‘I’m hesitant’, she says. ‘It was an extraordinary year, but will my story give the reader joy?’ Grootenboer needs a moment to ponder whether or not she wants to tell about her year. ‘But let’s do it. As long as we try to give it a positive twist. And I can’t speak for more than an hour, after that my tank has run dry.’
The Netherlands reopens in 2022. Restrictions disappear, just like the 1.5 meter distance. Once again people can travel and cafes and theaters open up their doors. The latter in particular is something that Grootenboer has been craving for months. Unfortunately, she is barely entering the theater this year. The coordinator performing arts & publicity Culture is mostly observing her living room and the hospital this year. ‘In 2021 I struggled for a long time with a leg injury which simply wouldn’t go away. Fortunately I had a stubborn physiotherapist who kept referring me because he didn’t trust it.’ And as it turned out, rightly so.
Around the holidays we were in a strict lockdown, but the restaurant of the MST remained open, as the only one. We were lucky in that regard.
Just before the holidays of 2021, Grootenboer undergoes an MRI-scan. The results would follow in January, but a day later the hospital already called back while she was in a Teams meeting with her colleagues. It’s bad. For days she goes from one research to the next. The result: metastatic breast cancer. ‘There was a tumor slightly larger than a tennis ball in my pelvis. It was jamming, which made me think I had a leg injury all that time.’
Regardless of the emotional blow, Grootenbroer tries to celebrate the holidays as good as possible. ‘I could have been cautious, but it could have also been my last Christmas. On top of that, I was very down-to-earth about it from the start. Ramses Shaffy – We Leven Nog [We’re Still Alive, ed.] was constantly in my had since week one. I am just a lover of cabaret. Around the holidays we were in a strict lockdown, but the restaurant of the MST remained open, as the only one. We were lucky in that regard.’
Bad luck twice
Regardless of her down-to-earth stance, Grootenboer undergoes radiation therapy in 2022 and receives heavy medication. She ends up in a wheelchair and knows since August she will never get rid of it. ‘As Johan Hoogeboom sang: Dubbel Pech [Bad luck twice, ed.]. It is mainly a mental challenge. During my recovery process I focus on getting nifty with my wheelchair, gaining strength in my arms and making small steps at home, but the next day you have to be in the hospital again, because you still have cancer. Those two evils combined are psychologically very challenging.’
The medication – which is intended to prevent the proliferation of the cancer – is a success and makes Grootenboer’s life more pleasant. ‘But I know that I will not reach my retirement age. That is difficult to process. To be sure I have inquired about it multiple times, but the statistics do not paint a happy picture. Still I think it is good to know such that I can prepare myself.’
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Now, just before the holidays and a year after that seemingly innocent leg injury transformed into a dark page things are going well, all things considering. She tries to use her energy as efficiently as possible and a period of recovery at the rehabilitation center Roessingh did her well. She ‘rolls along’ in the short path of the Twent’s midwinter horn [Local instrument only played during a brief period each year, ed.] hike and even visited a theater show in her beloved Vrijhof for the first time in a while. ‘Very fun, but also uncomfortable. Normally I fly down that hall to arrange everything, now I’m simply sitting here in my wheelchair.’
I have been discussing my future with the occupational physician. I want to be useful on the campus so badly, but I should also be realistic. Because to be very honest, I don’t see how I can return.
There is still a lot of unclarity regarding her future at the UT. She hopes to be visiting the UT more often in 2023, but has serious doubts about if and how she could take up her job again. ‘All my colleagues are moving on while I’m standing still. That feels weird after 25 years. I have been discussing my future with the occupational physician. I want to be useful on the campus so badly, but I should also be realistic. Because to be very honest, I don’t see how I can return. I miss the students, the artists and the commotion. I don’t want to think about if all of that is no longer there.
Weekend trips with her husband, son and his girlfriend, the farewell concert of De Dijk [Dutch band, ed.] (‘Amazing, but a war of attrition, after which I slept for a whole day’) and Oeral were the highlights of 2022 for Grootenboer. Especially the latter. She yearly visited the festival on Terschelling and knew that it was no longer possible this year. ‘But my group of friends saw it very differently. They rented a house, picked me up with a car, loaded all of my assistive devices and we had a wonderful weekend. I couldn’t be everywhere by a long shot, but it was worth it. Nowadays I encounter many things that I can no longer do, but also things that can still be done. That’s what I focus on.’
Grootenboer tries not to look too far ahead for the new year. She hopes that the medications continue to work well and cherishes the moments she is together with the family. She celebrates New Year's Eve on Terschelling with her husband. 'We've wanted to do that for years, but something always came up and it's actually too expensive. We just don't put such trips off anymore.'
What she is also greatly looking forward to is the end of the academic year. Her son, who studies in Tilburg, is president of rowing club Vidar. At that moment, the eight-member board will tour past all the parents. 'That club comes here to eat and stay overnight. The other day a small delegation already came, because they had a drink at Euros. I find that wonderful to experience. I will never forget his installation at the rowing club either, there by the water in the sun. I think I will have to sleep for a week after the board visit, but on adrenaline you can do a lot. I'm more than happy to make that sacrifice.’