The courage to face life: diagnosis of cancer – how does life go on??

Sometimes the world breaks apart at dinner. Just like that, without a loud bang, quite unspectacularly. Tatjana Jung clearly remembers the phone call that interrupted her dinner with her family. To the telephone conversation, which went so matter-of-factly, that they with a friendly "Yes, thank you for calling, until tomorrow then!" ended. Talk again tomorrow, operate quickly, do not wait long. The doctor did not pronounce the word cancer. Nevertheless it seeped into Tatjana Jung’s consciousness. What she did then seemed quite natural to her at the time, but today she shakes her head about it: "I continued eating for a while, then dropped my fork and got up to make a phone call." – with a colleague who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. To whom it was not necessary to explain what fog feels like in the head.

Tatjana Jung is a cheerful person. Freckles, the red hair cut to a pageboy head, laugh lines around the eyes. So this is what a woman looks like who has cancer. Who took up the fight against a deadly disease, knowing by now that she will lose it. Tatjana Jung tells that her hairstyle is not chosen voluntarily. "I used to have thick, long curls. But the hair did not grow back like that after the many chemotherapies."

Tatjana Jung

Her biggest wish: "To travel to Bangkok. Going on a Caribbean cruise. As a contestant on ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’ participate."

Diagnosis: ovarian cancer (2003), metastases in liver, intestine, spleen, bladder.

The disease catches them in 2003 at a stage in their lives when things are well sorted, everything under control. A happy marriage, her own house just finished, now she lives with her husband and eleven-year-old daughter on a plot with her in-laws. Tatjana Jung’s gynecologist discovers the cyst on the ovary rather by chance, because it doesn’t want to work out with the second desired child. No problem, a routine matter, they say, a small operation, then the way is free for a baby.

Pregnancy, however, remains absent even after the operation, instead comes abdominal pain, which still does not scare Tatjana Jung. Maybe just a consequence of the first operation, she thinks, because she always had a "the-glass-is-half-full"-Man was. She is operated on a second time, then later the phone call, the subsequent visit to the doctor, the diagnosis – wrapped up in numbers that pull the rug out from under her feet: advanced ovarian cancer, the statistics certify that she has a 17-percent chance of still being alive in five years.

In the days that follow, Tatjana Jung feels as if she is caught in a haze. A clamp has wrapped itself around her ribcage and is cutting off her air. Cancer, that happens to others, not at 31, not when everything is going so well right now. It wasn’t until many weeks later, when the treatment machinery of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation had long been underway, that she rediscovered her old confidence along with her fear: "I thought to myself: 17 percent of all patients have cancer? Why shouldn’t I be one of the 17?", she says. "And if not: Then I must use the time I have left."

What do you do with a life that is suddenly no longer seemingly unlimited in front of you?? Bringing out projects that have been put on the back burner for a long time. Sorting out what is important now and what is not. Living life and not just standing by while it passes you by.

Anja Mehnert is a psychooncologist – a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of cancer patients. In her consultations, she repeatedly experiences how people living with a cancer diagnosis sooner or later embark on an inner journey. "Dealing with one’s own finiteness always means dealing with one’s own life and asking about its meaning." What has been so far, what should be in the future? When life is reviewed, shortcomings often come into view as well. Missed opportunities are filtered out, good resolutions are made. Don’t get so angry about little things anymore, be more attentive from now on, be more optimistic.

Psychologist Mehnert asks people who come to her with such questions to be more patient with themselves. If you think you have to change fundamentally in such a situation, you often come to the wrong conclusion: Have I become ill because I haven’t lived properly?? Is it my psyche that is to blame for the disease? Did I not think positively enough?? "Celebrities in particular often proclaim without intention that they have been cured because they believed in themselves and changed their lifestyle.", says Anja Mehnert. But: "Others have done the same and still could not be cured. For these people such statements are fatal."

Tatjana Jung has come to terms with her fate

For Tatjana Jung, after her diagnosis, it quickly became clear that she did not want to expose herself to such pressure. Her daily habits do not need a major overhaul, the credo "No sports, please" is still valid!" She still admits to herself that she has an aversion to "homemade smoothies made from roadside herbs", which the alternative practitioner recommends to her. But there is one thing that keeps her busy: she has always wanted to travel to the USA, to see New York for once! For once, she is not leaving the small town near Idar-Oberstein for the usual motorhome trip to Scandinavia, but for a real adventure.

While still undergoing her first chemotherapy, Tatjana Jung begins to plan; a few months later, she boards a plane with her husband and daughter. She travels through America for several weeks, gets to know New York and Washington, and takes in the big wide world.

