How one thing leads to another

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The whole thing started with a search box. Or rather, it started with a random thought as to how one would go about building a search function, and as this site was originally intended to be the place where I try stuff out, it seemed natural to build one for what has now become my blog. I’m not a very good web developer, and not a very experienced one - I moved on to product management before I had time to become more than a junior developer, but I still think it’s really fun to build stuff.


Only, when the search function was ready there was no place to put it, which lead to a complete rethink of the layout. So now the blog looks completely different. I’m going to try to not mess about with styling this year, for now I think the layout is functional, and it will hopefully let me focus on content rather than css! Let me know how you like it, or if you don’t, or if you miss something!


And speaking of how one thing leads to another, remember how I got really excited about healthy eating, and making things from scratch? Well, it turns out my kids were not as excited, especially about having to give up stuff they loved, like basically anything sweet. Those kids are addicted to sugar I tell you. Anyway, that made me look into if there was any way of making the things they liked, only healthier, with less sugar. Turns out you can make jam. And it’s super easy. So now I buy frozen berries, and sugar with pectin in it, and the jam is only like 10% sugar as opposed to any store bought jam which has around 50% sugar in it, and no extra additives. It only takes about fifteen minutes, and the kids seem to really like it. Win - win.

We're all imortal (in our own eyes)

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Before I found out about the cancer, and how it had spread, I knew something was wrong. I’d been ill for ages, nearing on three months, and was just not getting well again. I’d leave Milo at nursery, go to work, and by the time I got off the tram I was exhausted, blood pounding in my ears, my head light, almost dizzy from standing up too fast.


I remember sitting in the car with Ilir one day, and hearing myself say the words “If I get well again”. I remember sitting up at night too ill to sleep, writing down the time, my symptoms and what drugs I’d taken, remember thinking to myself “I wonder how ill you have to be to call an ambulance?”. I remember feeling that one breast was swollen and strange, and even though a small voice in my mind said I should get it checked because it could be serious, I didn’t really believe it. All of those things told me something was not right with me, but in no way did I ever think it was cancer, and terminal. That’s the thing though, we never think it is.


Because disasters happen to other people, not ourselves. We don't get raped or abducted or killed in accidents and we don’t get deadly diseases. All of these things happen to other people, it’s default in our minds. Only one day, we awake to find that we are indeed the other people.


I took this picture a little over a year ago, in London. I was there for work, not feeling great to start with, and coming down with tonsillitis during the trip. Too ill to go out or meet friends, I spent all the time I wasn't working in a hotel room shivering from fever and feeling wretched. And I knew things weren't right. I just didn't know how wrong. 


Closing the chemo chapter

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As I am now dealing with the effects of the final chemo, I am struggling to close the chapter on this… experience. Seven months of my life have been put aside to be dealt with in little three week portions, they themselves divided into one and two week portions. One week for feeling wretched and horrible, two for recuperating - slowly getting back on my feet, staggering a bit more for each turn, and then we start anew. Ten rounds of this. It has left me crippled, humbled, horrifically changed, but so far I’m still alive.


I am still alive, and the tumour in my breast is gone. The metastases are probably still in my skeleton and bone marrow, and most likely they will one day start growing again. But as I've struggled to find out how to deal with that, I’ve realised that there is no way for me to prepare for the day when I’m told it’s growing again, and we have to resume treatment. It may be in three months or ten years - I have to live while I can. So I will consider this the closing of my chemo chapter, and be ready for what comes now.


It would be easy to think that there are only positive feelings associated with finishing chemo - and there is a certain element of success and happiness at being done with it. But there is also a lot of fear - fear and worry the cancer will start growing again once I’m no longer dosing it with toxics. I need to learn to live with that: these feelings will accompany me every step of the way for the rest of my life, and I need to find a way to make sure that I don't give them free reign and let them run my life. 


Now comes hormonal therapies to make my body inhospitable for the cancer. Simply put: here comes menopause. These medicines have their side effects as well, but they are hopefully less severe than chemo. And along with those medicines come the slow and hard work of getting back into some kind of shape.


