June 2014

Diagnosis: cancer

  1. Suzanne Balimann-Oertli has beaten cancer three times. She refused to give up for the sake of her three children.
  2. Initially, Martin Wettstein wanted to keep his cancer diagnosis to himself. Today he is happy he didn't.
  3. Rosmarie Pfau never saw herself as a victim. She learned to overcome her fear and block negative thoughts.
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Suzanne Balimann-Oertli has beaten cancer three times. She refused to give up for the sake of her three children.

Suzanne

How did the diagnosis change your life?

Ever since a tumour was discovered in my breast in adulthood, I have known that life is not all sweetness and light. But the disease has also given me strength, since I have overcome it three times. As a baby I had a retinal tumour, and then later I was diagnosed twice with breast cancer. Some people are unlucky enough to die the first time around.

What was the worst part?

The fatigue and sickness that came with the chemotherapy got me down the most. I wasn't able to give my three children the care they needed. When I received my breast cancer diagnosis, my youngest son was eight months old. This placed an additional strain on me and led to feelings of guilt. Thankfully, though, my mother and my mother-in-law were a tremendous help. I also hated losing my hair. When you're a cancer patient, you already feel bad on the inside; to be marked on the outside as well is tough to deal with.

What helped you come to terms with your illness?

My husband was a rock. He picked up a lot of the slack and was always there when I needed him. I was also buoyed the optimism and good spirits of the nurse who accompanied me throughout my treatments. My children also spurred me to carry on, simply by being there. I would never have given up for their sake.

Did your attitude towards life and death change?

I get less worked up over the little things. If the house is a bit of a mess, I say to myself, so what? I have now accepted death as a part of life.

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Initially, Martin Wettstein wanted to keep his cancer diagnosis to himself. Today he is happy he didn't.

Martin

How did the diagnosis change your life?

I was happy to know what was wrong at last. It took a number of examinations to figure out why I was suffering from such unbearable stomach ache. The diagnosis did not change my life to any significant degree. Just two weeks after the operation I was back at work again. I changed my diet for a while, but I never allowed the illness to take away the pleasure I derived from my food.

What was the worst part?

At the beginning I thought that life would never be the same again, that now I was one of the «sick people». That bothered me. The type of tumour I had can sometimes evolve into other forms of cancer; it was difficult to carry this knowledge around. I was able to overcome these thoughts relatively quickly, however.

What helped you come to terms with your illness?

The moral support I received from my family and friends. My wife proved to be my biggest advocate and before long knew what was going on with my illness even earlier than I did. At the beginning I wanted to keep everything to myself, but when I look back I'm glad I didn't. The people around me treated me normally; they didn't mollycoddle or pity me.

Did your attitude towards life and death change?

I make a conscious effort to enjoy life, and try to live each day to the fullest. I'm now probably more intolerant of people who complain and moan all the time. I've never feared death, neither before nor after my diagnosis. For me, death is something quite normal, like birth, adolescence or growing old. Worrying about it isn't any use, since we can't change it

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Rosmarie Pfau never saw herself as a victim. She learned to overcome her fear and block negative thoughts.

Rosmarie

How did the diagnosis change your life?

A follicular lymphoma was discovered by chance during a routine check-up with my gynaecologist. «Lymph gland cancer, incurable»: I was totally blindsided; I thought to myself, I'm going to die soon. My daughters were 12 and 21. I was a single mother.

What was the worst part?

At the beginning, I was told to wait and see. Excuse me? I have cancer and you're not going to treat me immediately? I couldn't find any information on lymphoma. My younger daughter expressed her fear through aggression, which was extremely trying, even though we always knew she didn't mean anything bad by it.

What helped you come to terms with your illness?

Information helps me get things under control. So I started to take an active role in my illness and founded a patient group. Open and honest communication within my family was also extremely valuable. I never saw myself as a victim; I didn't want to be a whining mother. I learned to break out of the cycle of aggression, to pay attention to my thoughts and words, and to block negative thoughts.

Did your attitude towards life and death change?

The experience with my illness has steered me in a new direction. Having to deal with my illness on a daily basis and stare death in the face – it has changed me, but not for the worse. I sometimes wonder why people get so worked up all the time. I live in the here and now, and I've accepted that this disease is just part of my life. Today I am more courageous and I'm not afraid to try out new things.