O'My Future Is Now - Not Ne Ext Year or the Year after'; Bettina Von Hase Had a Thriving London Social Life and a Successful Business. Then Breast Cancer Struck and Spread. Here She Tells How She Learned to Live with Her Illness - and Why She Is So Determined to Defy the Odds

The Evening Standard (London, England), May 29, 2007 | Go to article overview

O'My Future Is Now - Not Ne Ext Year or the Year after'; Bettina Von Hase Had a Thriving London Social Life and a Successful Business. Then Breast Cancer Struck and Spread. Here She Tells How She Learned to Live with Her Illness - and Why She Is So Determined to Defy the Odds


ONE year has passed since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Some mornings, in the transitional state from sleeping to waking, I still cannot believe it happened to me. Up until then my life had been blessed and stressed.

I had grown up in Britain as my father was the German ambassador in the Seventies.

I loved my English life. London was a very different place to the global boomtown it is today; I was fascinated by its architecture and sheer eccentricity. I read history at Oxford, was a foreign correspondent for Reuters, a television producer for CBS News and then a management consultant working with prominent media and arts clients.

In the late Nineties, I set up my own arts consultancy, Nine AM, and worked all hours of the day and night to make it a success. The art world is international and 24/7 and I found my business and social life merging seamlessly into each other. It was a frenzied time and my life was so full that the lump I felt in my left breast at the tail-end of a summer holiday did not alarm me - I simply didn't stop to think it would be malignant.

Cancer suddenly stopped me in my tracks. My health had always been very good, but now I realise I had neglected it.

I didn't acknowledge that my stress levels were often much too high, and my diet never included the requisite amount of greens and fruit. Neither did I have regular breaks when I truly rested. So it took me two months to make an appointment with my GP, and then another three for the hospital to give me a confirmed date, valuable time which in retrospect I wished had not been wasted.

I remember the diagnosis in March 2006 at St Mary's Paddington like it was yesterday - the shock of it, the arrival of fear as my constant companion.

I moved to the Royal Marsden Hospital, where I had a mastectomy of my left breast last April, followed by five months of chemotherapy, the most corrosive invasion of chemicals to the body. One of the many invidious aspects of cancer is that often the treatment makes one feel ill, not the disease. I was nauseous and my energy was zapped. One month after starting the chemo-cycle, I saw a reflection of myself in a shop window, a hairless creature struggling to take a few steps up to Notting Hill Gate to buy an ice cream to kill the metallic taste in my mouth.

The care I received was good, but the mental and physical challenges are still there for me to deal with. The loss of the two most feminine parts of the female body, hair and breast, is shocking at first.

My waist-length dark hair which had been my trademark look since my teens was chopped off to avoid losing long strands in bulk; when 80 per cent fell out within three days, exactly three weeks after my first chemo, my hairdresser Bryan advised me to shave it off completely, and did it there and then.

I bought a wig, and now my hair has started to grow back into a short crop, not yet quite like Kylie Minogue, but almost. I always had a secret fantasy about really short hair, but never the bottle to cut it. Now I just enjoy it, particularly because short hair demands a whole new look - think Audrey Hepburn. I was helped enormously in all this by my boyfriend, who played a large part in my emotional recovery.

He became my guide through the new landscape. He was excited by my bald head, saying it was "futuristic and beautiful".

He took away the fear of being mutilated or scarred, telling me he'd still adore me with three breasts, or two or none. You have to face the harsh fact that your body is never the same again, whether you have a reconstruction or not. I had a brilliant one, but I miss the symmetry of old. And because of the reconstruction I have a large scar on my back.

'On my bad feel like I'm with a time my body which go off any to lead a normal Cancer gives your life a new definition, whether you like it or not. Priorities are realigned. …

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O'My Future Is Now - Not Ne Ext Year or the Year after'; Bettina Von Hase Had a Thriving London Social Life and a Successful Business. Then Breast Cancer Struck and Spread. Here She Tells How She Learned to Live with Her Illness - and Why She Is So Determined to Defy the Odds
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