I am a girl. I am 25. I am a bride-to-be. I am a writer. I am a
sister, daughter, friend, a pizza enthusiast.
I am also a cancer survivor. Friends and family know this about me, and most people I encounter deduct this about me because I still wear a hat.
It really grinds my gears that sometimes people can only see me as the last person on that list. Most of the time, I really feel like that is the only thing people can see about me. But a few weeks ago, my perspective shifted after an (initially infuriating) exchange with a course mate.
Growing up in Niagara Falls, Canada, we did not have good public transit. As a teenager, the closest bus stop was a 10 minute walk, with only 2 busses running, each only once an hour. If somewhere was not in walking distance, we pretty much had to rely on parents to drive us around.
I got my drivers’ license when I was 17. I was lucky – I have an older sister who had been driving for 4 years, so when I got my license, I got her car as a hand-me-down while she got a new car. I inherited Big Blue – a 2003, Dolphin Blue, Toyota Highlander – that had started as our family car, passed down to my sister, and then to me.
For the rest of my high school life, and through to the end of my Bachelor’s degree, I always had a car at my disposal.
While I lived in Toronto, Canada for my Bachelor’s, most of my time was spent between our North York neighbourhood and home at my mom’s. I suffered with severe anxiety which made using public transit a very rare thing for me. I am so grateful that I was fortunate enough to have a car in those years because otherwise, I think I would have probably regressed to a full on period of agoraphobia (aka not leaving the house, period). I realize this is quite a bold statement, but with the degree of anxiety I was dealing with/working through in that time I truly believe it would have gotten to that. Even with a vehicle to my disposal and always being in control of where and with who I was travelling, the thought of leaving my house was excruciating.
Then, in 2014 when I was ready to apply to grad school, I applied and was accepted to the University of Amsterdam. Wow! Little old me, scared to leave the house, was going to embark on an international journey – all alone! I wanted to do this because, at 23, I didn’t have any true responsibilities other than paying my phone bill. No mortgage, no student loans. My parents had done the study abroad thing when they were 18 and 20 and I’ve always admired that. They just up and left to do their thing, and ended up making a great living in a new country years later.
And so, with full support from my family, I was ready to embark on an international adventure of my own! When I moved to Amsterdam, life was very different, very intense. There wasn’t really anywhere in close enough walking distance to my new apartment for me to survive without public transportation. To top it off, I needed a way to get myself to the flea market to buy myself a bicycle.
Amsterdam and my bicycles
The Dutch are known for their cycling, which is something I didn’t know before moving here. Pretty much everyone owns at least one bicycle – sometimes more. When I met my fiancé, he had 2 day-to-day spares, a road bike, and one at his parents’ house. Currently, I own 2 myself. This was a God send for me – regaining my independence and not having to deal with public transit.
It took a few weeks, but by mid September, I finally had a bike. It was a used bike from a random vendor at the flea market, spray painted black with some neon green on the back tire protector. I chose not to get myself an Omafiets – no gears and kickback brakes – and instead opted for a geared bicycle with hand brakes. 90 euros well spent. It was supposed to be a 3 gear bike, but only the first and third worked. Getting used to my new bike took some time – I was either pedaling like a maniac on my first gear, or struggling to push myself on my third gear.
Less than a year later, on an adventure to IjHallen (the biggest flea market in Europe) with my then-boyfriend/now-fiancé, sister, and cousins, I saw and fell in love with a purple Batavus. I bought it almost immediately after finding it and to this day, I adore my bike. It has a black milk crate as a basket (very popular here), hand brakes, and functional gears.
Life changed a lot when I got sick
I spent extended periods of time in the hospital. Chemotherapy is incredibly draining, and spending so much time in a hospital bed is not good for physical condition. I was home in between, and then home for good, but struggled (and still struggle) with having the energy and condition to be on my bike.
As part of my treatment and now post-treatment life, my medications suppress my immune system. This means that it’s much easier to catch bacterial and viral infections. I have strict orders not to use public transit (or go to crowded places like the movies) because there are too many germs in too small of a space. We were advised to (and did) get a car.
I don’t have a Dutch drivers license yet, and honestly I wasn’t feeling mentally capable of driving until just a few weeks ago, so I cannot drive to get myself around. Bye bye independence, hello neighbourhood or relying on my love to drive me around.
On all of our adventures with the car through the city, I’ve seen these light blue cars with the word Abel written on them. After months of seeing them, I finally did a Google search and found out that it’s a carshare/carpool service much like Uber/Uber pool. Unlike Uber in North America, in The Netherlands all drivers need to have a taxi license and a background check. I believe this service is currently only offered in Amsterdam, so if you live here and need to get around (especially coming home from an IKEA trip lol) I would 10/10 recommend this service.
How carshare changed my self-image
It was a Thursday evening around 10 pm and I needed a ride home from the web development course I’m taking. As I’ve mentioned, most Amsterdammers cycle or use transit. A classmate and I were discussing how the location of our class was a bit difficult to get to by transit. It’s in the middle of nowhere plus a 10 minutes walk from the closest metro to the building we’re in. She had mentioned in an earlier conversation about how she fell face first off of her bicycle a few years ago and has used transit since.
I mentioned that I had just ordered an Abel car to come pick me up and boasted about how much better (and cheaper) it is than Uber. She was intrigued – working full time then having to come to an evening course is draining, and the hour transit is not very appealing.
Someone who had not been part of our conversation immediately chimed in: Why would you ever ever ever ever take a taxi in the Netherlands?
At first, I was infuriated. Why is it any of your business how I choose to navigate myself through life? I have been ill, I can’t ride a bike more than 5 minutes right now, and I’m not allowed to take public transit. I almost snapped!
But then – a realisation!
This person knew nothing about me or my current health status. He did not take my hat or lack of eyebrows as a sign of me being or having been a cancer patient. It felt like “Wow! Finally someone is seeing me for just another normal person, leading a normal life”.
I haven’t felt that good about myself in a long time.