The second, the even greater adventure, she dares only in 2009, six years after the onset of the disease, the five-year limit has long been exceeded, a new anti-hormone therapy works well and keeps the metastases surprisingly well in check. So she scrapes together her money and sets off to follow the pop group Simple Minds, whose fans she’s been for 20 years, on their European tour. Through all of Germany, to London, Edinburgh, via Luxembourg and Brussels to Sicily, ten concerts in eight weeks. An enormous feat of strength, but at the same time also a great source of strength.

There will be no more elaborate trips in Tatjana Jung’s life today; the units of measurement for her future planning have become small in the meantime. "I calculate in quarters", she says. "Always until the next examination." Depending on whether her metastases have grown or not, she gets a new free pass every three months. She will see what comes after that. She has reconciled herself with her fate, is often sad – but mostly content, balanced, even happy. So far, she says, she’s done well with it "World champion in suppression to be. In her today, the day after tomorrow no longer has a place.

"Wisdom does not fall from the sky in buckets."

Susanne Reinker has been luckier than Tatjana Jung, much luckier, she says. Her breast cancer was discovered early enough, she found the right doctor, and the sword of Damocles that she felt hanging over her for quite a while after chemotherapy has given way after five years to the certainty that she has overcome everything. Nevertheless, the disease has also changed her. She also put her life to the test after her diagnosis: Healthier eating, more exercise, that worked well – for a few months. Then everyday life returned and with it the realization that "even after such a borderline experience, wisdom does not fall from the sky in buckets", but instead let the old habits creep in again.

Susanne Reinker

Her biggest wish: "To travel through Africa with a car and a roof tent. To write a second women’s novel and use the proceeds to set up and support a sanctuary for old circus animals."

Diagnosis: Breast cancer (2007), cured.

When the gynecologist felt the lump in her breast in 2007, Susanne Reinker was at the peak of her career. The former PR manager has successfully published several books on the world of business, and one of them has been on the non-fiction bestseller lists for weeks. Shortly after this triumph, she received the diagnosis. But Susanne Reinker is not a person who lets things happen. She dares to ask the doctors questions, interferes in medical decisions, negotiates with the health insurance company and also with business people who want to sell her overpriced wigs. "I know.", says Susanne Reinker, "not everyone can do it. But I can only advise every woman to get someone at her side who can do that."

As her body recovers from surgery and treatment, her agent comes up with a proposal for a new project – another nonfiction book. But Susanne Reinker wants to try something new: "I had been carrying around the desire to write a women’s novel for a long time. Who knows whether I would ever have put it into practice if it hadn’t been for this illness?."

the result is called. Clearly not a problem book, but a novel about the classic themes in the life of a woman in her mid-forties: men, job frustration, wrinkles, girl talk – and breast cancer. She was not afraid to overwhelm her readers with this combination of humor and seriousness, says the author. "It was important to me to get the subject of cancer out of the horror corner. This disease is dangerous, it must be taken seriously." And yet, for breast cancer in particular, "most cases are curable, which is often lost sight of in public perception."

"I wished for nothing more than normality."

Change of location, Siegburg near Bonn. Is it allowed? Is it permissible to tell someone who had death within reach about a failed root canal treatment?? Explaining the swollen cheek and mentioning the worry that the effect of the second pain pill might also wear off much too quickly? One can, one should even, says Ursel Wirz. "When I was in the middle of the illness, I kept hearing: ‘I am not well. But what am I telling you?! You are much worse.I wished for nothing more than normality."

Ursel Wirz

Their greatest wish: "To live each day in such a way that my twin sister and I don’t put off for long what we can realize."

Diagnosis: Breast cancer (1999), cured.

Ursel Wirz had cancer and is cured, her fear is a thing of the past. Only normality has never returned to the 47-year-old’s life since then. It has been 13 years since the doctors found a tumor in her twin sister Gundel Kamecke, and a new era began for Ursel as well. Because she started to wait for the cancer to go away. A well-informed doctor had put two and two together after Gundel Kamecke’s illness, because the twins’ great-grandmother, mother and aunt had also contracted breast cancer at a young age – a strong indication of a hereditary increased risk.

A genetic test confirmed the suspicion: Gundel and Ursel carried the mutation of the so-called BRCA gene and thus had up to a 90 percent risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. That’s why Gundel Kamecke had become ill, that’s why the clock was now ticking for Ursel Wirz. Six months later, a carcinoma was also found in her breast, but thanks to intensified early detection measures, it was found early enough to make a complete cure possible. It’s hard for Ursel Wirz to say: "I was cured because my sister got sick first. For me there was the better way." The guilt of someone who got away.