As the metastases weaken the skeleton I have to compensate with extra muscles in my back. Also, it seems a good idea to be able to walk more than a few hundred metres before needing to rest. It will be hard work but I try to think positively and focus on how good it’s going to feel to be strong again, to be able to go for a proper walk or do a full yoga session.  During chemo I have both put on weight and lost muscles - now it’s time to deal with that!

The year in review

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Did you do something 2014 that you’ve never done before?

Oh yes! I found out about the cancer, I learned about death and living with death. I’ve gone through nine more rounds of chemo than I ever expected to. In retrospect, 2014 was the year it all fell apart for me, physically. And somehow, ironically, the year everything fitted into place, emotionally. 


Did you make any major changes?

I stopped smoking and using snus. That’s something I’m extremely pleased with, even though I’m not really proud. Mostly I’m just really ashamed I kept at it for so long. Smoking or using snus gave me nothing, it only took something away. Quitting was so easy, once I saw through the lies and deception. I’m extremely grateful to my work, for giving me the option to do a quit-smoking course.


What date from 2014 will you always remember?

June 4th, the day I found out I have cancer. August 3rd when we got married.


Did anyone close to you die?

No, but death joined our lives in a very real and tangible way this year.


What countries/ cities did you visit?

Berlin, in January with work. Then London in early March, also work related. Then no trips at all until we all went on holiday to Gran Canaria in September.


What was your biggest success in 2014?

Surviving knowing that I’m going to die. Surviving nine rounds of chemo. Actually, not just surviving, but being able to live, love, laugh through it all. I never knew that was possible. 


Best purchase?

I’ve invested quite a lot in our home this year, and that’s something I’m pleased with. Especially since I’ve tried to invest in quality items that will last a long time, preferring old and used to IKEA.


Did anything make you really happy?

Marrying Ilir made me really happy. And small, everyday life things that made me so much happier than ever before - like cuddling up with the kids reading a book. I always knew it was nice, but now it's as if my heart will explode sometimes. 


Did anything make you really sad?

Finding out.


What song will always remind you of 2014?

Frank Sinatra singing My way. I’ve listened so much to that song this year. Crying my heart out to it. 


Were you happier or sadder this year compared to other years?

I think I’ve been both happier and sadder than ever before this year. Maybe the sadness has also enhanced the happiness, but somehow I feel everything so much stronger. It's been a year of opposites, of extreme happiness and sorrow like never before. Most of the time, I manage to squeeze every bit of that spectrum into one day. 


What do you wish you had done more of?

Spent more time outside, in forests or by lakes. I spend most of my time indoors now, and when I go outside I’m usually always in the city, and I find I really miss the woods. 


What do you wish you’d done less?

I wish I’d spent less time with stupid people who only take energy and give nothing back. I wish I’d not focused so much on negative comments or on what other people thought.


Did you fall in love this year?

I fell in love, though it’s with someone I’ve loved for years. I guess that’s the best kind of falling in love. And I fell in love with life. As if only when someone threatens to take something away from you can you truly appreciate what you have, and realise how much you love it.


Best book you read this year?

One book I read that really had an impact on me was Anticancer - A new way of life. Not because there was really that much new ideas in it, but because it relieved the feeling of complete helplessness I’d been having since I found out. Suddenly, I felt as if there was something I could do - to live a bit longer, a bit better.


What were you doing on your birthday 2014?

Resting after our wedding, which was the day before. I usually host IHAD, International Hilla Appreciation Day on my birthday, with everyone coming over, toasting me and telling me how wonderful I am. This year, it was a more quiet affair. But it was a happy day. 


Is there anything that would have made 2014 even better?

Well, I’ll not beat around the bush with it, but not getting cancer would have been great. Or at least, getting slightly better odds than this would have been an improvement.


What was your biggest mistake?

I don’t really believe in mistakes. I believe in learning from what has happened to you and how you’ve responded to it, and improving yourself. And I believe in apologising to the people you’ve accidentally hurt along the way.


What made you feel good?

My family. My kids and Ilir and my brother. Friendships that deepened. Learning how to meditate has practically saved my life, or at least my sanity. Meditation has given me a place where I can go whenever I want, to connect with something bigger than me. A place where I can borrow energy to get through. Whenever it's all too much for me, I close my eyes, focus, and reach out to touch vastness. 


