Home is where the heart is… March 2 2022
Last week I visted the Netherlands for a few days. My dad turned 80 and my best friend 75. Enough reasons for me to get on a plane. Back to the Netherlands. Beforehand I wondered what that would feel like: back to the country where I grew up, got married, divorced. Where I've been sick, lost my mother. Country where my son lives, my dad, my friends. Touring those Spanish roads, in the absence of a radio station where people actually play music instead of talking, I often ask myself the “big” questions. What would it be like to be back? And above all: why am I so ridiculously happy here in Spain?
Those blue skies and sunshine, even when it's cold, are really good for a person's mood. But for me it mostly has to do with the security of having my own home. A place that is mine and that no one can take from me. For the past two years I've lived everywhere and nowhere, I've moved six or maybe even a seven times, so I had no base, no safe place. I traveled, with a few boxes and my dog, from one address to another. No place to hang my photos, my own crockery in boxes in storage, my painting in the bubble wrap in Dad's attic. Having a house, a home is very important to me, and always has been. It's the place where my heart is. Home is where the heart is….
And that’s Spain now. Home is where the heart is, but is that really true? What if your heart lives in two places? Because of course, in addition to my dad and son, most of my best friends also live in the Netherlands. And it was great to see some of them in the past few days. Because I miss them. They are also in my heart. My heart has been through quite a bit in recent years. I even once called someone home, but he chose a different heart and kindly but urgently bade me to leave. Too much and too often and above all too quickly I gave my heart away, or at least on loan. And just as often I got it back in pieces, heavily damaged.Spain, or rather the decision to build a life here, has changed a lot. I’m being a little more careful, careful with my heart these days. I'm amazed at the "self-love" I find. More and more every day.. Of course I'm still (often too) strict to myself, because I still "have to" get everything done, and usually "have to" finish it off. But sooner as before I stop when I'm tired or when I just don't feel like doing a certain job. I can stand in full wondering and enjoy the trees, an updated administration, a painted wall or two romping dogs. “Todos Y Tonya” now feels like home, but also as a project, as my creation. As a big challenge to get this business up and running. With a good goal in mind. And it also feels like the goal of my own cancer: so much misery, it has cost me so much but it has also brought me so much. Call it guts, call it courage. I call it “when you don't have anything to lose” or “the bigger plan”. And I Like it!And so my heart is split in two. But it's not broken. On the contrary, my heart heals more and more. The knowledge of being loved and love in multiple places is wonderful! Home is here, in Spain, but my heart lives in two places!
All over a sudden I am “the foreigner.” “The foreigner” at the countryside (el campo) in the middle of Andalusia, Spain. Although I was on my way learning the spanish language before I left, I've actually been too busy here for the last few months to really study and because of that it's not always easy to communicate in Spanish. Luckely, my “advanced English” (read: dialects) and even my French are improving by the minute.
I must confess, I had my ideas about that; about that "tangling" together "foreigners" do in a new country. That really wasn't going to be me. It was one of the reasons I looked for a house away from the Dutch enclave on the Costa. I was looking for the real Spain. And ofcourse, there would be quite a few Brits in my area and I would certainly run into them, but that was about it. I thought… Because when you move to another country, you suddenly have 1001 questions. About all sorts of things; where do I get paint? What time is the dump open? Where can you get a good meal? Who knows a good electrician? And so on. Grateful for the facebook groups “for English speakers”. Because here I got answers to my questions and sell the surplus items that I found in the building I had bought. (I now know that it is completely normal in Spain to leave stuff when you sell your house)
After a few sales, a British couple stood on the doorstep to buy a table and some chairs. It was a sweltering day, I felt like taking a break and invited them for drinks. We started talking and I told them what the goal of Todos Y Tonya was going to be and that the truck with my stuff was on its way and would arrive on Wednesday. They explained where they lived (close by) and we said goodbye with the promise to see each other again. Half an hour later, the phone rang: "We're coming to help you move on Wednesday and we're also taking a bunch of friends with us." And so that Wednesday the whole truckload was in my new house within 3 hours. They also helped with unpacking and assembling all kinds of furniture. “Because we've all been through this and we just help each other a little bit…” Four sweethearts; two of whom I had met for half an hour and the other two I had never even seen before. So unbelievably sweet!!!
That day I made my first friendships in my new homeland. With Brits, haha! Who further introduced me to the “whole society” and from there the ball started rolling. And I became "double foreigner".In the meantime my new social life has expanded with various nationalities. Including, luckily, some very nice Dutch people! And although I don't actually feel homesick and I don't die of longing for a peanut butter sandwich, herring, cheese spread or super chips (well, the latter maybe a little), the love for the language I grew up in is apparently irresistible. There is nothing nicer than speaking Dutch with other “foreigners” who encounter the same daily things as I do. Or to switch on the Dutch TV and watch your (yes, you read that right: your!) extremely fascinating weather forecast (grey, rain, wind and gray again).
I have become a real “foreigner”. And moreover I like to be outside in my own new country.
