Showing blog posts tagged with: being a family

Interior design as a way of coping with cancer?

by Hilla Duka - View comments

My living room after a year of redecorating

When I was told I have cancer, I thought my life was over, then and there. I wont attempt to describe the first weeks after finding out - you either know because you've gone through it yourself, or you just can't understand, no matter what words I use to explain, and some things just hurt too much to relive, the mind instantly recoils from it.

 

One of the first things I wanted, that I could really feel I wanted, other than to just not have cancer, was to fix our home. Before the diagnosis I had just started making plans to buy a house; about twice the size of our current flat, a room of their own for each of the children, a garden where we could hang in the summer, Jonathan could grow things... All of that was lost as soon as I found out about the cancer. I had been so ready to walk out of our little flat, and now I just wanted to decorate it - weird right?

 

I think there were two reasons I took such an interest in decorating our home. Firstly, I've known Ilir for years and years, and while he has lots of great qualities, interior design and decorating aren't it. Not even a little. I guess I just thought that however our home would look when I died (I stayed in the mindset that I was going to kick it any day for a really long time), was going to be how it would always look, so I'd better make sure it looked nice, and was practical.

 

Also, because I've never had any heirlooms, or inherited furniture of my own, or really anything from my grandparents or from before them, I wanted there to be things in our house - furniture, paintings, whatnot, for my boys to inherit. Rather than mope around and feel sorry for myself that I didn't have anything from the generations before me, I wanted to do something positive with that feeling - take control and create something for my family. And I wanted our home to reflect us, not just be filled with off-the-shelf things, but things we'd made or salvaged, antiques, stuff like that. Very far from the ideals I grew up with, with my architect family, where patterns instantly equalled bad taste.

 

We'd reached the stage that it was time to through out our old sofa - while it had been heaven when Milo was a baby and I luxuriated in the deep, soft cushions, it was now too small for the five of us, plus lots of company as we always seem to have people over, and the cats had shredded it. I had my eye on these more traditional looking, English sofas - you know the ones with short roll arms, looking like you just want to cuddle up with a cup of tea? Yeah, those. Quite far from where I come from - where everything had to be modern and clean, and have straight lines and light colours.

 

Really, this whole decorating journey has been one of settling scores with my past, and accepting myself and my own preferences. We looked at pricier ones, but in the end, IKEA won out, the one called Stocksund. It had the right look and feel, and when the cats have scratched the sides, and the kids have spilled things we can't get rid off, we can simply buy a new cover. Also, it was cheap enough that buying two of them to have opposite each other wouldn't break the bank.

Part of our living room IKEA Stocksund sofa and IKEA Vittsjo hacked coffee table

And with our new sofas in place, our old coffee table didn't work. At first I searched the auction houses, but I couldn't find anything close to what I wanted - all the tables were too high or too wide, so we went back to IKEA, and bought a cheap nesting table called Vittsjo. Ilir saw the glass top and looked at me as if I had lost my mind, but I had something different in mind. 

IKEA Vittsjo coffee table hacked with old looking wooden tops

Some plain pine cut to the right sizes, then beaten with chains and screws, a funny looking drill attachment with something resembling very coarse steel wool to get rid of the softest layer of wood, and then a concoction of vinegar and steel wool that I let seep for a few days. Finally I waxed the surface with dark wax, and now we have a table that will really take anything, while it's narrow (45 - 50 cm) enough to fit well between the two sofas. And when the kids grow up they will hopefully have some fun memories of me pounding the wood with chains and concocting awful smelling brews in the kitchen to dye the wood in a natural and non-toxic way. It wont be just another IKEA table, but something kind of unique that we made.

How I made old looking wood with vinegar and steel wool

I'm really happy we put the sofas opposite each other - it suddenly becomes a room for conversation, for spending time together, rather than a place to mindlessly watch TV. I love that I got the old fashioned, comfortable sofas in the dark fabric, and the dark wood to go with it. I love my brass lamps and details (brass was banished when I grew up, the only allowed metal was polished silver), and now when I come home and fall into one of the sofas, I feel comfortable, at ease. I've broken all the unspoken rules of my past, and by doing so I let my home become what I needed it to be, rather than what someone else thinks it should be.

