End-stage lymphatic cancer – Robert Kronenkker received this diagnosis when he was just 19 years old. But he declared war on the illness. Today he is 40 and “fit as a fiddle,” he says.

FOCUS online: Mr. Kronenkker, we would like to talk to you today about the diagnosis of lymphatic cancer that you received at the age of 19. First: How are you?

Robert Kronenkker: I am fit as a fiddle, mentally balanced and am ambitiously pursuing my goals as a self-employed person. I would say I enjoy my life. And very consciously. Sport, exercise, nutrition, cooking… These topics run like a common thread through my vita.

Since the illness?

Kronenkker: I’ve done sports before. As a teenager I played competitive sports, basketball. I come from a working-class family and at that time I looked a lot at the talent in the USA, who often came from the bottom and then eventually became superstars. Such a career was my dream. I actually went to a sports boarding school when I was 17. Of course, no one can say exactly when the cancer developed. But I can say quite clearly about the way of life back then: it was rubbish.

What exactly?

Kronenkker: Among other things, nutrition. For breakfast there was sugary cereal and salami bread. The sandwich toasters that most of us had in our rooms were also pretty popular. Me too. White flour toast, processed cheese, ketchup… that’s what I ate back then.

Do you think that might have made you sick?

Kronenkker: Among other things, perhaps. During this time, many things weren’t going ideally. The boarding school filed for bankruptcy and there were rumors about asbestos, which was classified as a carcinogen. I also had an inflammation of the periosteum for a while, for which I took medication. These drugs were later withdrawn from the market because of questionable, actually carcinogenic ingredients.

At least you did sport, it’s healthy.

Kronenkker: However, it wasn’t exactly health sport. I was very ambitious and pushed myself enormously in addition to the actual training. Iron-hard strength training, plus sprints in the athletics stadium, cardio training… it went on around the clock. Stress for the body, for the immune system.

And then one day complaints came?

Kronenkker: Yes, shortly after graduating from high school. I had a strange, dry cough for months. I also sweated profusely. Sometimes I had to change my T-shirt two or three times at night. My family doctor prescribed expectorants for me. Again and again. Looking back, it was a mistake that I was content with this for so long. I had to change family doctors to finally find out what was wrong with me. I still give this doctor credit today for being so honest. He said he had no idea what was wrong with me. But something is strange. So he sent me to the hospital.

What did the investigations show?

Kronenkker: terminal lymph gland cancer. I had a tumor the size of my fist that was pressing on my lungs. Cancer cells have also been found in the bone marrow. In general, the probability of getting well again after being diagnosed with lymph node cancer is quite high. But if the cancer is in the bone marrow, things don’t look good.

Final stage sounds bad. How did you receive the news?

Kronenkker: As a death sentence. Of course no one tells you that, the doctors kept a very low profile. No percentages or anything. For me it was a sign that they had basically given up on me. A misunderstanding, as I now know, because the final stage does not mean that one is doomed to die. At least not with this type of cancer. As a medical layperson, I would rather translate the term as “maximal spread” or “maximally advanced”.

What happened next?

Kronenkker: The doctors said there were two options: Either chemo as mild doses over a long period of time. Or extremely high doses over a comparatively short period of time. I chose the latter, the “steam hammer” as I called it. I was also asked if I would like to take part in a study. I thought: If I’m going to die, I’ll at least leave behind some study data.

Didn’t you have to have surgery?

Kronenkker: No, that’s why I got around it. I didn’t have any radiation either, just chemo.

Did you probably feel bad during the chemotherapy?

Kronenkker: You have to differentiate between physical and mental. In the first few weeks after the diagnosis, I was emotionally devastated. Totally unsettled, confused, full of fear. An example: Years before, I had distanced myself from the church and religion. Now suddenly I started writing Bible verses in a little book and praying. Total helplessness, from today’s perspective. At some point I stopped and asked myself: What am I actually doing here? That’s not me. This is fake. It felt so wrong to hope that someone would save me.

And then?

Kronenkker: I have decided: This cancer will not destroy me. I’m strong, I told myself, I actually know that. Suddenly there was incredible willpower.

Did this help you in the further course of therapy?

Kronenkker: Mentally, definitely. I got up in the morning and the first thing I did was visualize the cancer. For me he was “the Slimer”, a character from the Ninja Turtles that I loved so much as a child. The slime has a bad character. It looks like a slimy, greasy, disgusting ball. That’s how I imagined the tumor, the pile of cells. In my imagination, I shot him again and again with a big machine gun until he burst. I was in war mode, so to speak, and I had to win this fight.

How were you physically?

Kronenkker: Not good. While my will grew stronger day by day, I continued to lose physical strength. The first few weeks of chemo were somewhat bearable. But then it started. The hair fell out, the fingernails peeled off, the mucous membranes became inflamed. Some things remain from that time. For example, the inside of my mouth is scarred. But I don’t like to talk about these and other scars publicly.

How long did the chemo last?

