Two days ago, I left the rehab in the Swiss mountains where I enjoyed the fresh air of the Alps and some sunny days. Yesterday, my doctor told me that I have cancer. Jackpot! So now I sit here at the table with a huge soaring cut in my belly from the surgery and some diffuse thoughts in my head. But let’s go back to when this all started.
Six months ago, I suddenly felt an unbearable pain in my stomach. I had just come back to my flat in Barcelona from a lovely visit to Switzerland. It was February, and at this time of the year, we Swiss do what we consider appropriate for the season: eat a lot of cheese. Hot cheese. Also known as fondue. So we ate a lot and drank enough. ‘Of course I feel pain in my stomach,’ I thought. ‘After five years of living in Barcelona, my body is not used to the traditional Swiss cuisine anymore.’ But I was wrong. The pain became worse and worse, and so I decided to go to the hospital. This was a good decision because the blood values confirmed that I had pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas. I had to stay in the hospital for one week and after that, I was not allowed to eat any fats for two months. During this time, I had to travel to South Korea for work, which was a bit of a challenge, as you can imagine. I asked the receptionist at the hotel lobby to write me a little note in Korean stating that I am not allowed to eat any fats, nuts, eggs, salmon, or fatty fish. Every time we ordered food, I showed my little note to the waiter. The normal reaction was an overly surprised face with high-rising eyebrows accompanied by a long silent scream. Then the waiter usually said something in Korean which I did not understand and brought me a bowl of white rice with some cold spicy vegetables. As you can imagine, my experience with the Korean cuisine is not very representative. But I managed to keep my strict diet, and after two months, I lost not only my appetite but also some kilos.
In April, I experienced my first disappointment: on the control scans the ‘inflammation’ had not disappeared! It was the first time that a man in a white coat confronted me with the possibility that I might have a tumor. I was thirty-two years old, had just finished my PhD, and a few month before, I had I met the woman of my dreams. I was ready to start my professional career and plan my life with my beloved. A cancer tumor was the last thing I was thinking of. But cancer is not something you can plan, it’s more like a car accident: it hits you when you least expect it. Boom! Or as Forrest Gump would put it: ‘Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.’
After more tests and analyses, my doctor recommended that I undergo surgery. Unfortunately, the pancreas is not easy to access, which means they have to make a long cut in the belly, open it and move all the organs to the side before they can start working. I was lucky that my tumor was at the tail of the pancreas and not at the head. But still, this surgery is a big deal and it takes many hours. I made an appointment.
A few weeks later, I woke up in the hospital in Zürich surrounded by my beloved family wearing green hospital coats. While I still had to figure out where I was and what had happened, they were giving me pressed smiles. All those tubes and wires connected to my body must have been a disturbing picture for them. The surgery went very well, and after one week in the hospital and two weeks in rehabilitation in the Swiss mountains, I felt good and ready to start my new life without the tumour.
This was the moment of my second disappointment. The results of the histology confirmed that I had a very dangerous cancer. Boom! While the first time a doctor told me that I could have a tumour was a blow, this was a frontal crash! Listening to the doctor’s explanation I was unable to recognize any emotional reactions inside of me. It seemed that he was talking about a horrible topic that was not connected at all to my life. When I left the hospital I was quite confused. In my head there was a soup of words floating around. I still did not realize what had happen. The first tear fell down my cheek when I was sitting on the bus to the airport to pick up Mara who had flown in from Barcelona for the occasion. I felt crushed and my body was so heavy that the seat soaked me up like a sponge. I called my father and told him what had happened and asked him to inform my mum and my brother. I had no energy to explain the story twice. Then I took the train to the airport. The moment I saw Mara coming out in the arrival hall, I knew that I can do it. I knew that I will fight and not let go.
This is my challenge.