The sofa part of our living room - IKEA Stocksund sofas, brass lamp from House Doctor and IKEA Vittsjo hacked sofa table

Strange how the mind works - I've really only ever had nesting / decorating instincts in two kinds of situations: when I've been pregnant and when I was told I'm dying... But there's a comfort in feeling that our home fills the functions that we need from it, that it's a place I can relax. I guess it's also a way of taking back some of what the cancer took from me - I can't have my house, but I can at least make sure the home we have is as lovely as possible. I can choose to not focus on the negatives, but create positive things to be happy about.


Not so peachy

by Hilla Duka - View comments

Deep thoughts and heavy curls (portrait)

You know, when it’s just not so fucking great? What do you do then?

 

I decided to keep writing this blog after I got the cancer blow, in order to document… the rest, I suppose. No one wants to go unnoticed, or at least to go without leaving your own individual mark. I don’t want someone else to sum up my life with their own words, I don’t want to be subjected to a rewritten history, relegated to the past. So I kept writing, and through writing have been able to keep some sort of sanity throughout the madness that has become my life. I feel as though I’ve been able to regain a lot that the initial cancer blow took from me. Compared to those early days (ok weeks. Fine, months) when I pretty much just felt as if I’d already died I have more than I thought possible.

 

But then from time to time, it’s just not fucking fine anymore. I deal with chronic pain, less energy than normal people, my own thoughts about death and those that my kids and people around me have, and then I work 50% again, go to the physiotherapist and my regular therapist, and some days I literally cannot get out of bed, and I think that it may be that it is in my nature, indeed in the human nature to strive for more, for better, to improve, but that I just need a break from it all. When meditating is one of the things that stress you out, you know you’re in trouble. My day doesn’t have enough hours, my calendar is full, and the chance I will ever get to see retirement is so slim it’ll be a miracle.

 

But what do you do when the person you love asks you what you’re thinking and the truth is, you’re trying to picture him finding a new partner after you’re gone? Because here’s the deal, you’re either honest about it, and then you’re the biggest Scrooge ever, or you’re a liar, and then you’re dishonest and all of a sudden, you feel like the loneliest person in the world.

 

I have no answers to anything. Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and I think about poor children washing up on the shores, I think about cancer and its horrors, I think about the last in a long row of lovely women I’ve come to know a little bit who passed away today, because there still isn’t a cure out there.

 

Tomorrow I will put myself back together, I’ll try to be a great mom and a good co worker and a nice wife and all of that. But right now I feel naked and miserable about the state of the world, the state of my own life, the mess to which I've brought three lovely children. I’ll go to bed and pray for a new year filled with more love, and less horrors, and maybe, maybe, some more justice and forgiveness. 

 

Guilt and gratitude

by Hilla Duka - View comments

Deserted beach

Lead-heavy feet carry me slowly, slowly forwards as I uncurl myself from the bed and force myself to get up. I've slept still, rigid again, and it's hard to force my body to move again. You're already up, running about, making plans and fixing things. Your body is a tool to you - you're so healthy you don't even notice it. I know because I used to be like you, but that was a long time ago now. I smile as I listen to you, you want to go there, do that. I smile, guiltily, and agree - yes, let’s. Guilty, that while you have life driving you forwards, like an unstoppable force of curious exploration, I am pushing my life, like a broken down VolksWagen, and it's all I can do to keep up with you, even though you’ve kindly slowed your steps for me.

