Has cancer affected your capability to follow your dreams?
How do we accept the things that have been taken away from us – and welcome the new that have been giving us?
In this article teenage cancer survivor, author, blogger and speaker Mette de Fine Licht shares her experience about making the most out of life despite cancer. About broken dreams. And about making some new dreams.
Mette de Fine Licht was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma by the age of 16. Today, she is cancer free, married to her prince and the mother of two boys. She has written 10 books including ‘Willpower Girl – A Teenager’s Trek Through Cancer. You can follow her on Instagram as @will_power_girl and Twitter @Mette_Licht. Also, check out her blog.
I clearly remember the first time I read a book. Not a children’s book but a real novel. You know? My reading experience happened during what I call LBC or Life Before Cancer. I was 12 years old and it was a magical experience. The pages turned themselves. Before I knew it, I had read the whole book and the rest in its series.
The author was a retired journalist, a correspondent in Spain and Russia for many years. Now, he lived to create crime stories about international politics. I wanted to become him.
I started writing stories. Long stories. Fiction. Crime. Mysteries. And I discovered that there were three things that could make me forget about everything: Doing sports. Reading. And writing.
By the age of 14 my plan was clear: I would go to high school and then university. I would study journalism. And after years of being a journalist, I would start writing novels. Just like my author idol.
But then everything changed.
It was summer. I was 15. When I wasn’t reading or writing, I was riding horses and jogging with friends. One day, my leg started to hurt. No doctor could find out why. They said that maybe it was from doing too much sports. Maybe it was growing pains. Maybe it was water in the knee.
One long year later I got the diagnosis: Ewing’s Sarcoma. And all of my dreams collapsed.
I stopped jogging and riding horses, but still tried to write. I brought a journal with me to the hospital. Often, I was too tired, too gray, too bald, too nauseous to write more than just a few sentences. Reading was also a no-go. I felt like I had experienced a fiasco! The two things that used to give me pleasure, were now nothing but a foggy dream in my memory. And this was a critical time where I needed to forget about the world of beeping hospital alarms, chemo codes and worried looks on the faces around me.
Instead, I experienced nausea, unopened books and thoughts like: ‘Will I survive?’
One day, the door to my hospital room opened. Next to the nurse, a blond woman in her early twenties stood at the door. Her hair was beautiful and her eyelashes long and intense. Her appearance was everything I wasn’t. And everything I dreamed of becoming.
The nurse said to me:
“Mette, this is Susanne. A few years ago, Susanne lay in the very same bed, you are in now.”
I looked at Susanne. Cancer free. Beautiful. Healthy. Happy.
I only met with Susanne once. But, she was in my thoughts almost every day. When I felt alone or hopeless I thought of her. I kept thinking that if her hair could grow out again, mine could do the same.
And it did.
I was lucky. I was out of the hospital. The cancer was gone. Unfortunately, I now had a metal prosthesis in the right leg and a lot of new rules: No running! No jumping! No horseback riding! Step by step I tried to move forward in the battlefield of broken dreams. It took me two years to learn how to walk again. As I looked around I saw that the life I used to know lay like fallen soldiers on the ground. Nothing would ever be the same. Never again would I be able to do sports. My running shoes had retired even though I was still a teenager. My beloved horse was now someone else’s love.
Suddenly, it became clear to me: I would never get my old life back.
Instead, I got a new life!
This new life was my “Life After Cancer”. It was not at all what I had imagined. But it was real. And right there and then I decided to get the most out of it.
I noticed my journals and unread books. It was like seeing an old BF. But, we resumed our relationship of journalism and reading. And to my relief the reading and writing gave me the same euphoric feeling despite having experienced cancer and chemo and the broken sports dreams.
In fact, I felt even better than before cancer.
I went to high school and then to university and studied journalism, just like I had dreamed about before cancer. I started my career in a book agency. I wrote a book. I wrote one more. Sure, I missed my physical freedom, but I loved the life of self-expression through the keyboard or pen and paper.
“Why don’t you write your own story?” people asked.
They were right. Why didn’t I? During my treatment I would have benefited from reading books about being a teenager with cancer. I thought, maybe I should write that book?
And so, I did.
Today, my biggest wish is that ‘Willpower Girl – A Teenager’s Trek Through Cancer will be someone else’s Susanne and give the same hope to others that she gave me.
No doubt, writing has helped me carry on in my life.