The year in review

by Hilla Duka


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. 


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