FROM CANCER TO COACHING
THE STORY OF CLAAS
Cancer is not the end - sometimes it is a new beginning
This story starts with a career girl in her 30s who worked in the heart of the corporate business hub of Europe. In a world where what one wore and drove made the difference and working 80 hours a week was the norm, feeling tired did not seem strange. However one weekend she found herself having to stay in her bed for 48 hours straight . Valiantly she carried on for months afterwards managing to function normally until one day a meeting changed her life forever…
On a trade mission in a far away country,she met a business owner with whom she instantly clicked. The lady told her the story of her husband who had recently passed away after cancer had crept upon him quickly and harshly. The story was told in a straightforward, factual way but nonetheless brought Claas to tears as for the first time she said out loud “I think I have cancer too”.
This led to a harsh reply by the business owner; “Tell me the facts now!” But there were none, other than some lumps and suspicions. The business owner did not hold back: she looked Claas in the eye and said: “Face it girl, you have cancer”.
Thirty minutes later Claas rang her GP and booked an immediate flight back home. Upon arrival at the airport she continued her journey straight to the clinic where she arrived long after hours. Since the two of them had known each other for many years her GP agreed to see her but his face was set in a grim expression as he started the examination. It looked bad, very bad and Claas couldn’t help but wonder if it was a coincidence that the date was Friday the 13th ….!
“I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. My lifestyle was busy but I was exercising, eating healthily, never smoked and no one in my family had ever had cancer. What was happening to me? I was in utter shock and disbelief.”
Shortly after discovering that her cancer was of an aggressive and only recently discovered kind, Claas received treatment in the Netherlands. Unfortunately not all the treatment available was covered by her insurance so all her savings and earnings went toward this. It made a difficult situation even harder. Surgeries, chemos, radiations, medication and many doctor appointments followed. At times sheer desperation hit but she continued to exercise and eat well and actively engaged in the decision making and planning of her treatment. She switched from the original, standard chemo to a new approach, a move that ultimately would save her life.
Convinced that the disease wouldn’t get her and determined to at least do something positive about it, she said “yes” to every study or research request her doctors had. Obviously, continuing to work as normal was impossible but when she told her employer she was seriously ill, she was fired on the spot. Now out of work she no longer had any prospects of a normal future.
“When the ‘verdict’ of cancer comes along, one loses more than perspective and hair. It is scary how quickly friendships are lost and commitments broken. People say the strangest things like; ‘you must have the easy cancer’ or ‘it’s okay for you to have it, you’re so strong, no problem!’ Well let me assure you, there is no such thing as an easy cancer. Also I had been diagnosed with a very aggressive (metastased) stage 3b cancer. What’s easy about that?"
Soon after the chemos, being bald and upset, she started working for the biggest competitor of her previous employer. The mission was to rebuild a normal life as soon as possible. Unfortunately, when after 2 years the follow up medication stopped, the cancer came back….More surgery, chemos and radiations followed as well as blood plate replacement therapy. Again she had to give up work and by this time only a handful of friends persevered with her. The whole process of treatment and recovery took another 2 years. Although Claas maintained a healthy lifestyle, doctors could not give her a very promising outlook. To them it was clear she would never have children, nor would she be likely to get much older than 40.
“Naturally I was devastated. Yet I took it day by day, tried to get over the smaller hurdles rather than look at it as one giant mountain. I couldn’t face that mountain. It was just too big. At times it felt as if my future was taken from me and I had nothing left to look forward to. But the days passed and turned into weeks and the weeks into months and then years… Somehow I managed to get through it.”
Then one day, coming back from her radiation therapy, she pulled into a gas station and a friendly gentleman, with a breath-taking smile, approached her for a chat. One thing lead to another and before long they were on a date. To Claas it was clear; this was it! Mr. Right had come along. However, his biggest wish in life was to have a family and she was left with the difficult but right decision to tell him she could not have children. Mr. Right took the news very well and although sad, he was sure they would find other ways of having a fulfilling life together. Shortly after, the pair moved in together and as the days passed happily, Claas’s hair grew back and her energy levels increased every day.
Unfortunately one day she noticed it was much harder to climb the stairs and fear crept upon her. She could think of only one thing: her type of cancer had a tendency to spread to lungs and liver. She managed to keep those thoughts to herself, until a friend who joined her for some exercise jokingly said “what’s wrong with you, you’re so slow, you’re not pregnant are you?”. That was an option that had not occurred to Claas! Hope rose as well as a deep fear. Her last treatment had only been a few weeks ago….There was only one way to find out. Claas rushed off to the drugstore and found several pregnancy tests. They all said the same thing: “pregnant”. Could it be true?
The next day an appointment at the Cancer Hospital followed and after the regular check the doctor asked ‘anything else?’ "Well yes, I’m pregnant” Claas replied. The doctor stared at her, in utter disbelief.Against their advice she decided to keep the baby and soon after he was born she fell pregnant again. Today both children are well and healthy.
“During the second pregnancy the opportunity to move to Thailand occurred. What better way to start over and leave many bad memories behind? On top of that, it was a nice career move for my husband. We instantly loved Thailand and lived happily for a few years.The great thing was, nobody knew about my medical history and I could almost live normally, just like anyone else.”
Which she did. She worked, was an active parent and had a whole new social life. It was during one social event that she mentioned she wasn’t feeling so well. A friend prompted “Shouldn’t you be talking to a doctor right now?” and it hit home like a meteorite.
“It’s like this feeling when you know you’re pregnant, or something is up. Your instincts are usually right. A doctor’s visit the next day confirmed the bad news: cancer. Again.”
Within 48 hours of tests the cancer was confirmed its status given and what the treatment would be explained. How different this was from the experiences back home! Although devastated by the news, Claas felt blessed to have access to advanced medicine and help from medical professionals. The treatment started immediately and was successful.
"Had I not been in Thailand, I might not be around anymore. The care I received here was excellent. I was a person and the quality of my day-to-day life was as much on the agenda as the fighting of the cancer. I was warned that the side effects of the new drugs I was prescribed, might lead me to gain 20 to 30 kilos. Being already big (never lost that baby weight) something in my mind said: NO!
I decided to get help from personal trainers but they were either not interested, not certified or not willing to work with a patient like me. So I decided to become a coach myself. Imagine that, both my lungs damaged by radiation, my organs heavily affected by series of chemos and radiation. What was I thinking? I kept exercising and eating well. And for my birthday my husband bought me a treadmill. Soon dumbbells followed and my initial walks of 10 minutes turned into an hour of serious compound exercises. I bought more equipment and completed a trainer’s course. I started to go hiking and running and swimming and playing on the trampoline with my kids and eating right and not long after I noticed: not only did I not put on the extra weight I lost 20 kg.”
Claas was fascinated by the fact that she could bring back her energy levels and that she had overcome all the health issues she had before. She also coaches people who are recovering from medical issues or simply want to improve their overall, functional fitness.
“People always find an excuse to not work out, but I can assure you the pain of regret is much worse than getting into an exercise routine, plus it’s not like you have to become an Olympic athlete, just the best version of you!”
Anyone interested in learning more about Claas or requiring a helping hand getting fitter, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org and we shall pass your enquiries on.