At the age of 22, I’ve heard the 4 most destroying words in my life, You have chronic myeloid leukemia. I didn’t know what it was, what I could expect, but nevertheless, my world fell apart! A few months earlier, I became sixth at the European Indoor Championships at the 1500m (Athletics) in Paris and ran a Belgian Record at the same distance. I was ready to move further and was really training hard for the Olympic Games in London 1 year later (2012). One day after my diagnosis, the newspaper screamed the words: 1 Year until LONDON. And I was crying like hell.
Symptoms before diagnosis
The diagnosis came as a shock. I was tired indeed, but I was training 12 times a week and was also studying to become master in physiotherapy. Anyone would be tired then. But the weeks and months went by, and I felt that my training went well, but not like before. I had a lot of headache and inflammations of the throat. I was very good in ignoring those signals. In my eyes, it weren’t signals at all!
But 1 week before my diagnosis, I had the European Championships for the Under 23 age- group. 2 years earlier I became 4th and now, I was a lot stronger, faster and better. So I really went for a better place. But that didn’t happen at all! I was 9th with a very strange and bad feeling during the race. My sports doctor checked my blood again, because they expected a low level of iron. But they saw that my withe blood cells were again increased. That was also the case during the previous months, but we always had an explanation. Training, tired, maybe a little infection,… But now, the amount was too much, to be ‘nothing’. So he decided to go to the department of hematology at the University Hospital in Leuven (Belgium). ” Just to be sure” and with the faith that afterwards, the focus could be renewed on “training and performing at the highest level possible.”
I soothed everyone, even myself. “You can’t train like that, you can’t do those things, when something bad is going on! So everything will be okay.” But it wasn’t. At all.
I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was some kind of sick joke. I thought the hospital was wrong, that the test-results were false positive. After the shock, no, during the shock, my thoughts went to my running, what about my running? Running was the biggest part of my life. While my mother asked how the life expectation and life quality was. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief by hearing her ‘stupid’ questions. But the doctor shook me back to the reality by saying that these were very good questions.
The answer we would here a lot, until I couldn’t hear it anymore, was: If you react well on the medications and the side effects are okay, your life expectancy and quality of life will be okay. Even your sport at highest level can be a possibility. That would turn out to be even more removed from the truth than saying that elephants are green and the sky is pink, but at that moment, it was like the only branch of wood in the whole ocean. It was either believing in it, or sinking. And so I believed in it with all I had!
Treatment & my life today
At this point, we are more almost 4 years further and a lot has happened in-between. I haven’t reached complete molecular remission (yet) and I’m busy with a third type of medication. The side effects are really disturbing my life and although I’m trying as hard as I can to keep reaching my dreams and goals, the treatment makes it very hard. If I would believe in the word, which I don’t, I would even say, some became impossible.
Every check-up in Leuven, doctors are looking at my cancer, while I’m looking more and more for solutions, feeling better again. Another amount of medication, or again another sort, or whatever else that has the possibility to improve how I feel. I need the hope that this won’t be ‘forever’, that my life won’t always revolve around doctors, medication, side effects, tiredness, headaches, and a big lack of energy! I’m too young to sit in a chair, ‘happy to be alive’ but no much more than that. I get older people, who are saying that. I really do. But I’m not old. I am at the age were I should by at my strongest, where I should do all those crazy things, or just knowing that I could do them, if I would want it. Not waking up and deleting 9 out of the 10 ‘normal’ things I wanted to do today but can’t do because of how I feel.
Don’t get me wrong; I have a lot to be thankful for. But when I get the opportunity to live, when cancer gets to a chronic stage or chronic disease, I really want to live, not only survive. And because I believe there is a solution for everything, I will keep looking for it until I have found it. I keep believing in a world without cancer!
Lots of love!