World Cancer Day today!!!
Today is an important day; more than ever people are confronted with cancer. Them selfs or in their near and immediate environment, and the aftermath, but especially the effect it has on your life is grant, and it will stay with you forever. Also when you're healing.
To me it was the darkest period of my life; although you may only see that in the last photo (with wig!). I do smile, but it's survival mode. The, “I will survive” mode. Literally!
And I'm one of the lucky ones who did survive, who got back my health. And it changed EVERYTHING!
My life turned completely upside down, I was out of control, looking for the why, for a course, a goal.
That goal I found in the form of my b&b Todos Y Tonya.
Because I wished to do something with my experiences and to mean something to fellow sufferers, but also because I wanted my own life to have more meaning. Wanted to be happy again.
That last one is working out very well, the business (because of course I also have to pay my bills) is still in the start-up phase and so that is and will remain exciting for a while….
I wish you all a special day today, and stop and remember for a moment. And laugh! Preferably a real smile!
New columnist! Tonya emigrated to Spain alone after recovering from breast cancer
By THE EDITORS on JANUARY 25, 2022 in LIFE STORIES, Wendy-online
Last week we posted on wendyonline.nl the interview with Tonya Ernsting, who, after she recovered from breast cancer and divorced her husband after 23 years, left for Spain on her own and now runs B & B Todos Y Tonya for (ex) cancer patients. She received many nice reactions and from now on Tonya will tell about her new life in Spain every month on wendyonline.nl.
You are great! I want to tell you something: After last week's interview on Wendyonline.nl, my social media exploded. So many comments, so many kind words, compliments. 'You are great' and 'good luck' messages… Super nice to read as a person! And of course my project can use any kind of attention to eventually grow into what I have in mind: a wonderful holiday place where everyone can feel safe. As a (former) patient, but also if it concerns your partner, parent, child, lover or friend. Both the interview and how it came alive have caused my mind to wander constantly over the past few days.
First the interview: the writer and chief-in-editor of Wendyonline.nl is Rosa Koelemeijer, my best friend during high school days. We rode horses together, backcombed our hair before going out (it was the 80’s; time of the Dolly Dots and Madonna, haha) and were real partners in crime. In one of our conversations last week, I said to her, “Remember Roos, when you were in India and I sent you poste restante letters?” We laughed, and she called me Toon, as she always did. In a way no one called me for years. And the special thing was, after five minutes those 25 years that we had not seen each other disappeared. It was also special that the initiative came from her, after a conversation with other friends from that periode of our lives. And how beautiful; helping each other, connecting, and more importantly, feeling the connection, based on what you have shared and experienced together.
Experienced and shared; I could write a book about it, and maybe one day I will, but now it's about this 'together'. Together, with friends, family, lovers. 'Together's' that are still there, but also the 'together's' that I lost along the way. People I have shared moments with for a shorter or longer period of time. Have loved. People I've forsaken, who've forsaken me, some who drifted away, faded away. Still, I haven't forgotten most of them, and luckily every now and then (regularly, since I started this project) someone from earlier times reappears. Now it was Rosa, and I'm so happy with it! Soon, when I'm in the Netherlands for a week in February, we'll see each other, and I can't wait!
The stories and reactions to this piece, from people who are still in the middle of the process, but also the stories 'after', have also moved me many times and made me think. And how many there are! How young sometimes! WTF! Of course I knew that… And yet it is confronting. That rotten disease! The trajectories and treatments that people have to go through. The choices, the sometimes 'no choices', the feeling of losing time that will never come back. Nothing but respect. And what a miracle social media is; groups of fellow sufferers share experiences, feelings and support each other. Give to each other. Share with each other.
I also read a lot of loneliness that I recognize; not alone but lonely. I felt quite alone when I was sick, even though my mother already had breast cancer and I had one friend who had the same thing happening. Because luckily, the lucky ones don't understand you. They wish you strength and call you "strong woman" (or man of course) and tell you to fight. Fight. Like you have a choice. You just have to move on. BY MEANS OF. And get better, and regain control over your life, your rhythm, your emotions, your energy. And there you are, worrying about how to proceed, how you can draw strength out of everything and nothing. Searching for the why and especially for the 'how to proceed'. Everything has changed, everything you took for granted before, and what do you have to do, what do you actually want? Who are you anyway?
I still struggle with these kinds of things on a regular basis. The 'Questions of Life'. Am I doing it right, will it really work, will I stay healthy? Will I feel 100% at home? Was it the right choice? Emigrate, set up a business, all or nothing, and all by myself. But then another message comes in, or a phone call. The sun is shining, the dogs are at my feet, and I think; of course! Because this is what I want to do. Need to do. This makes me happy. And hopefully many people with me!
One of the questions I was asked the most when I started this was: “Can you handle all those sad stories, all that misery?” My answer was and is always: of course, this is also part of it, even death is part of it. , and what if I get emotional? If I shed a tear? Lie awake for hours?
