Home Handball Fighting cancer with positive power: “I’ll be back stronger than ever”

Fighting cancer with positive power: “I’ll be back stronger than ever”

Emmi Paajanen is a starting player in KyIF Handball, playing in the top handball division in Finland. But a couple of months ago, her life changed dramatically. From scoring goals, celebrating victories and pushing teammates to limping on crutches at hospitals. The 29 year old handballer has been diagnosed with bone cancer and is now going through her toughest fight ever. But that does not stop her from smiling constantly or being positive about the future. She is determined to soon be back on the court again.
Hopefully I’ll be back stronger than ever, when I have beaten this thing, Paajanen says with a smile.

Inspired by her halfbrother, Emmi Paajanen started playing handball in Grankulla during third grade. Since then, handball has been the story of her life.
– That’s how I got to know the sport and since then I’ve been a handballer every living hour.

And a lot has happened since third grade. Today, Paajanen is a starting player for KyIF Handball in Naisten SM-sarja, the top women handball division in Finland.
Her dream had come true, joining a team with fantastic family chemistry.
– There is not just a single memory I love, because actually with KyIF all the things we do together is so fun, because we have such a great team, Paajanen explains.

“The pain woke me up in the middle of the night”

But suddenly everything was about to change when a nightmare slowly became reality.
– It all started last summer when my thigh had been painful for a year or so. I was then, against my will, told to go to a doctor. The pain had started to be so severe that it woke me up in the middle of the night.

As she was told, she finally went to see a doctor for the first time and that was something she wouldn’t regret. It then started a process with three new visits at three others doctors, but without getting a diagnosis of her pain.
– One of them suspected that I might have a blood clot of some kind. The next one thought it was some kind of a nerve problem.

Still searching for an explanation she made a new appointment with a specialist in sports medicine in September. Hoping to get the answer of what was wrong with her.
– We discussed taking scans of my leg but we decided to try physiotherapy first. I had that for the leg about two times but it didn’t really help and the pain actually got worse.

After yet another failure Paajanen then decided to book an appointment with an orthopedic who prescribed her with some muscle relaxants but at the same time made her go to an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). One month later she got the first result.
– I remember when the Orthopedist called me and said that it looked like there’s some kind of cyst in my thigh. After that I was sent to a bone specialist at Töölö Hospital.

“It was a relief when I first found out I had cancer”

At first they tried to take a bone marrow sample of her leg, but failed. Instead the orthopedic sent Paajanen to do a full body scan. That was when more bad news was found.
– Some cell changes were found from my lungs and after that I was sent to another hospital who made more samples of my lungs. 

One week later in time, but 1000 years in feelings, emotions and anxiety, the result finally came.
– A doctor called me from the hospital and told me what the diagnosis for me was. That’s when I first found out I had Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of bone cancer.

What was your first reaction?

– Actually my first reaction was relief, because there was finally a diagnosis for this unbearable pain. I was not surprised either. I had already started to fear and think it might be cancer when I found out there was a cyst in my thigh. When the doctor finally told me I immediately thought ”what’s the treatment and how fast will I make it back to handball”

Not long after, she decided to share the tough news with a few of her teammates. The team coach was also informed and he then helped Paajanen to plan how to share the message with the rest of her teammates.
– He and the team manager suggested that we should use a psychologist to help us break the news and I thought it was a great idea.

How did it go?

– The team meeting went well and I think everyone was really brave, open and of course very supportive. We also made an agreement that I can hang around at the practices, but it’s up to me to tell how things are going and what’s up next. Practice is still practice and all focus still needs to be on the right things when we work together.

“I’ll be back stronger than ever”

From an elite player, at the top of her handball career to indescribable pain, chemotherapy and limping on crutches. A dramatic life changing experience probably most people would describe as a nightmare. But that does not stop Paajanen from smiling constantly and being positive when talking about the future. She is determined to soon be back on the court again.
– I try to exercise if I have the strength whenever I can. Hopefully I’ll be back stronger than ever, when I have beaten this thing.

Before ending the interview she stops by sharing a clear message to everyone.
– I encourage everyone to listen to their body and its signs and demand treatment and care every time it feels needed. It can save your life.



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