End-stage lymphatic cancer – Robert Kronenkker received this diagnosis when he was just 19 years old. But he declared war on the disease. 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 the 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 These drugs were later withdrawn from the market because of questionable, actually carcinogenic ingredients.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: End-stage lymphoma. I had a tumor as big as a fist that was pressing on my lungs. Cancer cells were also found in my bone marrow. In general, the likelihood of recovering from a diagnosis of lymphoma 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, nobody tells you that, the doctors were very tight-lipped. No percentages or anything like that. For me, that was a sign that they had basically given up on me. A misunderstanding, as I now know, because end stage does not mean that you are doomed to die. At least not with this type of cancer. As a medical layman, I would translate the term as “maximum 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 publicly about these and other scars.

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. In fact, the doctors said “you are healthy”. But to me it sounded totally surreal, just unreal. Somehow I was still in fight mode and these words just didn’t fit at all. When you’ve struggled and suffered 24/7 for many months, you can’t switch gears overnight. “You are healthy” – that didn’t fit with my physical condition, which unfortunately continued to worsen in the months after the chemo. So I got shingles and I had pneumonia. The latter was definitely life-threatening.

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

Kronenkker: Difficult. It was a gradual process that took at least two or three years. A complex thing. Not only had my immune system suffered, but my self-esteem was also destroyed. For a long time, I didn’t dare talk to women. One reason was my fingernails. If we had a conversation, I hid my fingers. In many ways, I was a different person after the illness. One reason was that I was no longer physically fit. It was clear that I would never be able to pursue competitive sport.

So you also needed new professional goals?

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 cancer grow in the first place? I had never found answers to these questions anywhere. It seemed to be a black box for the doctors too. Especially in light of a possible relapse, it didn’t feel good at all; fear was a constant companion. So I started to research this topic a lot. There are actually a whole series of scientific studies on it. I then trained to become a fitness specialist and a nutrition coach and ended up studying nutritional science.

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 referring to?

Kronenkker: A year and a half ago my mother died from the effects of her alcohol addiction. Somehow I haven’t really let it get to me until now. I suspect there is a certain toughness in me because of the cancer. This fighter’s toughness. I wish I could get rid of it at some point. After all, it looks like I don’t need it 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 for 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 in turn manifest itself in anemia, susceptibility to infections and a tendency to bleed. Multiple myeloma can cause bone defects. These so-called osteolyses are painful and can also lead to bone fractures. In addition, if bone marrow is involved, abnormalities such as anemia and the other symptoms listed are possible.

More on this: Hodgkin, non-Hodgkin, myeloma – lymphatic cancer is treacherous