I never thought I’d be writing something like this.
But I feel I must, for anyone else sharing the same fate (one or both of which you may be reading below soon), or if you know someone who is undergoing similar experiences.
Whether I write this for myself or a stranger like you is reading this, thank you for reading and listening to my story.
My name is Justine.
The past three years of my life have been as difficult as they have also been rewarding, surprising, and I’m trying right now to make sense of what back then felt like a complete tragedy.
But now, having been given ample time to look back and heal, I know my story is full of lessons that I can only hope to cherish, and can only hope to share with others who need it.
Three years ago, my children were facing multiple milestones, and naturally like any mother I was both excited and emotional as I watched both my oldest daughter slowly plan her wedding, and my youngest child graduate from college.
Naturally, I had a feeling that a lot in my life was about to change soon, but never could imagine just how much of it would be directed at me, and particularly be unexpected in a bad way.
Perhaps it was because both of my children were reaching milestones that meant that they would no longer be reliant on me;
… perhaps a marriage and a graduation was just the step that was needed in order for my spouse to finally think to himself that he could disconnect from our family.
But when graduation ceremonies had concluded and a date for her wedding was set, my husband of 32 years came to me, on what seemed like a typical weekday night, and asked very coolly for a divorce.
My son’s graduation had come and gone, but to maintain a smile on my face as the days counted down for my daughter’s wedding proved to be even harder.
How could I possibly be there for her, and for her future husband as a mother-in-law staring down a divorce lawyer, with forms and papers thrust into my hands thought I would never have to sign in my life?
I felt like I was lying to my children, especially my daughter, but I barely had even a moment to make sense of this impending divorce before the next mass event came into my life, less than a year after it was finalized.
I was at home with my daughter, who had brought home several colour swatches for the venue she had chosen. She was visiting on a lunch break and had to return to work when I was about to enter into an embrace with her, and had to pull back after feeling some unknown pain.
I don’t want to say that it was my husband’s fault, his fault for the stress that he had put me through from a separation I could’ve never expected, but that day with my daughter, I retracted from that hug and clutched my chest in pain, suddenly feeling a lump I had never detected before.
Maybe it was always there, and my focus on everything else going wrong (or right, I need to remember…there was still some good in my children’s ongoings that gave me hope) gave me no time to look after myself…I immediately gauged the size of this lump to be perhaps…like a turnip, or a ping-pong ball…but regardless it was there, and my daughter, no questions asked, took me to the hospital, where within a month I of examinations and biopsies discovered that it was a type of breast cancer4.
You learn in moments like this just how much pain people are capable of bearing, in moments like this you discover who sticks around and who doesn’t, who really matters, and as my son was chasing postgraduate work, and my daughter remained intent with closing in the details of her wedding, my children had shown a solidarity for me that over two decades of mothering… I still don’t think I could have earned naturally.
You could say that the three of us were in as much denial and anger as I was at finding out that my husband didn’t want to be with me anymore, and I can’t even fathom what these moments could’ve been like if I had nobody by my side at all.
Many months of chemotherapy, many months of nights alone to myself came by in a confusing blur. I tried my best to put on a smile for my daughter and my son, but more days than I’d like to admit, if I didn’t have family at my home, I probably would’ve stayed in bed all day.
The depression that followed was terrible and I experienced the most crippling panic attacks.
I had no energy and always found excuses so easily for absolutely any activity as simple as coming down for dinner, which my daughter and my future son-in-law were gracious enough to look after for me. I felt useless, but they were insistent that my crises were not an impediment to their own future, even though that didn’t stop me from thinking of myself in that way.
Thinking about my own life at their age was even harder, as I still had difficulty coming to terms with the fact that I was no longer married.
I looked at my son-in-law and my daughter and vowed to myself that what I am going through right now is not a prophecy for her.
I withdrew and retreated within myself more and more, finding so much of my identity taken away, at first with grace as I saw my youngest child walk across the stage for his bachelor’s degree, but the rest in a disturbing tumble as I found myself unable to describe myself using words such as “wife” and “healthy”.
I truly, in those darkest moments, one to curl up, sink into the floor, and just let life pass me by however possibly could.
That is, until one night.
I was websurfing support threads, looking for comments and threads from similar women undergoing similar experiences (particularly in the breast cancer area of my life) when one survivor mentioned travel, and quick Google searches got me to various stock settings: busy urban sprawls, lush forests, sandy beaches.
I was, quite suddenly, taken in by this particular image of picturesque houses and streets, vast open mountain ways, followed by touristy pictures of families enjoying natural hot springs. I clicked further, and discovered that this particular set of photos came from Iceland.