Kronenkker: I don’t really know anymore, somewhere between six and eight months. Towards the end I just laid around. According to the motto: The spirit is strong, the flesh is weak.

And when the chemo was over, things went uphill?

Kronenkker: You have to differentiate again. The doctors actually said “you are healthy”. But to me that sounded totally surreal, simply unreal. Somehow I was still in fighting mode and those words just didn’t fit at all. When you have fought and suffered 24/7 for many months, you can’t switch from one moment to the next. “You are healthy” – that didn’t fit with my physical condition either, which unfortunately continued to deteriorate in the months after the chemo. I got shingles and pneumonia. The latter was definitely life-threatening.

Can you name a time when you really started to feel better – mentally, physically, overall?

Kronenkker: Difficult. It was a gradual process that probably lasted two or three years. A complex thing. Not only did my immune system suffer, my self-esteem was also destroyed. So for quite a long time I didn’t dare to approach women. Among other things, because of my fingernails. When a conversation arose, I hid my fingers. In many ways I was different after the illness. Among other things, because I was no longer physically fit. It was clear that competitive sports would no longer work.

So you also needed new goals professionally?

Kronenkker: Right. The famous orientation phase. Life is short, which makes it all the more important to do crazy things – that’s how I approached it. I have traveled a lot, South America, Southeast Asia. Then I started studying Japanese. And canceled it again. What probably continued to bother me subliminally the whole time was that in the phase after the diagnosis I was so completely on my own when it came to dealing with the illness.

What do you mean?

Kronenkker: What supports the healing process? And what makes such a cancer grow anyway? I had never found answers to these questions anywhere. It also seemed to be a black box for the doctors. Especially given the possibility of a relapse, it didn’t feel good at all; fear was a constant companion. So I started to do a lot of research on this topic. There are actually a lot of scientific studies on this. I then trained to become a fitness specialist and nutrition coach and ultimately ended up studying nutritional sciences.

Are you working in this area today?

Kronenkker: Yes, I went into the food industry. I am currently working as an investor here, with a focus on healthy and sustainable products. I also have a consulting agency, offer coaching, run mentoring programs and have focused on start-ups. Maybe you could say I shot the thing. In fact, my job is so much more than just a job. The opportunity to sustainably change our diet as a business angel but also as a coach makes me happy. I celebrate every day that I feel good. Unlike before, today I am fully aware that we only have one life. And that it’s about making the best of it.

And what does that mean for you specifically?

Kronenkker: I do a lot of sport, fitness, sprints. I go swimming or go out into nature, into the mountains or kayaking in Sweden, for example. A big passion of mine is cooking. My principle is “back to the roots”: no industrially processed food, lots of plant-based products, as few additives as possible, lots of raw food. I largely avoid sugar. Likewise for dairy products. I also fast from time to time to give the body time to regenerate.

Sounds like a pretty strict plan…

Kronenkker: Compared to the first time after changing my diet, I now approach some things more casually. Back then I was very narrow-minded; there couldn’t be a single additive. Today it happens sometimes that I eat nonsense. A burger or something. This happens very rarely, but it happens and then it’s okay. I don’t want to chastise myself. I want to enjoy. And infect others with my passion. I love cooking for friends.

What is there, for example?

Kronenkker: The days we served fresh couscous with lentils, dates, cashews, pine nuts and a homemade dressing, all of course organic. I love it! Eating well is such a sensual thing. A philosopher once said that there is nothing more physical for us humans than these two things: sex. And eat. I think it’s a shame that so few people pay attention to quality when it comes to food and stuff themselves with convenience… I often hear people say that they don’t have the time to work so hard in the kitchen. Objection, I then say, everyone has the time. It’s just that some people have different priorities. My priorities are clear. Cancer opened my eyes to doing the things that are good for me, that make me happy. Exercise, nutrition and enjoyment – ​​this triad is my elixir of life plus a good dose of self-criticism. That is also important.

What are you alluding to?

Kronenkker: My mother died a year and a half ago as a result of her alcohol addiction. Somehow I haven’t really let it get to me until today. I guess there’s a certain hardness in me because of the cancer. This fighter toughness. I wish I could put these down sometime. Finally, it looks like I don’t need them anymore.

You can read more on his website: www.kingkronekker.de

Lymphatic cancer, bone marrow cancer – these are the common names for a whole range of malignant diseases of the so-called lymphatic system.

The differences between the three most common cancers of the lymphatic system:

Typical warning signs of Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas are enlarged lymph nodes, fever, night sweats, weight loss and, if the bone marrow is involved, a lack of white and red blood cells and platelets (thrombocytes). This can manifest itself in anemia, susceptibility to infection and a tendency to bleed. Multiple myeloma can cause defects in the bones. These so-called osteolyses are painful and can also lead to bone fractures. In addition, if the bone marrow is involved, abnormalities such as anemia and the other symptoms listed are possible.

More on this: Hodgkin, Non-Hodgkin, Myeloma – Lymph cancer is insidious