Tai Agnoletto is so in touch with nature, that if the earth had a beating heart – it would probably be in sync with her heartbeats. Each beat would rise to a tall mountain that she has climbed, and then lower to a deep glacier that she’s photographed.
“I am a complete mountain and snow person, and I never knew that until I moved to Queenstown”
It was also in Queenstown, in February 2021, that Tai discovered something else about herself that would change the course of her life. After two months of back and forth between her GP, several clinics and her haematologist – she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.
“But before that, even when I was traveling in Japan two years ago, I had cancer and I didn’t even know. I’d put all the symptoms aside and say, ‘hey, I’m having night sweats – but I’m just stressed at the moment.’ Or, ‘I’m super fatigued, but that’s because I’m working 70 hour weeks”
Tai is a hard worker, and to compensate for that – she also has a lot of fun. Tai loves travelling the world, chasing auroras and being around nature. This is how she spent her early thirties. She had no idea that deep inside, her body was fighting a serious battle and she was gravely ill.
“See, it’s funny with blood cancer…you always find an explanation for your symptoms. You never think it’s blood cancer, you think it’s something else.”
But, by now, Tai knew exactly what she was dealing with. She had accepted her diagnosis and she went head first into treatment. It wasn’t easy. “My haematologist told me that I wouldn’t be able to have kids after the treatment.”
This was because of the effects of the chemotherapy. She suggested to Tai that they could look into freezing her eggs, but advised caution when considering this, as it would delay the treatment by 2-3 weeks.
Tai agreed. “I’m like, ‘I’ll tell you what. Things happen the way they should. If I am to be a mother, then that will happen for me, somehow. I’m not going to worry about that right now.”
It’s remarkable how Tai can accept a challenging situation with grace and kindness to herself. Sometimes, she can even have a little fun with it.
“I was always visualising things. I’d look at my PICC line (the tube inserted into your skin to give medications), and I’d think, what if I was in X-Men? Like, imagine if I was a bionic human being!”
But, Tai knew that she wasn’t really bionic. Like many people in her position, she needed support and when Deborah from LBC came to visit her with open arms, Tai graciously accepted her help
“I was like, give me everything! If I don’t need something, I’ll press pause, or stop. But at this stage, just throw at me whatever you have and we can go from there.”
The most practical support that Tai was grateful to receive from LBC was fuel vouchers, because she was constantly driving in and out of Clyde – a town over an hour away from her home for treatment.
And LBC’s support groups were the most meaningful. Tai remembers one session in particular; “They all realised that I was still actively going through chemo and they were looking at me like I was a ghost! They said, ‘Are you serious? You drove here?’, It was really funny.”
“They were like – ‘look at your hair! Is that a wig?’ and I said, ‘No, it’s my hair.’, They couldn’t believe it!” Their feedback gave Tai a huge boost of confidence.
Perhaps, her motivation to get outdoors again had something to do with it. “Throughout my whole treatment, I had a plan of the hikes that I wanted to do after finishing treatment. It would be a progression – I understood that my body would be rebuilding, little by little, and I’d need to be patient.”
Tai has spent a lot of time reflecting on her cancer journey. She’s no longer going to accept 70 hour work weeks. “If I die tomorrow, I don’t want my epitaph to say, ‘She was a duty manager at a hotel. I want it to say… ‘She was a dreamer, she was a hiker, she was a snowboarder,’”
She’s already made her next travel plans for Iceland, and she’s also looking forward to visiting her parents back home in Brazil.
“You live so much more intensely after cancer, because you really understand the meaning of the phrase, ‘you never know about tomorrow’.”