Empathy is a great asset to me. Today I read a message where someone asked to send someone else a sweet message today, and that's what I'm actually trying to do here. Maybe I know you, maybe I knew you back in the days. Maybe I recognize you. Maybe I'll get to know you, but this message is for you; you who took time to read this story! Thank you! You are great!
Tonya is mother of a 24 year old son and proud owner of the B & B Todos Y Tonya near the small town of Archidona, in the middle of Andalusia. In the white finca, Tonya created a B&B with four guest rooms, especially for people who have had to deal with cancer. But also for their family, friends or relatives. She wanted to create a place where people can be themselves, whether they have been treated, cured or otherwise had to deal with cancer.
This was publish yesterday on a social platform called “Wendy Online” It was written by Rosa Koelemeijer 12 JANUARY 2022 in LIFE STORIES. I translated it in English for my friends abroad, and because it is important for people all over the world. Please read and share!
Tonya recovered from breast cancer and started a B&B for (ex) cancer patients in Spain all by herself: 'I want to follow my luck'
Tonya Ernsting, now 53, was 47 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A long process followed and once healed the need grew to be able to be of meaning to others. When her marriage also ended after 23 years, she left for southern Spain to start a B&B for (ex) cancer patients: Todos Y Tonya. “I want to do what makes me happy.” She went to Spain four times to look for a suitable house for the plans she had and finally found a finca near the small town of Archidona, in the middle of Andalusia. In the white Finca, Tonya created a B&B with four guest rooms, especially for people who have had to deal with cancer. But also for their family, friends or relatives. She wanted to create a place where people can be themselves, whether they have been treated, cured or otherwise had to deal with cancer. Tonya: 'When I had breast cancer myself, I went on holiday a few times during the treatments. Bald with a wig, puffed up, dosing with my energy, full of emotions. It wasn't easy: my self-confidence was zero, I didn't recognize my body, I was often tired and wanted to get some sleep. Sometimes recalcitrant, sometimes angry. And there was usually no space, understanding or opportunity for that. Swimming was suddenly no longer fun, because everyone was 'watching', and I was 'fat'. And I wasn't fun anymore… With Todos Y Tonya I want to offer people a place where they can be themselves. Where it is nromal to swim without a wig if you wish and where you can enjoy a nice holiday and have a glass of wine if you like. If you really want to relax, you will quickly end up at a retreat, but it is also nice to just enjoy a holiday in a safe place. The environment here is beautiful, with beautiful authentic towns and in 45 minutes you are in Malaga or Granada, for example. But you can also enjoy beautiful walks in the area and from the backyard of the finca you can walk straight into the forest.
In October 2017, Tonya felt a small lump in her right breast. The GP sent her to the Gelderse Vallei hospital 'just to be sure'. A mammo, a scan and two punctures later (the first showed nothing), knocked the ground under her feet. She was 47, happy, healthy, fit and cheerful. Mother of a 17 year old son and married, life was full of sunshine. Surgeries followed – she chose to have both of her breasts amputated because she wanted to live and go for the safest option, she had two prostheses, 7 rounds of chemotherapy and all the nasty side effects you can think of. At the end of April 2018 she was ready. Or so she thought… Her hair started to grow back a bit and she started the hormone course that she had to take for five years: Tamoxifen. Within a few months, she was "chemically depressed," as she calls it, and she couldn't take it anymore. She was allowed to switch to Anastrazole and from that moment on things got better. Slowly getting better.
In July 2019 she found the idea for a B&B especially for people who have had to deal with cancer. Her marriage had ended after 23 years. Her son now lived on his own. “I worked in the travel industry for fifteen years and then as a riding instructor for fifteen years. But that was physically unbearable. After my divorce I had a job as a receptionist, but that was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was lost in every way. Having had cancer has made me so much more sensitive. There is already so much misery in the world and I think it's fantastic if I can make a small difference. I like to take care of people, give them a good time, mean something in the process. I put everything into the purchase of the house in Spain and took the plunge.” Because her mother also got cancer in the meantime and died of it last February, she also experienced the other side of cancer: what if you don't get better? What if you loose the one you love? Because she wanted to be there for her mother, she left later as planned, but since last summer Todos Y Tonya has been her home and she has already received the first guests.
Emigrating on your own: afterwards she agrees it is quite a tough step on her own. Renovating, DIY, furnishing the finca, receiving guests: she does it all. But she comes from a real entrepreneurial family and enjoys being her own boss. She can decide for herself what she will do during the day. One day she is walking around with a wheelbarrow, the next she is enjoying the Spanish sun on her terrace, taking a long walk through the Spanish mountains with her dogs or roaming the area to give her guests great tips. But ofcourse there are also the hard days. Last Christmas for example. Together with her father in Spain, but the first without her mother and with her son far away in the Netherlands. Most of all she wants to follow her happiness. “Cancer has cost me a lot, but it has also given me a lot. Cancer is never finished, it always stays in the back of your mind. Anyone who walks or has walked in the same shoes knows that. Fortunately, in time, most of us eventually find our own right path. Mine went to Spain.”