Showing blog posts tagged with: cancer

Six months or fourteen years

by Hilla Duka - View comments


A lifetime ago, or at least fourteen years ago, in a desperate attempt to save a failing relationship, I planned a trip to London for valentines day, and for the occasion I wanted to book a table at my favourite restaurant. So I picked up the phone, and a man working there answered. He had an accent I couldn’t place and a deep softness to his voice, and I hung up feeling strangely overcome with emotions, only I couldn’t place them.


Anyway, I went on that trip, eventually broke up with my then-partner, cried my heart out and thought I would never find happiness or togetherness (in my head they were so intertwined they were practically synonyms), stayed single and learned how to do everything by myself, and it was a long time until I actually met him in real life.


And if someone would have told me that day when I spoke to him on phone, that years later I would marry that man, that he would be the father of my children, that he would end up taking care of me as I have gone through the hardest, most unexpected challenges of my life, that he would be the one who’s always there for me, I would have thought them mad. Sometimes he drives me crazy, but when push comes to shove, he’s home to me. Today we’ve been married for six months.


Life takes unexpected turns.


Remembering and forgetting

by Hilla Duka - View comments

raindrops on a branch

It comes and goes, this dealing with cancer thing. Well, I mean, I obviously deal with it all the time, but sometimes I deal with it better than other times.


Sometimes I forget that I'm going to LIVE with cancer, that I won't die from it, that I'm supposed to become a bloody miracle patient. I feel sorry for myself and for my kids and Ilir and my parents and my brother. I wallow in self pity. I absolutely engross myself in sadness and death, doom and gloom, to the point where it becomes almost impossible to stop, to see another way.


And then something happens and it can be the smallest thing, but it just makes me realise how selfish and dramatic and destructive I'm being, and I will just stop, turn it around. I've had a bad couple of days, with my head trapped in unforgiving and unwanted futures, but I'm back now. I'm alive now, and I will stay here and now and not go dallying off to unforeseeable futures. That is, I will until the next time I forget.

Ups and downs, highs and lows. Life is a rollercoaster, and even more so with cancer.

Who, why, when and where?

by Hilla Duka - View comments

orchid in bloom again

I should have died when I was eight. If it wasn't for modern medicine I would have. One morning I woke up to stomach cramps. My parents sent me off to school, though after a few hours I was crawling on the floor in pain. They sent me home, my appendix burst, I had to have emergency surgery and I survived. It wasn't even a big deal, lots of people have had their appendix removed, but I've thought about it a lot recently.


And then, my brother at the age of ten went through the same thing, and as I had gone through it myself I could identify it, we got him to the hospital on time, even though we were at the time in France, and he survived too. Thanks to modern medicine we're both alive, we got a bit more time. I got to have three amazing boys, who will go on to have complete lives of their own.


Can modern medicine please save me again? So that I can look back and say I should have died in my thirties, but modern medicine saved me? What can I do to make that happen?


Why did my appendix burst, while the next guy can go his whole life with an intact appendix? Why did I get cancer, and not someone else? What is it that makes one person develop cancer, while someone else doesn't? And of course, the ever present question in my mind: can I survive it, as in live until there's a cure?


When do we develop cancer, really? Is it when we're knackered, still on our feet at the end of a twelve hour double, or on the dance floor at five am, completely hammered? Or in the gym early one morning? Why some of us and not others?


Is cancer for those who can't take the heat? Is it because I am weak, because I am a quitter that I got this disgusting sickness? Why was normal life too much for my body to handle?


I have no answers, only more questions...

Shabbat bliss

by Hilla Duka - View comments

The week has gone by so fast, some time spent at the office, some spent with doctors, and some nights spent with a poorly Jacob. And then came Shabbat, and though Jacob was still coughing we packed ourselves in our little car and headed over to my dad and his wife to be treated to Shabbat dinner!

kids playing with shiba

The kids were thrilled, as that meant getting to see the new family member, Ashi the dog. Or maybe not so new, my dad bought him a few weeks after we found out about the cancer. I figure even Freud and Jung would agree on that one. Anyway, Ashi - a Shiba dog about six months old, is turning out to be a very sweet person, one of my cats has taken a special fancy to him, and tries to meow and communicate with him every time he comes over. And of course the kids love playing and cuddling with him. 

Jonathan making tacos

Jonathan was of course keen on helping out with dinner, making the ever so popular and historically correct Shabbat dish of Tacos. Please observe the heavy satire here, but I don't really know how to make a lot of Israeli dishes, apart from hummus and falafel, and by having tacos, at least we know the kids will eat without complaining. 

basil leaves

There really is no better food than that which has been prepared by someone else! I love how when you cook yourself, you're always using the same herbs and spices, preparing the same dish in the same way. Then when someone else makes you food, they do it differently, and you get all inspired as to how you could change things up.

jacob, jonathan and Ilir in the sofa after dinner

Then of course came the obligatory food coma - collapsing in the sofas and putting on a movie to make the kids sit still for a minute or two...

rear view mirror

And all of a sudden it was way past the kids bedtime, the evening over, and we headed back home again. 

cemetary by Karolinska Sjukhuset

On our way home we drove by the cemetery, which was enough to set me off, and with tears rolling down my cheeks and thoughts of death pounding in my head, I tucked the kids up in bed, sat down in the sofa with a glass of wine, thinking to numb the feeling of doom and gloom that clouded the end of the night with some mindless facebooking. Only to see the first post in my feed, announcing the death of one of the women in my breast cancer group. Tearing up all over again. 


When I say that death has joined our lives this year past, I mean that quite literally. 

Dark and delicious

by Hilla Duka - View comments


As I'm no longer doing chemo the doctors have put me on a whole new set of drugs, all of which have some funny side effects. An implant I get once every three months puts me in menopause (something all my guy friends cringe at when I talk about - I never realised menopause was such a taboo!) which means night sweats and mood swings that would put any teenager to shame.

Another drug, one that's meant to help strengthen my bones, I have to take in the morning on an empty stomach. Not a big problem - except that means no coffee when I wake up. Thirty excruciating minutes of waiting until I can finally have my morning fix. And I can honestly say that no drink has ever tasted better than the cup of dark, delicious instant I make the minute the timer rings and then gulf down in about three seconds. So delicious...

We're all imortal (in our own eyes)

by Hilla Duka - View comments


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

by Hilla Duka - View comments


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!