Steffi Berke - I feel alive and I am full of life

Motherhood after a cancer diagnosis

For many couples, holding their own baby in their arms for the first time is the most beautiful moment of their lives. We experienced that joy 14 years ago. And then the cancer arrives. I am 33 years old and my life is perfect. It was perfect. Mastectomy, six rounds of chemo. I take medication to protect my ovaries and have genetic testing done. The first round of chemo starts in October of 2008. I meet a lot of courageous women, who are just like me. Radiotherapy starts in January. My whole world is pain. I get exactly three weeks of recuperation time at a spa clinic to get my life back on track.

But nothing is like it was. Insecurities and fear hold me back. A few months later, the result of the genetic resting is back: I have a mutated BRCA2 gene. They take my remaining breast in 2010. I order new bras in advance, as well as a second prosthesis and join a fashion show where all the models are cancer survivors. It is held at my local health care store. These women are amazing. And the lingerie is gorgeous. I suddenly feel feminine and sexy again. I am a young woman with beautiful boobs that I put in a drawer at night.

It feels amazing to feel alive again. 2011 sees me at another ANITA fashion show. This time as a model. My heart is filled with happiness and purpose. Having the eyes of so many women like me on me feels good. I feel grateful for each moment. My colleagues don't have an easy job with me. I talk too much. The cancer had silenced me, but now I talk, so that I know I am alive.

 

2014 - my mother dies. Ovarian cancer. It all rushes back to me and the fear is all-consuming. I am so full of rage and I just can't stop myself. Life is unfair. I knew that what I felt was real. I have done everything I was supposed to do. I am 39 years old and my child is 12. There is no way that I am getting cancer again. I was told that I should have my ovaries removed at some point, but I am a bit scared now that it is becoming a reality.

We wanted another child! I longed for the hormone therapy to be over every single day. Five long years. My friends used that time well. They had their second, third and fourth child. Without cancer. Without fear. Without the feeling of being abandoned by life. I was always just “the sick one”. But my doctor gives me courage. 

Statistically, the risk of the cancer returning after a pregnancy is negligible. Other moms aren't that nice to me: "You want another child? And what if you die?" We all have to die eventually. Nobody know what happens a second from now. How can these women be so judgemental, when they never had to go through what I have had to? 

August 2015. I am pregnant. I am full to the brim with life. It's crazy. On some days it occurs to me that this isn't real an that I am only dreaming. I feel torn. What if I lose the child? Or if the cancer comes back? They will all say "That's your own fault. We knew it couldn't work out…" But who are these "all"? They "all" weren't really there for me when I was ill. And isn't it really totally unimportant what others think?  I got through the first trimester and it is time to let the cat out of the bag.

An evening with friends. How do you get it to fit as loosely as possible? I ask for an alcohol-free beer and suddenly you could have heard a pin drop. "I am pregnant!" Now. I've said it! All the tension is finally gone and we get to celebrate our first evening being "officially pregnant". And she, the pitiable patient is now a mom-to-be. Everything is going great. The last fashion shows are done by mid-December 2015. I am really proud of myself and everyone shares my joy!

I look great and all my fears were unfounded. Everyone was gushing about my bump! But I love my job working with ANITA and I am really sad that it is coming to an end for now. New Year's has come and gone and the pregnancy is getting on just fine.

Lots of people started asking for my due date before New Year's... I must have looked like I was about to pop! The estimated delivery date isn't until April. I think I will explode before then! 

An evening with friends. How do you get it to fit as loosely as possible? I ask for an alcohol-free beer and suddenly you could have heard a pin drop. "I am pregnant!" Now. I've said it! All the tension is finally gone and we get to celebrate our first evening being "officially pregnant". And she, the pitiable patient is now a mom-to-be. Everything is going great. The last fashion shows are done by mid-December 2015. I am really proud of myself and everyone shares my joy! I look great and all my fears were unfounded. Everyone was gushing about my bump! But I love my job working with ANITA and I am really sad that it is coming to an end for now. New Year's has come and gone and the pregnancy is getting on just fine. Lots of people started asking for my due date before New Year's... I must have looked like I was about to pop! The estimated delivery date isn't until April. I think I will explode before then! 

March arrives and I have finally found a midwife! It was the 56th I have phoned since February – midwives are super popular! She actually asks me if I am going to be breastfeeding?! "Oh, sorry... I totally forgot...!" No big deal. Could happen to anyone that they forget I have no breasts. On second thought: that's actually quite nice to be able to forget about that. I forget about it too!

Only four weeks left till the due date. Help! My heart stops for a second - and then it keeps going like nothing happened. I can't go back now. I am ready for my baby! Everything is prepared. Today is the due date. Nothing happens! Not even the slightest twinge! Absolutely nothing! The baby isn't planning on coming out of there on its own. It's off to the hospital for a first check-up. They give me another three days, but it seems baby wants to stay exactly where it is! That's one thing I hadn't planned for! Finally the contractions start. We are going to be parents very shortly now and it's no use to panic. We are ringing the bell at the maternity ward. All I want is to hold my baby…

The birth is considered "unusual". My original plan was: Have the baby, have a shower and go home! My child had other plans: Head back instead of tucked in - and getting stuck! A natural birth becomes virtually impossible. We try all kinds of birthing positions to get the baby's head in the right position for four hours, but it is hopeless. The decision is made: it will be a C-section. That wasn't planned, but by now I thought it was the best idea of the day!

It is the 17th of April 2016 , 6:33 am - and I finally hold Elena Catarina in my arms! She is happy and relaxed, as if nothing at all had happened! 

 

Read our blog if you want to hear more about Steffi Berkes and this very emotional time of her life.