What are you most proud of?

Living through the nine rounds of chemo I’ve done so far. When I found out about the cancer and the fact that it was inoperable and the only course of treatment was chemo, no one knew if my body would be able to take so much toxins. Even though it’s literally cost me an arm and a leg, I’m still standing, or at least sitting. My heart is still functioning. Very grateful for that bit.


Something you’ve missed 2014 and want 2015?

My health back, please. Please, please, please, may I have some of my health back?


Who did you miss?

My grandmother. I’ve thought so much about her since I found out, wanting her help in how to deal with this, wondering how she coped when she found out. 


Best new people you’ve met?

The nurses working on the oncology department at the hospital. Hands down the best people I met this year. They’re just all of them amazing - nice and sweet, and they get things done no matter what. When doctors mess up they’re there to clean it up, smiling.


Dearest wish right now?

To be well. Tomorrow is my last chemo session and I so hope that I may get some time, a lot of time, to be well, to be with my family. Some time when no new cancer cells are growing, when I don't have to have more rounds of chemo. Years and years, actually. That's my dearest wish right now. 

The kids room part two

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So I promised I would show the kids room once everything was ready, and I'm finally making good on my promise. As I started discussing in this post, for various reasons we'll continue to live in my small two bedroom flat in the nice area well suited for kids, rather than move to something bigger and further away, or get the house I was envisioning before I fell ill.


And in deciding to  stay, we needed to improve the room the boys share. They don't really mind sharing room, and I think in many ways it's good for them, but each needs his own space too, for his own things, his private hideaway. That's why we  planned and planned and came up with a new way of making the most of their room. The three story bunkbed of my dreams didn't pan out as the ceiling height is a mere 2,4 metres, but I came up with this alternative, which also provides a reading nook for when we put them to bed, or for when they want somewhere cosy to sit and read during the day. I say read, but they mainly use it for playing on their iphones.

cozy reading space

One of the walls in the reading nook consists of the back of two bookshelves, to make it prettier I’ve covered it with a fabric. The chair comes from Åhlens and the little table, that doubles as Milo’s storage space, comes from Kartell. Originally it functioned as my bedside table, but this way it fills a better function.

bunkbed for three with string shelf

All the boys have some sort of personal storage by their bed - Jacob got one of my old String shelves, and Jonathan got a shelf the length of his bed, though quite narrow so that he doesn’t bang his head on it at night. For now, the Kartell table will be Milos storage.

bunkbed for three with bookshelf

On the back of the reading nook are two IKEA shelves, soon to be brim full of kids books and toys they still want to play with. Mainly, they no longer play with toys, they play on the Xbox or the computer or the iphones/ ipads when they’re allowed, and then they read or they draw or paint. So much so, this christmas they got a crafts hamper (seen below their portraits above), filled with different material for their creative geniuses. They loved it, and I loved that I got to make good use of the hamper originally filled with goodness and sent by my lovely colleagues at the London office. Now it's filled with goodies once more, though this time not edible at all...

backpack storage

We really did end up using absolutely every bit of space in the room - behind the door the kids have hangers for their backpacks. They just about fit in the small space between the wall and the door. That's also the only place I would allow them to put this hiddeous Star Wars poster - this way, the only was it's seen is when they close the door. 

table and storage in kids room

On the other side of the room is two metres of shelf storage and a table for their computer and space to do homework. I honestly still cannot understand how we managed to fit all these functions in one 12mroom.

For this renovation, we really tried hard to be environmentally friendly and use what we had, buying only a minimum amount of new things, and then not buying plastic or easily breakable things. The only new things we got was Jonathans lamp, one of the bookshelf (we had one before), the armchair for reading, some supplies, wood and and the gray paint on the wall. It ended up costing us very little, apart from the time and effort it took to make, and the end result is such a drastic improvement on what they had before, I can’t help but be well pleased.

Happy Christmas

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The tree was huge, the food delicious and never ending, the company large and merry and the presents plentiful. I think it's safe to say we've learned how to do Christmas. 

