Zuzana Tomášiková’s life took an unexpected turn at 19 when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone tumor. But Zuzana didn’t let cancer define her. In this interview, she shares her story of resilience, the importance of community, and how she finds joy in the everyday.

What is your name? How old are you? Where are you from?

Zuzana Tomášiková, soon to be 38, originally from Slovakia, living in German speaking countries for more than 20 years, first in Vienna, Austria and now in Zurich, Switzerland.

What’s your diagnosis?

When I was 19 years old, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone tumor, in my left leg.

 How and when did you find out about your diagnosis?

Fortunately, the tumor had started to grow outside the bone, so I noticed a bump under my knee that became tender when pressure was applied. It was several weeks to months to get the correct diagnosis.

What helped you the most during the treatment process?

Unconditional support and presence of my parents and my brother, and an unrequited teenage love which helped me to focus on the future, day-dreaming how it will be once I finish treatment and we meet and I will have short hair after chemo hair loss. It’s an incredibly powerful tool, the affirmations and the positive thinking of life beyond cancer. It helped me without knowing the theory behind, being a teenager diagnosed with cancer seemed to have at least some advantage for me.

What has changed in your life since your cancer diagnosis?

It’s a difficult question, I have grown up meanwhile… so probably everything. It’s impossible to say what would have been different if I didn’t go through this experience and fortunately I haven’t spent much time thinking of “what if…”.

There is no possibility to enter/ spy on a parallel universe in which I was not confronted with the cancer diagnosis and went through the treatment & survivorship journey…

What I know is I play with the cards I got, and so far I manage to enjoy the game, at least most of the time…

Sometimes I have the impression recognized earlier what really does matter in life in comparison to my peers. Although saying that out loud, it sounds quite arrogant.

Finally, when it comes to “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…”  I prefer the narrative that it is NOT the “bad thing” itself that teaches you/ empowers you, BUT the way and ability you learn to manage go along with that. Either finding the inner strength in yourself and or from the ones surrounding you who help you cope with that…

What would you like to accomplish within EU-CAYAS-NET?

I want to strengthen the community, bring interested people together, raise awareness and motivate at least some young people to take better care of themselves and/or get active.

I also want to help develop all the much needed materials we are all waiting for. Personally, I am also looking for real connection and quality time in an incredibly emotionally strong community.

What makes you instantly light up?

Mountains, lakes, hot chocolate or a well-deserved beer after a hike (preferably with a panoramic view of a snowy landscape), quality time with my friends and family, playtime with my nephew, good food, my aquafit training, dancing, wellness, singing (especially without knowing the words properly and so driving my best friend crazy), and lots of other little things in life.

What in your life do you feel most grateful for?

My family, my friends and the pure “randomness” where I am living and that I got diagnosed early enough & got treated in one of the best places in Europe. This allows me to survive, and meet & join an incredibly dedicated, inspiring and powerful community with an unbelievably high number of strong personalities.

What makes your life feel purposeful?

Connections with other people, family & friends, but also colleagues & sometimes even strangers when gathered accidently somewhere. Also my engagement within Childhood Cancer International Europe, seeing and co-developing what we can achieve and how we can help (future) patients with our advocacy based on lived experience.

How do you cope when things get hard?

Definitely often (over-)thinking and dealing with myself first, until I reach a point and involve some of my very good friends. Depending on the topic I know whom to turn to. I am very grateful to have such incredible people in my life. I also procrastinate by rearranging small things in my flat, which helps me to sort my thoughts as well and “process” the next steps.

What is one book you would definitely recommend to read? Or a movie to watch? Or a song to listen to?

There are too many books that have appealed to me; one of the latest ones was Where You Come From by Saša Stanišić. I also liked Mari Kondo’s Magic Cleaning, it had something calming, almost meditative about it.  Last but not least, I enjoy good Scandinavian and now also German and Swiss thrillers.