 

I take my morning coffee black these days, it helps hide the tears. I’m grateful that it’s still warm outside, that way I can go out to the balcony and have a morning cry in solace, salty tears dripping into my morning coffee, creating ripples on the black, shiny surface. You read the papers with your coffee, shaking your head and muttering at some third world disaster. I no longer read the paper - I can’t face the deaths and the trauma on every page, images haunting me. Instead I open Facebook. The first image that greets me is a woman, I used to know her from work. She’s young and pretty and talented and smart and kind. She has her whole life ahead of her, not behind her. She’s smiling into the camera, and the early morning rays of sun create a halo around her head and I think “Ah, how lovely she is. How happy I am for her, that she’s doing well”. The next post is an update. It’s made by the daughter of the owner of the account, to let us know that her mum passed away quietly during the night. So much for reading Facebook instead of the news, I think. My feed is a mixture of babies and marriages and death. 

 

I take my coffee black these days, and I’m starting to like the salty aftertaste it’s got. And when you pop your head out to the balcony and ask if I want to go to this place that you’ve heard of, I bite my tears back and make myself smile and be grateful that those lines weren’t posted on my account, and I nod, yes, let’s go there, it sounds like fun. And I think that I can ignore the pain in my feet from walking there, the pain in my back from being there instead of lying down, just out of sheer gratefulness that it wasn’t me today, I got this day as well, and I got to spend it with loving, caring people. But the day will go on and I will forget about the mother who died in the early hours of the day. I will forget how grateful I am that it wasn't me. Physical pain isn't the same horrible fear to me as it is to others, but enough pain can blind you, make you unable to think or care or worry. 

 

And so we go to this place, guiltily I smile and nod, try to be interested, to be present. But the time we spend there is too short for you and too much for me, and when I have to beg to go home and you see my facade slipping for a second, you guiltily agree, and smile and through your teeth comes the lie I’ve come to expect, It was enough time, enough energy out of me, and you’re fine, really, you didn’t need to see those things or go any further. As you help me get into the car I see the guilt flash in your eyes, mirroring my own. For a moment it worries me. As we drive back home, tears of pain stinging my eyes and blinding me, I hear the distant sounds of an ambulance. My mantra comes unbidden, I’ve been through this so many times now that reaction is an instinct. Thank god it’s not me this time. Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou. I will make more of what I’ve got. I smile at you, and try to erase all traces of sadness and pain from my eyes. As you smile back I know you’ve seen the effort I made, that you try to do the same thing back, and I focus, as hard as I can, on the gratitude I feel, and not the guilt.

 

Gotland part 1

by Hilla Duka - View comments

dreamy gotland landscape

So upon the good news of No New Growth, we packed our bags and together with my dad, his wife, their dog and my brother headed to Gotland, where we had rented a house for the week. Eight people and a dog did mean some challenges, but now that I'm safely back in my comfy sofa editing photos, I will claim we had a great trip. The weather wasn't great, but that only meant we got to drive around and see some stuff rather than simply drive from beach to beach.

Jacob by the coast of east Gotland

Gotland is of course famous for its Raukar (I don't honestly know if there is an English word for them, but they are sort of formation made of chalk stone) so we made a point to go and see them whenever we could. And as I found out, my kids are very prone to climbing things (especially rocks) and throwing things (rocks, though smaller), which seemed a very suitable activity while amongst the raukar. Here Jacob is exploring the raukar in Ljugarn, the eastern part of Gotland.

Klintehamn harbour by sunset

 


Sunset at Klintehamn, Gotland

The house we rented, though not the little cottage in the woods I had envisioned was situated in Klintehamn, a small town not far from Visby (say maybe 30 minutes by car), with a cute harbor we could walk to at night and watch the sunset from. And it did have a trampoline, and that outdoors/ indoors indifference that is always so typical for houses and impossible to achieve in flats, so kids and dog were happy.

Milo in the backyard of our rented house in Klintehamn, Gotland

As we came in the middle of the so called Stockholm week (when brats from Stockholm invade even more heavily than the rest of the summer, partying pretty much 24/7 and generally just being load and unappologetic) we tried to stay clear of Visby. We went twice though, to pick up some groceries (wine. In the rest of the world wine is a grocery and something you can buy in the supermarket. In Sweden, you have to go to a specific, state controlled shop, and thre are like two of those in Gotland. One is in Visby.) I tried to sneak some pics of how beautiful the little city is (whilst avoiding capturing vomiting Stockholmers on camera). It really is insanely pretty, the soil in Gotland must be so good, wine and roses grow like crazy.

