I had never pictured myself working at a global professional services company like Accenture and working for my own non-profit organization at the same time. Would I even dare to ask if I could work four days per week? No problem, sure I could, as it turned out.
Even though I’m only 31, change has been a recurring theme in my rather tumultuous life.
I grew up in the rural eastern part of the Netherlands, in a small town called Lichtenvoorde. My childhood was fantastic, but I always knew I wanted to leave and live in a big city. When I was 18, I left to study in Groningen. I kissed my mom, dad, and my two sisters goodbye and set off into the great wide world. It was a fantastic adventure and great chance to make new friends, discover myself, and to become an adult. And there was the occasional party here and there, of course.
The day that forever changed my life
Fast forward to October 27, 2008, the day that changed my life forever. I was 24, lived in Amsterdam and had just started my first real job at the marketing and communication department of DFDS Seaways, a ferry operator offering routes from Europe to the UK. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Just 10 months before, I had lost my mom to the same disease. I was in shock and disbelief, yet I also experienced some sort of mental sky-high phase: I was absolutely determined to win this battle.
I worked until the day I was admitted to the hospital for my operation—December 5, 2008. A year later, after 18 chemotherapy sessions and 35 radiation sessions, I was “clean.” Although I had to undergo immunity therapy for another year and hormone treatments for another five. My contract had kindly been extended for a further year, so it was then I started the reintegration process at work.
A turning point
The mental high I went through when I heard I had cancer faded when treatments were over, and I was able to take control of my life again. Friends, family, colleagues, myself—everybody was over the moon that I was “clean” again. Yet I didn’t know that one of the hardest parts was about to begin.
Picking up my life turned out to be far more difficult than I had anticipated. While still celebrating the good news, a mental breakdown waited for me around the corner. I knew then that my life would never be like it was before.
How did other women deal with this? Were they able to regain their energy and find their balance in life back? Did they manage to get back to their “old selves” at work? How did they feel about having kids? I had all these questions—yet I couldn’t find answers anywhere.
Starting our own foundation
Soon, I realized that I needed to start over again. That’s what cancer did to me: I felt the strong urge to redefine what I wanted in life and act upon that need.
Since an after-care program for young women recovering from cancer did not exist yet, together with Sharon de Beer, who is a life coach and my neighbor, we decided to start our own foundation. Early in 2010, we started Belle & Balance.