Carolien van Leusden (1963-2013)

Carolien with her marvellous Red Cross friendsCarolien van Leusden, who has died at the age of 50 after a 12-year battle with cancer, will continue to be an inspiration to others affected by the illness.

Born into a medical family in the Netherlands, she worked as a qualified nurse until moving permanently to Portugal 28 years ago.

The first hint of cancer came in 2001 when she found a small spot on her leg that looked like a bad mosquito bite. It turned out to be a malignant melanoma. It was surgically removed, but three years later, on self-examination, she found “a little round ball, as smooth as a marble” in her right breast and was soon after diagnosed with breast cancer.

With two young children at school near Lagos, she chose to undergo treatment in this country rather than Holland. There was no radiotherapy centre in the Algarve at the time, so she would travel to Lisbon on a Monday, returning home on Friday.

Despite much intensive treatment, by the end of 2007 the disease had spread to her liver and lungs. While this would have reduced many people to utter despair, Carolien remained determined to live life to the full.

She told me in 2009: “I am not fooling myself or the doctors, but I tell you something, I don’t let anything go anymore. If I think something needs to be done, I do it straight away. I am loving life and grateful for every single moment.”

After extensively researching the whole subject of cancer, she wrote a book, My Path, describing the range of alternative therapies and radical dietary changes she embraced in addition to conventional hospital treatments. Her reason for writing the book was to give guidance and hope to others.

With characteristic irrepressible enthusiasm, she organised charity fund-raising events to help the Algarve Oncology Association, which has campaigned for the last seven years to raise sufficient capital to apply for EU assistance to build a respite home in Faro.

She died knowing that this private organisation was close to reaching its target to create an accommodation centre to be known as Casa Flor das Dunas for radiotherapy patients who live some considerable distance from Faro.

From the time she was first diagnosed, to her passing at home in Lagos surrounded by family and friends, Carolien remained full of praise for the professionalism and dedication of the Portuguese medical staff who had treated her over the years. Indeed it was something she wanted to publicise, as she said she could never have hoped for such “love and care and attention” anywhere else but her adopted home of Portugal.

Carolien is survived by her two children, Oliver and Dominique, her parents Jacqueline and Huub, and her brothers and sister, Casper, Job and Charlotte. Her funeral was held in Praia da Luz and a collection for the Algarve Oncology Association raised €2,068.

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