Milo and the roses of Visby, Gotland

Alley in Visby with lots of roses growing on the walls

 

How lovely? Though I feel bad for the people who live in these gorgeous little houses and have crazy tourists misbehaving in their gardens...

 

poppy growing by the side of the road

 

Then in our at this point rather desperate attempt to get away from drunk teenagers and my kids picking up new and inappropriate words from them, we packed up and headed to northern Gotland and Fårö - in my mind, the most stunning, breathtaking part of Gotland.

 

the kids in front of the raukar of east Gotland

 

Raukar there as well, and crystal clear water with fish swimming in it, even by the shore. 

 

swimming in Fårö, Gotland

 

Sudersand, with this amazing sand and long, shallow beach. Even though not warm, the kids were ecstatic.

 

Milo by the beach in Fårö, Gotland

 

And this little man, who's generally quite fearful in the water, could bathe and enjoy himself without worrying as even twenty metres in the water still only came to his waste.

 

Lauters, ruin and restaurant, Fårö Gotland

 

In Fårö we stopped (on our way to see the Fårö raukar, of course) at this little laid back ruin/ restaurant/ chillax place playing reggae music and offering hammocks for resting under the trees. This happened to be my Holiday Goal - lying in a hammock under the trees and feeling salty wind in my face, so naturally I made the most of this, regardless of the fact that the others were quite eager to continue. 


View from the hammock in Fårö, Gotland

 

In our cottage (that we're still very much hoping to buy at the end of the summer) we will have hammocks. Lots and lots of hammocks.

 

And now we're back home, making plans for the rest of the summer. We have almost another month off, which feels amazing and so very luxurious. Maybe we'll rent a little house in the woods last minute, just to really get the feeling? The whole family is quite set on buying a little summer home for ourselves now, but for financial reasons that might have to wait until after the summer, when the prices drop. Right now, the kids are happy enough back with their books, toys, and a stable wifi. I kind of feel the same.


Juggling the square metres

by Hilla Duka - View comments

some of my favourites at home - fifties lamp and old school poster in black

Love the combination of my fifties lamp and old school poster of wheat on black!

It started as we came home from Paris. Filled with inspiration and team-feeling we started trying to clean up the flat after 48 hours of baby sitting. And after about three hours of cleaning and the house not looking any bit better, we sat down for a much needed break, and emergency council. Why was this not working?

 

As I’ve mentioned before, for rather morbid reasons we’ve decided to stay in our tiny flat in the nice area. But with two adults, three quite grown children (not to mention three cats) and a house with an open door policy, it’s getting cramped, crowded and impossible to tidy. It’s not that we’re insanely messy as people, more like we have no place for a lot of things, and as a result, they simply move from one spot to another, and the house just never feels clean.

some of my favourites at home - brass lamp and dr westerlund flower

One of my darlings that I hope not to kill: an old brass lamp standing on some of my favourite books, and a dr westerlund flower from my grandmother (one of the only things I have from her), that smells amazing if you rub the leaves!

Also, we don’t have places for everyone in the living room, resulting in someone (Ilir) sitting on the floor (this is not as cruel as it sounds, as for strange reasons relating to his origin, he’s surprisingly fond of sitting on the floor, but still - I’d prefer having enough seating), and finding a spot to do homework is a nightmare.

