I am Caro. Some friends call me “Lionsita”. Probably because my lion’s mane goes so well with my star sign. I rise above myself in stressful situations and show strength, but in “normal life” I am more relaxed, like a lion.
I had a very wise grandmother who loved to pass on her wisdom in the form of sayings. Her “No matter what happens to you – you just have to know how to help yourself” became a guideline for me and is still my favourite saying of hers.
I have a lot. A great husband, three wonderful sons, an amazing mother, a big family, great friends and I have metastatic breast cancer.
Why I am telling you all this is because in crisis situations it often takes a push from outside to get back on track inside.
It is my good fortune to have a well-functioning social environment.
Everyone who I have informed about my illness has taken on a role. They have organised themselves, covered the most diverse areas and helped me to cope with the new situation.
After being supported so well myself and building up an extensive knowledge and network, I know how important it is to have access to all this from the first moment after a cancer diagnosis.
With our BE accepted project, we make that available to you.
We show you the possibilites.
You choose what suits you.
And so that you know who I am, I will tell you more about me and also about the time after my cancer diagnosis.
I like to laugh, love to live, am curious and hungry for knowledge. I love to travel and to be on the move, but I also enjoy peace and quiet. The origin of this lies in my childhood. I grew up on a mountain in Styria, surrounded by forest, nature and my parents’ hotel. Both peace and hustle and bustle were available to me, depending on what I felt like.
I like to look at things from different perspectives. My motto is “all or nothing”, I don’t do things halfway. As the title reveals, I also have a soft spot for wisdom in the form of sayings. “Parah parah” is a proverb from Israel and literally means “one cow at a time”.
Especially when you are confronted with the unexpected, it is important to focus on one step at a time. It helps me to break down a big problem into many small parts and then face them one at a time. With this piece by piece approach, you take away some of the size of the challenge. This is also how I approach my illness. I set a priority which I completely focus on and then I move on and set the next priority. Focusing on one issue has also made it easier for me to come to terms with my illness psychologically. I allowed myself to think about all the obstacles only when, for the time being, I was out of the woods.
At 27 I got the diagnosis brain tumour – and then two different ones. these two tumours were not classified as malignant, the operations and what followed were anything but a Sunday afternoon walk in the park.
My life suddenly had changed completely.
I was not in the slightest prepared for this.
I recovered step by step and the period that followed was indescribable.
It was beautiful!
Through this experience I learned a lot and gained inner strength. I was able to concentrate exclusively on the essential. I had returned to my true self, I was myself and I was in the present.
Absolute clarity was the prevailing feeling, a deep understanding of what life is all about, what really matters to me.
Everything came easily to me, I was equally successful in all areas of my life. There were many bright days and I had the feeling that I had grasped the essence of my life. Nothing could upset me, nothing could stop me from being completely myself.
As it turned out later, that was not quite true. After about 4 years, I found it increasingly difficult to remain in this state. Everyday life, stress and unessential things had caught up with me again.
Little by little, I left that ease, I left myself. I stopped doing one of the most important things of all – relying on my intuition. Instead, I functioned.
My husband and I were busy building our lives, working on our careers, dealing with everyday life, taking care of our three children. We were tired, stressed and exhausted. In addition, there was a challenge in the extended family that burdened us over a long period of time and exposed us to above-average stress.
I am sure you all know the feeling of being overwhelmed. I was no longer in control of my everyday life. Once I caught myself “in the act”: I had prepared myself a yoghurt with fruit and a tea in the morning. At five o’clock in the afternoon I found both, untouched, standing in the kitchen. I had neither eaten nor drunk all day. It was completely absurd, as I didn’t understand anything about interval fasting at that time, to forget about myself like that. I no longer took time for myself. To be honest, at that time I even actively wished for an exit, a break from my life. I just wanted to take a breath.
During the third pregnancy, I was already tormented by severe back pain which did not stop after I had given birth. With the third child, the back pains were considered normal. Even after asking several times, the cause was blamed on the weight of the baby and the “mother’s ligaments”, then after the birth on the constant heavy lifting with three children.
As we are every year we were on holiday at a lake. As we all know, the let-down effect kicks in as soon as the stress subsides . It was just before my 39th birthday, a beautiful day, perfect weather. Like every day, we went water skiing, one of my passions, but on this day I fell and could hardly climb back onto the boat.
All I remember is excruciating pain and
the many rescue workers in my bedroom.
At the jetty, I had trouble getting up from the deckchair. After having received an infusion in the colour of a strawberry daiquiri, I was back in top form. Three days later I flew alone with my children for a week to Miami, where I had lived in my twenties, then to Nicaragua for three more weeks. I wanted to make the most of my “last summer” when I wasn’t working, together with my three boys, and we did! Our time together was perfect. Almost! My husband was not there because he had to work. And then there were those back pains that were there no matter how hard I tried to get rid of them.
It was indeed our last, absolutely carefree time. The term “last summer” was soon to take on a completely different meaning for me. I often asked myself whether I had a premonition and therefore didn’t listen to my body earlier, or was it because I didn’t want to miss our trip under any circumstances? Did I really think it was just back pain? Or was it because you always assume that it only affects “the others” and you yourself are spared? Did I think that I had already put my personal part of the “misfortune of a lifetime” behind me?
As we all know, you can’t change what has happened. Apart from making yourself promise never to let it happen again, there is little point in giving it much thought. You can use your energy better, especially in the case of cancer.
