Psycho-oncology - or:
Welcome to Holland!

Essay by Emily Perl Kingsley

Kingsley is the mother of a boy with trisomy 21, and in this short text she describes how her life is completely turned upside down by this experience:

"When you're expecting a child, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip to Italy. You get a lot of guidebooks and make great plans. The Colosseum. Michelangelo's David.The gondolas in Venice. You might even learn a few useful bits of Italian. All of this is incredibly exciting. After months of anticipation, the day finally arrives. They pack their bags and head out. A few hours later, the plane lands.
The flight attendant arrives and says, "Welcome to Holland.""Holland!?" you retort. "Why Holland? I was going to Italy! My trip was supposed to take me to Italy." "All my life I've dreamed of flying to Italy."
But foolishly, the flight schedule has been changed. Now you're in Holland and you have to stay there. The important thing now is that you have by no means landed in a horrible, repulsive, dirty country plagued by pestilence, starvation and other diseases. It's just different. So you'll have to get new guidebooks. And learn a new language. And you'll meet new people you never would have met otherwise. It's just a different country where everything is slower than in Italy and less fancy.
After you've spent a while there and regained your composure, you'll look around ... and realize that Holland has windmills ... and tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts. But everyone in your circle of acquaintances only ever goes to Italy and afterwards tells you how great it was there. And you'll say for the rest of your life, "Yeah, I wanted to go there once. At least that's what I had planned." And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever, ever let you go ... because losing your dream is a significant loss.
But....if you spend your life grieving that you didn't end up in Italy, you'll never find the freedom to appreciate those very beautiful and very special things Holland has to offer."

If you're pissed off right now because you or one of your loved ones has cancer and cancer is definitely not something special or beautiful, I can totally understand! A cancer diagnosis throws everything out of whack for the time being. It often hits you "in the middle of your life" and is initially devastating and calls into question all the life plans you had planned so beautifully.

Psychooncology helps you, if you or a loved one of you has cancer, to find your way in Holland. To help you with the right travel guides and also to learn the language that is spoken in Holland; to study maps and get to know people there. And also to see what things you wanted to do in Italy, you can still do in Holland.

You can find more information about psychooncology on my social media channels and for example at the Cancer Information Service of the German Cancer Research Center.

You can also find more information about living with and after cancer on the pages of the University Cancer Center Schleswig-Holstein, whose content I created in collaboration with them.

One more small note: In keeping with the title of this essay- the "mother" and one of the founders of psychooncology (or psychosocial oncology) is Holland by last name.

Jimmie C. Holland (1928 - 2017) was an American psychiatrist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, one of the world's most renowned cancer hospitals in New York. She created one of the first psycho-oncology programs and facilitated the training of psycholog:ers who wanted to specialize in oncological-psychological and social issues.