible so early in the morning. Friendships…unselfish, long-lasting, undemanding and safe. Some loves of my life encompass all of those qualities. You know who you are…you’ve touched my soul. I close my eyes and you’re there, whispering encouragement in my ears, allowing me to cry…making me laugh.  In some ways i need every one of you…you’ve all come together for me, a beautiful quilt of love..it wraps around me, keeping me warm in the chilly morning air. Let me share a little advice to you all…please, please don’t wait for the cancer moment to tell people you love them….yes, it feels good to me now , but imagine how it can make others happy if you tell them today? Friendship…it can hurt sometime, but mostly feels good, feels solid. And in times like these, the times when we fall, friendship can pick you up and support you, make you feel normal…wrap you in warmth….and remember, sometimes you find friendship in places you’d never dare to look. People can surprise you…let them.

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I live for mornings, always have. In my mind the best part of the day. The hope of something fresh, a re-birth, a new plan. Every day. Wow…an AH-HA moment flashed in front of me this morning. I have to live each day like this. In hope, in wonder. Each morning I bustle around doing my daily routines. These routines have drastically changed, but are still routines to me. This morning was a bit different, however.  I took a step back and enjoyed every moment, breathed it in, wanting it to last forever.  It amazes me how the spring sun creeps up above the neighbour’s trees and gently bathes my kitchen and garden in such a delicious light..a light so clean and pure you can almost taste it. I wish I could bottle it…make a perfume or a new taste sensation. How do you bottle morning happiness? For a split second I forgot my illness, felt wonderful…what a miracle. I decided to capture these early mornings moments with my camera…please forgive my attempts at photography:



I’ve never quite got people who are night owls…they’re so different. As far back as I remember I was up before the birds, enjoying the quietness, the solitude. Of course it’s not quite as quiet as it used to be..a Jack Russell puppy who’s also a morning type reassures that. So funny, my Yorkie, Pudding, is a late-under-the-covers-don’t-bug-me type …good little team. But I digress.

I imagine I’ll have a lot of moments now when I’m home alone with my own thoughts. Reflections, sadness, hope…The blue skies and sunshine of the late morning  mock me, tease me. Tell me to go out, go to work, go for a walk, go shopping….be normal..or as the Dutch love to say…doe maar normaal. My fear paralyzes me. The streak of sun on the kitchen table points to tomorrow’s lab requisitions. mammogram, biopsies, blood tests, xrays….lord…where am I? I try to doe normaal for Wilfried’s sake, for my own. Perhaps a dark, cold rainy day in the winter would allow me to wallow in self-pity. Tuesday morning, 11h30, April 19,  in bright sunshine doesn’t. Give me 6am…give me the freshness and hope of the new morning, every minute of every day…I need to feel the hope it gives. I need hope…

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My best friend e-mailed these words to me this morning. I really needed this advice, I really did. I just now came home from the hospital where the majority of  the cards were laid on the table for me to see.  Yes, it’s cancer, yes, it’s a lot of cancer…yes, yes, yes. Why was i not surprised. Why was i still sort of hoping it wasn’t?  Why me? Why now? why?why?WHY?

Now the big guns come out…tons of scans, ultrasounds and jabs…then once again wait..wait to see the who and the what. More than likely first chemotherapy…zap that tumour till it shrinks then cut it off so to speak. Fear, fear of the unknown. Man, I’m a nurse treading into the unfamiliar…no, wait, no, I’m not a nurse anymore…I think I’ve just become a patient. One of the ones we talk about at work at coffee time, one of the “aaawww, poor soul with cancer” patients.  Poor me.  Poor Wilfried….what a role reversal…he’s now the nurse, my nurse. I hope he’s ready. He says he is. Good times and bad…till (death) do we part. How ironic, sounds like his very own words…after all, he IS a justice of the peace!

Dear readers, I’m so tired…my head aches from worry and sadness…life can be so unpredictable sometimes. If this can be a lesson to anyone, don’t take your lives for granted, take pleasure in the little things. ..tell your family and friends you love them.  Do it today.

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