It was the first time in my life I discovered that Iceland had natural hot springs, but also the first time in a very long time that I suddenly had a focus, if not a bit of an obsession, with getting out of my current messy situation and seek peace of mind on some Icelandic soil.
I began web surfing as much as I possibly could of places to go and what life was like for the locals, finding out stirring facts such as that many Icelandic people have long life expectancies, living out their golden years in good health.
Naturally, on the receiving end of various medical treatments and making sense of my life as both a divorcee and a survivor, it seem like a trip to Iceland might be just the thing to help me establish some semblance of normalcy, if not moving forward from all this.
I delighted especially with reading up on the heated natural pools, a proud lack of pollution in that country as well as what appeared to be very healthy cuisine enjoyed by Icelandic people.
I was leaning on my children for support through my divorce and my cancer, but it seemed almost a natural, automatic response as I went to a travel agency and booked the flights to Reykjavík.
Stepping off of the plane that day, I felt my dreams and ideas about Iceland affirmed almost immediately by the smell and clarity of the open air.
I learned that Iceland uses hydroelectric and geothermal power, making pollution very minimal and less than a fraction of what living at home in the States offered. Even though my particular cancer was inflammatory breast cancer, the country had smoking bans across the country which seem to offer another piece of mind as I felt for once, I was making a right and proper decision for myself.
What I was not prepared for was the vast number of daylight hours during the summer season, and I bought myself an eye mask which proved absolutely crucial if I were to get any sleep.
Of course, I still had jet lag, but the thought of being in this strange new place and the clarity walking off that plane had already given made adjustments to the new time zone as well as the consistent sunlight easier than I thought.
Of course, I remained somewhat haunted by the thoughts of my now ex-husband, and looking down on my own cancerous body feeling like a ticking clock or a timebomb. The daylight hours became less of a nuisance and more of, I admit, an addiction – having spent so many days locking myself inside feeling sorry for myself, the facts I received of gaining Vitamin D from sunlight and decreased levels of depression in sunny countries actually made it pretty easy to get myself out of bed, without my daughter or my son-in-law around!
Finally, after a couple of days taking things very easy and staying within a block or two of my hotel, admittedly, I decided to book a small excursion to visit the country’s borders and see for myself some of the natural landscape with my own eyes.
On these adventures, I met and befriended a local woman by the name of Ada.
I never disclosed to Ada my family problems or my health issues, but she seemed almost intuitive to my interests in what I could gain from this travel almost immediately.
She introduced me to local fish dishes, and although I may have heard before the benefits of fish oils and omega-3, finally found a personal tie to such health facts when she firmly believed that her special diet plan was responsible for the longevity of her family.
I’ve been known to enjoy fish and chips back home, but Ada was quick to warn me that all of the deep frying I might’ve done at home or out for fast food was worse for me than the traditional ways that she prepared it.
She topped off her healthy meal with nothing more humble than a glass of water, an unbelievably delicious glass of water I realized was not from some artisanal glass bottle but just local Reykjavík tap water.
Ada agreed to keep in touch with me for the rest of my vacation, and it was to my excitement that she agreed to take me on a trip to the local hot springs, but before that she insisted on doing some awesome healthy exercises, such as a couple Weight Watchers DVDs to get into shape.
Everything that I had anticipated and read up about Hot Springs: the minerals, the temperature, and so on… Believe me when I say this — within moments of soaking myself into those Hot Springs, I felt like I was reconnecting with my pre-cancer self.
Sure, not everything was perfect: a trip to a hot spring may not guarantee that an ex-husband will come back on both knees to apologize for all the distress he placed myself and my children in, and it certainly can’t reverse the damage that months of chemo placed upon my body, but I left that country with both a brand-new social connection and a renewed outlook on life. I always look back on those days with delight, and look forward to the next time I find it in my budget to go.
This website was formerly used by the Government of Iceland, for the Ministry of Health. But after 2011, it became Ministry of Welfare, Velferðarráðuneytið, and this website was abandoned, and was unused for a while.
As a former official government department, Health was responsible for public health and prevention, including radiation; health care; hospital and healthcare; health care in nursing homes; rehabilitation and treatment institutions; medicines and medical equipment; qualification in health care and legalization of titles in health care. The ministry is also a health and accident insurance and social security patients. These duties are now the portfolio of the Ministry of Welfare.
I’ve told my story, reflecting on my transformed health coincident with my wonderful experience in Iceland, and I’m thinking of returning. But this website needs a better reason to exist, than just my personal thoughts, so I’ve begun trying to make the website useful, by collecting some health information. It’s here at the bottom because I’m not happy with it yet, or even the homepage organization yet. But with time, the site will get into shape.