Back home, after the trip, the pain became unbearable until I finally made an appointment at the hospital through a doctor friend, Dr Matthias Brenner. But it didn’t come to that. On the morning of our eighth wedding anniversary, the darned seventh year was over, there was a loud crack. The sound came from my spine. I had just nursed my baby for the last time. All I remember is excruciating pain and all the paramedics in my bedroom. The emergency doctor had his hands full getting me out of bed. The pain could not be contained, no matter what medication I was given.
What kept me afloat was the eye contact with my nine-month-old son who was sitting in his red cot watching everything. He was very calm and didn’t take his eyes off me for a second and I didn’t take my eyes off him. It was an unreal situation, as if I was both the observer and the protagonist.
At the hospital, various examinations were then on the agenda. Dr Brenner pulled out all the stops.
I assumed that I had broken my vertebra, bad enough.
The biopsy of the lumbar vertebra revealed it to be what the doctors called a “malignant and particularly aggressive” tumour.
I had to go for a CT scan to see where it came from.
“What? What do you mean, where did he come from?” Panic spread through me.
It, the cancer, had already spread thoroughly. Starting from the breast, via the bones and lymph to the liver. To top it off, the breast biopsy revealed that I had two different types of cancer, it had already mutated.
I couldn’t believe it: Wasn’t it said that if you breastfeed, you don’t get breast cancer? Why does my breast want to kill me now? They were always something particularly uncomplicated, I liked them. It symbolised my femininity, I only associated it with beauty. How can that be?
There I was, in a hospital where they knew a lot about orthopaedics but didn’t have much experience with cancer. I was told that I probably wouldn’t live to see Christmas. It was October.
My only thoughts were: “We’ll see about that!” and that I was thinking “what now?”. I had no intention whatsoever of taking on the role of victim.
A priest and a psychologist came to me. I asked them both to leave. They did not miss the opportunity to tell me again that I had something “very bad” and asked if I realised it. I assured them that I would not jump out of the window, especially as this was not physically possible, and that I understood exactly what was going on. I asked them again to leave because I had to make a phone call now and actually had no more time to lose.
I immediately called our friend Prof. Dr. Michael Fuchsjäger, a leading radiologist for breast cancer in Austria. He was great, took me by the hand, caught me in my first shock and prepared me for the next steps.
I suddenly felt I could take action, had an option and knew I was in the best hands. He reassured me and sent me to his colleague Dr Georg Pfarl, the radiologist who performed the biopsy. When he finished and told me the stage of my cancer, he gave me a key phrase that was most important to me: “What you are facing will be a rollercoaster ride. Focus only on the end of the ride! Make sure you get off safely!”
That’s exactly what I’ve been doing ever since.
The first oncologist I met immediately after the biopsy was technically very competent and quite sympathetic, but I was in a state of shock, it was impossible for him to get through to me. However, I felt that he and I were not a long-term match. If I had to enter into a long-lasting relationship with an oncologist, at least the chemistry between us should be right.
So Prof. Dr. Fuchsjäger referred me to a very experienced oncologist who knows a lot about communication, Prof. Dr. Rupert Bartsch. He said the following to me: “There is good news. Three percent of the patients who have the same clinical picture can be completely cured. With the others, we are able to achieve chronification for ten, fifteen years. A lot happens in breast cancer research in such a long period of time.”
I told him, 3 %, that suits me, I’m in.
That moment, almost five years ago, was my big turning point. There was suddenly hope, there was an option for me. Much more, if plan A didn’t work, I was given the option to survive as long as possible, to fall into that group that can be cured because they will find something.
My outlook thus changed from “I probably won’t live to see Christmas” to actual possibilities. My diagnosis hadn’t changed, but my perspective had. My oncologist could just as easily have said that 97% have no chance of long-term survival. I suppose I would have tried anyway, but the motivation behind it would have been completely different.
I made a conscious decision at that moment. I am making the most of the time I have. I will live as long as possible and as well as possible. I decided to do everything for it. I promised myself that I would make the difficult road ahead of me as pleasant and good as possible.
Today I can show you how it works.
The difference it makes is enormous.
I told my oncologist that there was only one option for me, and that was to get off the rollercoaster safely. So I wrung a promise out of him to consider me in studies and promised him in return to do everything I could to keep myself physically and mentally fit, with the aim of being able to receive as many conventional medical therapies as possible. He agreed and took over the leadership of my medical team. Our journey together, as a team, began.
I will tell you what happened to me on the BE accepted webpage.
What is needed at the beginning of a cancer diagnosis is something that helps to get a clearer picture. Sound, filtered and summarised information that gives you a head start, and an overview quickly. A road sign so that you can make the decision that is needed. From then on you constantly will need to be reminded to keep going, because the most important thing is to support you in being stronger than your destiny.
BE accepted provides you with all this, combined with my own experience.
There are many experts who have enormous expertise in their respective fields. However, the big picture and ideas always come from sharing and combining knowledge. This also goes for living with cancer.
I was looking for a way to make this knowledge and its practical application accessible to all patients, cost-effectively and flexibly. With Be accepted I can do that!
However, first you have to do something yourself: Accept the situation, accept the challenge. Give yourself the OK to heal.
You have to take responsibility for yourself, your life and your health.
By the way, the word challenge is translated in Chinese with 2 characters:
dangerous and possibility
BE accepted clearly focuses on the possibilities.
We cannot influence what happens to us, but we can decide how we react to it.