In her sister’s case, the cancer has settled in the body, metastasized, meanwhile also in the bones. Since Gundel knows that there is no longer any chance of recovery, she has moved in with her healthy sister. In the months when the sisters were thrown out of life together, they would have needed someone to sort through the torrent of information and feelings in their heads. They were looking for a support group and would have liked to meet other women affected by the disease.

Gundel Kamecke

Her greatest wish: "Since a cruise to faraway places is no longer possible, enjoy the near, z. B. Hiking in the Eifel."

Diagnosis: Breast cancer (1999), metastases in the bones.

Perhaps everything would have been different if the topic of genetic breast cancer had already found its way into the public eye. It is possible that the alarm bells of the doctors would have rung much earlier, and probably Gundel Kamecke’s tumor would have been discovered in time. And perhaps the disease would not have broken out in either of them, because they would have decided early on to have their still healthy breasts surgically removed, as a prophylactic measure to prevent the cancer from developing in the first place.

Could have, maybe, probably – Gundel Kamecke doesn’t like such speculations. "It’s no use", says the 47-year-old, who inherited her mother’s pragmatism and thinks more of doing than of talking. That’s why the sisters, together with a third comrade-in-arms, founded the BRCA Network, an information and self-help portal for women with genetic breast and ovarian cancer. Since then, they have invested many hours each week in education about BRCA. They advise affected women, set up new self-help groups, organize lectures – because there are not many areas in medicine where knowledge is so decisive for life and death.

"Many things become completely unimportant."

Gundel Kamecke and her sister make it easy for the people they talk to about their lives. They talk openly about themselves, about their life with cancer, and also about their fears. And in doing so, they pave the way for a question that one would hardly dare to ask: Are there things that have just gotten better because of the disease?? Besides the sorrow, is there anything that has changed for the better in the sisters’ lives?? Ursel Wirz does not hesitate even now: "There is definitely such a thing as a gain in illness, even if you pay high costs for it!", she says. "Many things become completely unimportant."

Twelve-hour workdays, for example, friends who aren’t friends, procrastination just doesn’t work sometimes. Gundel Kamecke has wanted a dog since she was a child, but something always spoke against it, and now she has had a mixed-breed dog, Amy, by her side for several years. And when the weather is nice, the sisters go on a day trip to nearby Holland. Cost-benefit calculations work differently when you’re on a dead-end road.

By no means every cancer patient wants to know exactly the length of the road ahead of them. Not everyone wants to have their chances of survival precisely quantified and to know the time prognosis, because some people are better off with uncertainty than with certainty. But psychooncologist Anja Mehnert knows from her practical experience that this attitude is not the rule. "Most people want to know exactly what their situation is", she says. "They want to know how much time they have left to sort out certain things."

No sugar coating over the bitter pills

Monika Seidenader belongs to this group. The news from her doctor that her thyroid nodule was a carcinoma initially took her breath away too. But against the bottomless fear that wanted to spread inside her, the 31-year-old teacher put her mind and her knowledge. Just no sugar coating over the bitter pills. She wanted to know everything, she says today, three years after the diagnosis. Studies, facts, figures, everything that provided objective information "everything but whining".

Monika Seidenader

Her greatest wish: "A long life together with my husband and that our son Moritz will develop into a good person."

Diagnosis: thyroid cancer (2009), cured.

When she learned in the recovery room after the operation that the entire thyroid gland had been removed, it was a shock, but not a shock: "I knew from everything I had read that this could happen to me," she says." Above all, however, she had the unanimous tenor of her sources in her ear: Thyroid cancer has particularly good chances of being cured.

Nevertheless, she went one step further, bought books that deal with death. That’s why she also went to school after the operation to talk to her students. She told, explained – and showed the scar on her neck. "That’s when I had the first sympathy", she says and laughs, as she so often does during the conversation. "Looked a bit Frankenstein-like!"

The scar is now just a fine red line. The books Monika Seidenader went through three years ago have long since ended up in the trash – replaced by other guidebooks. Because now she needs to know how to deal with sleepless nights. And when it’s best to switch a baby to solid food. Moritz is now three months old, and when you see how Monika Seidenader and her husband look at him, you suspect that this baby may make his parents even more grateful than they would have been under normal circumstances. Only after five pregnancy tests, says Monika Seidenader, could she believe that luck had really turned so definitively on her side. What she wishes for the future? "A second child!" If you want to live, then live right.

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