 

Before I showed you our kids room solution with a triple bunk bed, and funnily enough those posts of the kids room are the most searched for and visited posts. Anyway, we’re pleased as punch with our kids room makeover, and so after a few futile attempts at quick fixes, we decided to treat the rest of the flat to the same makeover. Our goal for the summer is to make our two bedroom flat into a functional and beautiful home for five, where we’re often up to nine people. It sounds like close to impossible, but then again so did building a functional bed / playroom for three kids, but we managed that one, so I’m hopeful.

some of my favourites at home - snake plant and Ikea Stocksund sofa in dark gray

My favourite plant - a snake plant in a concrete flower pot - and new sofa, an IKEA Stocksund in dark gray (sooo comfy, but only fits three...)

There are no sacred cows here, no inside-the-box thinking allowed, and I’ll (try) to kill my darlings. I boost myself remembering how great the kids room turned out, but then I remember that this time it’s our bedroom, hallway, living room and kitchen. It’s figuring out spaces to eat, play, study, have alone-time and socialise with guests and family. That’s one tall order!

choosing the perfect greige wall colour

Trying to choose the perfect greige wall colour - can you see there are three different grays on that wall?

Anyway, I’m really chuffed we’re trying to stay in our flat, even if it might be a bit of a challenge finding solutions to all the different needs, but hopefully by the end of the summer we’ve made this work, and can start looking for summer houses as a reward! (That we in turn spend most of winter renovating...)


It's half full. It's bloody well always half full, it's just hard to see sometimes.

by Hilla Duka - View comments

Jonathan splashing around in the water

As spring was approaching we were asked how and when the kids would have annual leave from school, and were informed that Jonathan would not have any kind of day care all summer(up until now the kids have always had as much day care as I would need, but apparently a ten year old is perfectly capable of taking care of himself all day long...). At first I started to freak out and wonder what I was going to do with him all summer - How in gods name was this going to work??? And when I was good and properly stressed out and literally couldn't think straight I took a step back, and surrendered. This sounds quite insane, but I've learned to do this more and more (and I get better at it the more I meditate) - I simply give up trying to make something work out the way I on some level want it to, and just surrender it. I let things fall into place, and they might not arrange themselves the way I want them to, but things generally just work out, which is more than I can say for when I try to bend the world to my will.

All three kids playing in the water

Ok, slight side track there. The point was, I surrendered the nightmare of trying to puzzle together Jonathan's ten weeks off school with my annual leave and what we as a family wanted from the summer. And as soon as I did, I realised that of course I would take the ten weeks off work, because spending the summer with my kids was more important than anything. And it would work out, somehow, because it was the right thing to do. And as it happened, it did work out (partly because it was the right thing to do, and partly because I have an amazing boss and workplace). So now I'm rocking ten weeks of summer with my kids. Absolutely amazing.

Jonathan and Jacob playing in the water

Of course it takes me a while to get into holiday mode, but a few trips to the beach later I am now practically almost not thinking about work, and I don't check my work email more than once a day. Ok, I'm still working on accomplishing holiday mode, but I'm working on it from under a tree, where I'm watching the kids splash around in the water, which is a really good place to work on stuff. Or not work on stuff I mean.

Ilir and the kids roasting marshmallows

And what do I plan to do with this obscene amount of family time? Well, thank you for asking, I intend to take my not-so-little family around Sweden. Because we haven't had a car before, the kids haven't seen much of Sweden apart from where we live, and Ilir hasn't really been anywhere, so now we're going exploring. We're spending a week in Gotland, (which is where the majority of Stockholm goes during the summer so the boys should all feel perfectly at home), and are planning some shorter trips to the Stockholm archipelago, Dalarna and hopefully a day or two in Gothenburg (although we'll probably have to go by train since I doubt the boys will last that long in the car). I'm kind of showing them all how great Sweden can be during the summer, like some sort of Swedish guide. Also, I haven't given up on the idea of getting a summer house somewhere, so that might have something to do with why I've opted for renting cottages all over Sweden this year - I'm sneakily trying to win the rest of the family over to buying a house. Then once summer is over, and we all start reminiscing, it's autumn and the prices on summer houses drops, and bam! - the whole family is on board and we're buying a 150 year old cottage. Did I plan this in way too much detail? 

