It was summer, I was 28 years old and I fell in love. We met at the dancefloor, he was tall, tanned and looked handsome. And he had the moves. We lived in different cities, different countries, but all of a sudden that didn’t matter.
I was immediately struck by Martin’s wisdom. He was connected to life in a way I never experienced before. And on our second date, while picnicking by a gorgeous lake, he cleared his throat and told me he had something important to tell. A year ago he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he had finished his treatment and went away on a sailing trip, hence his gorgeous tan. So behind that vital look, there was a cancer diagnose lurking. It didn’t stop me, it didn’t stop love, and I continued seeing him.
Six month later we moved in together. My new job in the new city where Martin lived went well, and I got a promotion. A year and half into the relationship he asked for my hand, and we were engaged.
But then the cancer came back, once, twice, three times. And just like that life didn’t seem so easy, effortless and full of possibility as before. I was confronted with being in a new country where I didn’t speak the language, where I didn’t have friends or my family, facing this disease that might kill my fiance. Life as I knew it could just be swiped away in a minute. So I looked for comfort at the place I felt needed. At work. I worked like crazy, checking emails while being at the hospital with Martin for check-ups, taking calls in the middle of chemotherapy sessions, and staying late at the office even though I knew that Martin needed me at home. I felt guilty about choosing the “easy” life at work, but the work life was also exhausting me.
Then started those mornings when I just started to cry. There was nothing left but crying to do. Keeping up the brave face at home, keeping up the strong woman face at work, that mask had just become too heavy. After a visit to the doctor, I was put on sick leave, effective immediately. I remember walking out of that office feeling an intense feeling of relief. Like I’d dribbled my way into a corner where I couldn’t come out anymore, and the fact that someone lift me out of that situation felt right.
During the same time, Martin had started sketching on a storytelling project where he wanted to interview people in our age who had gone through cancer. Tell stories of cancer in a compelling and interesting and relatable way, rather than the stigmatized death sentence cancer often is portrayed to be. He called it “My Survival Story”. I was participating in the cause too, since authentic stories of other relatable people had helped me finding strength too, even though I wasn’t the one diagnosed with cancer.
Seven months later, we had both resigned our jobs, rented out our apartment, Martin had finished his last round of chemo and we were on a flight to Rio de Janeiro. While under chemo treatment, Martin had pitched his vision for My Survival Story and received funding through a couple of Swiss media grants. For the next three months we would travel the world and interview cancer survivors. With no previous experience, I interviewed over 30 people from more than 12 countries having survived cancer along with Martin. We made friends all over the world, and we learned that cancer is not something that is finished after the doctor gives you an “all clear”. Facing death and one’s own mortality in that way can be an enormous catalyst for change.
During our travel we met people who fell in love during cancer, who changed their jobs, who fought to stay in their job. People who dared to speak out about things they never know they needed to say. Like the survivor we interviewed in Japan who dared to talk openly about cancer in a society where this is socially not accepted. Or the survivor in Mexico who found insight in listening to silence. There are so many unique and interesting ways of coping with cancer.
And for me, I realized that I love interviewing people and creating story driven, narrative podcasts. And in its own wondrous ways, this cancer diagnose of my now husband Martin became a catalyst for my life too. Today, six years after his diagnose Martin is doing fine.
When the 8 part podcast series from our trip launched last October, it was nominated for the national Swiss Audio Prize. And I know now that podcasts is my new gig. It is my new deal. And I would have never figured that out if it wasn’t for the soul searching of living next to someone with a cancer diagnose… and yes, perhaps a bit of luck.
You can listen to the podcast here.
Katarina Hagstedt is an independent podcast producer based in Zürich, Switzerland. Her podcast “My Survival Story” has been nominated for sonOhr national audio prize and Audible Feast recommended My Survival Story as a Binge-friendly podcast in their selection of “Best Podcasts of November 2018”.