- Freyja Hanstein met her husband, Lars, in 2011 during a trip through Asia.
- He was diagnosed with abdominal synovial sarcoma when he was in London to visit her.
- Lars died in 2014 when they were both 27, and soon after was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
This narrated essay is based on a conversation with Freyja Hanstein, the app’s founder healthy world. It has been edited for length and clarity.
My fairy tale romance began with a series of random encounters around Bali, Indonesia with a man who later became my husband. But it ended far too soon after his cancer diagnosis, followed by my own health battle.
After graduating in Marine Biology, I went to work near Sydney, where I learned the local way of life of being proactive and aware of my physical health.
On the way back to England, I passed through Indonesia. That’s when I met Lars on a random little island in the middle of 2011. After his visit to China, we parted ways from afar, and a month later he arrived in London. From there, we found ourselves in and around the city. It was then that he was diagnosed for the second time with abdominal synovial sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that occurs near the joints.
Since we were both scientists, we did our research and had the best attitude towards his disease. Being half-Australian and half-German, Lars had a strategy: do some research, meet the doctors, make sure he had everything checked off, then shut himself down. He cared about his physical health and happiness and watched his diet. It brought disproportionate changes to his lifestyle and health.
He died 3 years after we first met
After he oscillated between Germany for treatment and London to see me, we decided to move to Cornwall and get married on the beach. Lars just wanted to go surfing or walking when he had the energy, we got a puppy too.
After only three years together, my husband passed away in November 2014. We were both only 27 years old. As if coping with grief wasn’t hard enough, I started noticing strange symptoms while driving and surfing. Those weird little headaches — like what happens when you don’t eat enough — became more frequent and lasted a bit longer, followed by random heavy fatigue. It was like waking up from a dream and having it in your head, so a strange song went beyond all the surroundings of normality. As I understood that I had just lost someone, I wanted to see if something was wrong with me.
I visited doctors 10 times with my little pips before I was fully diagnosed with a brain tumor a year after my wedding. Brain MRI showed that a significant area of my brain in the temporal lobe – about 2 by 3 inches – was impinged and exhibited cell death. I was set up to have an operation.
I had surgery to remove my tumor
My brother is a neuroscientist, and through his and my father’s academic connections, I met a wonderful neurosurgeon who was open and honest. The National Health Service has proposed removing only about 50% of the area. After a long discussion and a private connection, I said no, we will take the whole tumor. I was up for it, and in early 2016 I pushed through it as hard as I could, knowing Lars had my back on the other side.
For a few days after the surgery, I felt difficult mental effects. While I could formulate appropriate thoughts, I could not express them; I just answered September all the questions. I didn’t even understand why. I couldn’t figure out what my body was telling me, whether I was tired, hungry, needed to go to the bathroom, or just wanted some fresh air.
Later I had radiation and then chemotherapy, which made me feel like I was doing something positive for what my body and my life needed.
I could lean on many amazing friends, despite having a slightly different personality since I couldn’t speak properly. I relearned to process and eject what was in my head, while memorizing what I was processing. It took me about three years to get to this level. I found it much easier to talk to toddlers – rather than my friends who were their parents – because it was just black and white.
I felt like a teenager taken care of by my parents. I couldn’t do any of the adult stuff like driving or drinking.
My life has changed a lot since I was diagnosed with cancer. I’m in a completely different world now. I live in another house, I don’t do the same job, I am with another man and I have two dogs.
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