Milo by the seaside

 

Well, that's how it's going to go down, just as soon as I've had my next checkup (the result comes in in nine days, not that I'm counting or nervous or anything) and the doctor tells me it's all good. "All good, no sign of growth" is what I'm trying to envision her saying. Pleasepleaseplease, let that be what she'll say.

 

The way you worry about checkups as a cancer patient is insane. You worry up until them, you worry during all the tests, and you worry in the space between the tests and your visit with your oncologist, when they'll tell you the result. And then when they say it looks good, you only stop worrying for a little while, then you start all over again. You constantly try to judge how you feel. Are you more tired than normally? Do the metastasis hurt more than other days? Does it hurt in some new place? Is that ache in your back just from sitting in a meeting or is it a different kind of ache? And then you try to not become some hypochondriac... I haven't slept naturally since I found out about the cancer over a year ago - I take a sleeping pill and knock myself out so I don't dream, but if I did - I'd be having nightmares about the checkups.

summer flowers in a field

Anyway, the jury's kind of out on this checkup, I have no clue. On the one hand, I feel ok. That's partly because I recently took some cortisone which is like speed to my body, so for the past week or so I haven't had so much pain in my joints and I don't really walk like a ninety year old lady, but the effects are wearing off and slowly the stiffness returns. Partly, I hope, it's because I'm doing my physiotherapy religiously, and am slowly getting stronger again. On the other hand, I've really been under a lot of stress work wise lately, and haven't really felt like I had a good work / family / me balance. When you don't really know what makes one person stay in remission and another relapse, you start taking anything and everything into consideration. Have I taken my vitamins? Am I in a mindful state of mind? Exercising? I can so completely understand people who start believing in weird stuff going through this. Magic stones? Oh well thank you, why not. Anything that suggests answers, because the fact is that medicine offers no answers and that sucks. 


365 days of horror

by Hilla Duka - View comments

Little flower arrangement on a table

It’s now one year since I found out I have cancer. The last few days have been filled with the roaring thunder of my mind, the echoes of storms past and storms to come. Cancer storms. Deadly, all-consuming storms that steal what I’ve worked so hard for, snatch it out of my hands.

 

These days have been filled with the memories of lying on a narrow hospital bed, knowing things were bad, but not how bad. That first surreal feeling, that I was somehow experiencing another person's life, because surely this wasn’t meant for me. Snatches of conversations, sharp as knives in my heart.

“What did you say to them?”

“I told them Hilla has cancer.”

“Oh.”

 

Other, wordless moments, eyes meeting in horror, when there are no words to be said. Hands fumbling for each other, to offer if not comfort then at least a short refuge from the loneliness.

 

Memories of how I raged at this huge, unmanned weapon, without intelligence or compassion, still I tried to reason with it. “I have children!” I argued. “Please, you cannot actually do this to me. I’ve learned my lesson, slap on the hand, I’ll be a better person, honest”. And while I’m still there in that same spot, one year later, and cancer is still without intelligence and certainly without compassion, I’ve learnt that the universe isn’t. I’ve touched a love and caring so deep and profound it has given me strength when I thought I could not go on.

 

This new feeling of being here-but-not-here. Hearing my family talk about me as I half slumber after chemo. “Can she eat? Did she vomit? She looks so weak...” Watching the people I love hurt, and knowing there’s nothing I can do to reassure them.

 

The way my heart shattered every single time I woke up, as I realised again and again that it was true, it wasn’t a bad dream, it was all true and nothing would be the same again. For weeks this went on. I’d wake up and for a second I’d not remember and then it would hit me and it was as if my heart was sucked out of my chest in that instant, and I’d weep and not stop until there were no more tears.

 

Somehow some people loved me enough to stay with me. Not just in the beginning, when all was new and shocking, but through this year and onwards.

 

I didn’t understand then what this year would bring. I would have never thought then that I would be happy again, that I would laugh and love and make plans and look forward to things again. One year has passed, and I’m still here.