Two whole days have been spent cooking, not exactly a traditional christmas meal, but all the food that was ordered by the kids, and then some that we thought would be nice. Never before have we prepared this much food! 

glazed salmon for christmas

Yes, this is a glazed salmon. Glazed, I tell you. I may be a vegetarian, but I'll not pass up the chance to glaze anything. Champagne (actually sparkling wine, but champagne sounds better, don't you think?), balsamic, rosemary, honey and dijon mustard. Have no idea how it tasted but it was fun to make!

banana bread for chistmas

Banana bread for sweets, they look unimportant, but the kids love them, which usually means that if I make them for the kids, I can do something more fun for the adults. Unfortunately I didn't get a shot of my carrot cake with icing before we gulfed it down... Just take my word for it, it was delicious.

My body's aching, my arm's all swollen, and I can't really walk proper, but as I climb into my comfiest spot in the sofa, the kids tucked up in their new beds, the candles burning low, I'm filled with pleasure at the day. Another Christmas for me and my family, thank you. The first one in about fifteen years with both my parents present, thank you cancer for that. 

And for one day, one precious day, I was so busy trying to make sure everyone was having a good time, I didn't think about the cancer, about being ill, about what's ahead. Another thing to be grateful for.

Sum up the year

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It’s not even Christmas yet, and already I see all these posts on different blogs summing up 2014 - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Though  mostly the good. Either I follow insanely happy, successful and beloved people, or we just tend to try to enhance the good and hide the bad.


I ended 2013 with a Facebook post saying “Goodbye 2013. 2014 - you’ve got big shoes to fill”. 2013 truly was a great year for me, in every way. I was suddenly making a career, something I hadn’t really planned on but found myself truly enjoying. I got to travel, meet amazing people, broaden my views. And at home, I finally felt as if everything started working out. For the first time since Jonathan was born, I started sleeping full nights again, and that did wonders for me. I felt the kids had grown past that baby phase, which was always so hard for me to cope with, and had now turned into these three amazing little people - my favourite people in the world. Though home life was still stressful at times, it was in 2013 that I stopped feeling as if I was constantly falling.


And then came 2014, which is as I should remember the year I’m trying to sum up now. It’s been a year of extreme opposites. A year of devastating news as well as love and happiness greater than I’ve known ever before. Looking back, to me it seems it all began to fall apart that night in Berlin, where after a work thing late at night on my way back to my hotel, I slipped on a patch of ice and dislocated my knee and tore a ligament. That was the end of January, and that was the end of my health and my strength. It took me a few months to get back on my feet (quite literally, I was hobbling along) only to realise I just never got really well again. And that, of course, was the start of finding out about the cancer.


Never in a million years, as I welcomed the new year with bubbles and kisses all round, did I think this year would bring me to that. But I guess that’s the case for all of us - we just don’t see how it could ever happen to us until it does. I’ll not try to put to words the feeling of finding out you’re dying, I just can’t. Most of all, I felt small, and helpless, and terribly, terribly sad for my childrens sake. Then I felt angry, angry at the loss they would face, all the things I would miss out on. And then I decided the doctors were wrong, I would prove them wrong, I would be the miracle. And these are still the feelings I go through, and probably always will. It’s like a silly waltz I do: One, two three, one, two, three, sad, angry, denial, sad, angry denial. Round I go. Hello, new life. Dizzying.

But, as much as I hate having cancer, and believe me I hate it with a vengeance I never knew before, looking back on 2014 also means seeing Ilir and the kids and our wedding, remembering the times I’ve spent with good friends and great wines, all that laughter. Yes, I’ve seen more of the inside of a hospital than I ever would have wanted, I’ve been in pain and I’ve watched my own body be slowly poisoned beyond repair or recognition, but I’ve loved, and I’ve laughed, and I made others laugh too, and I am still here. 2014 will always be the year I found out about the cancer, but more than that, it will be a year I have seen through, and for that I am grateful. And as I sum it up, I weigh it out, and there is just as much love and happiness as there is sadness and sorrow. Perhaps the only thing that matters is that it is a year I am happy to have had?