“My Voice” by Annemiekeh Janssens

Annemiekeh Janssens - 'Co-Survivor'

I just got home, celebrating passing the test for my drivers license as my uncle called us to let us know what the doctor’s had to say about the reason that his 14 year old daughter was tired all the time and had been for the last three months. Their GP had thought she had Pfeiffer’s disease but the medication and the rest hadn’t helped a bit. Finally he referred them to the hospital where she was put through every test available. I still remember the look on my dad’s face as he listened and had to sit down as a result of what he heard. He just said “we’re on our way” and hang up. He looked at my mom, me and my youngest brother and told us Judith had been diagnosed with leukemia.

My name is Annemieke Janssens, 48 years old, and I live in Hoogerheide The Netherlands. I am a co-survivor.

As we drove up to meet my uncle and aunt we tried to remember what leukemia would mean: at first my youngest brother didn’t even realize it was cancer.

As I come from a very closed knit family we weren’t the only ones arriving at my uncles house. We all set down and my uncle filled us in on Judith’s conditions as well as he could, trying to deal with all the emotions. The doctor had told them she had the worst age possible to get leukemia: a few years younger or older would have increased her changes immensely. They had started treatment immediately but weren’t sure they had caught it on time. I think all of us realized they probably hadn’t, since she had been feeling ill for a couple of months already.  Judith was the youngest member of our family and it seemed to surreal that she might be the one that would pass away first. We made a schedule so she would never be alone and everybody would take his turn sitting with her. Someone else would be at my uncles house so they would have someone to talk or turn to as well. Judith’s two years older brother just didn’t seem to be able to grasp it. To be quit frankly, neither could I. To me it was impossible that the little blond diva of the family might not survive.

I was one of the first ones to go and sit with Judith and she seemed really pleased to see me. She assured me that he doctor’s would be wrong: she would fight this and get well and than I would teach her to twirl like me so she could become a champion as well. I promised her I would and we even talked music……. When I left the hospital I felt totally different than I did when I woke up that morning. Bad things always seemed to happen to someone else, not to our family. I guess I lost a part of my optimistic view on life that day.

Upon arriving at my uncles house I noticed my aunt, my dad’s youngest sister, had arrived at well.  When I walked in the door the mood seemed to have gotten worse, if at all possible. My dad took me aside and said he had to tell me something else. My Aunt Ad had just gotten back from the hospital where she was diagnosed with breast cancer! It just seemed so unreal: everything was fine that morning and now we had two family members diagnosed with cancer. My aunt would have her surgery in 3 days. The family rallied together again and tasks where reassigned. My dad decided I could skip school the next week so I could drive my mom to one hospital while my dad went to the other. We rented a car and the joy of being allowed to drive a car was replaced by the sense of “good thing I can drive”, no fun at all.

I spend the next three days driving back and forth from one hospital to another, looking in on my aunt and sitting with Judith who got very sick as a result of her treatment. She always had been the prima donna of the family but now none of that was left. On the fourth day of her treatment, the day my aunt got news her lymph nodes were clear, my uncle got the dreaded phone call from the hospital: they had to hurry back if they wanted to be able to say goodbye. My dad decided he would visit his sister first to “celebrate” the “good” outcome with her first and after that come to the hospital where Judith was to be there, just in case….

That mend I had to take my mom to Judith’s hospital and wait for further news there. I have never ever been so afraid and in denial: this wasn’t happening, she was going to be ok!

Time seem to pass slowly and we kept looking at that door.

Just as my dad arrived the door opened and we all realized the unspeakable had happened. At the age of 14 Judith had passed away! Cancer had taken his first victim in our family and it took the youngest of us.

The next week I went back to school and discovered that cancer is a subject people just don’t  want to talk about. Nobody wanted to hear about what happened and how it totally changed me and my outlook on life. The first months after Judith’s death were difficult: as said, we have a very close knit family and we went through the mourning period together. Strange thing was that my aunt was doing as well as she could be after her mastectomy and was recovering, not needing further treatment. So on the one hand we had the joy of having her with us and on the other hand we still mourned the loss of Judith. My aunt had to deal with survivors guilt and we tried to be there for her as well.

This experience changed my outlook on life: I learned cancer is a killer that comes quietly and does its ugly work undetected until it might be too late and that we need to do all we can to prevent this happening to one more person. The battle against cancer got personal and would be ongoing.

Little did I know me and my family I would have to go through that 6 more times, two ongoing as we speak. I wished I could say Judith is the only one we have to mourn but that isn’t true.