Protagonists is a series of interviews about life, identity, and pursuing passions…
Marina Della-Mea is a free spirit by any measure. She’s lived a holistic, well-travelled life, now settled in Norway’s Lofoten Islands with her husband, Sandro. Together they run Reine Adventure, an environmentally-conscious tour company that offers hiking, camping, kayaking and skiing.
However, the idyllic postcard life hit a devastating impasse when Marina was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and given little hope of survival.
How many countries have you lived in?
I’ve lived and worked in six countries and travelled to many in between. My grand plan was just to see the world. It really has been quite the trip. Different lands, cultures and people. I feel super blessed.
What was your upbringing like in Australia?
I grew up on the Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise, Northern NSW, all over the coast. My mother is a musician so I grew up in a house full of music and the arts. My childhood was amazing. We were exposed to all things good ‒ organic food, music, dance, theatre, art, beach life, rainforest, constant activities and a lot of travel. We’re four girls; mumma and my two sisters.
Growing up we were very close. We spent a lot of time learning music, singing and performing together. Life was never dull with four expressive females in the house. We moved to Sydney when I was 17 so my sister and I could go to a school of the arts and my mum could be more involved in music. Great move, love that city.
What made you decide to settle in Lofoten? It’s pretty remote, even by Norwegian standards.
We’d been living in a cabin in the forest in southern Norway for seven years. Being Australian, I needed the ocean but we also needed the mountains so Lofoten was a perfect combination. The most extremely beautiful mountains which drop into the wildest, coldest ocean. So raw. So beautiful. Here you can have a very close relationship with nature and the animals.
And how did Reine Adventure get started?
Sandro’s been a tour guide all over the world and had been running bike tours up here for years. We came here to camp and ski for 10 days and I fell in love with the island. We had to live here.
We wanted to set up an ecological adventure company in a pristine place to create a lifestyle we wanted to live. Being able to make an income doing the activities you love was perfect. We’re out in incredible nature, meeting people from all over the world, sharing the beauty of Reine. It’s one of the most beautiful fjords in Norway. A charming little fishing village surrounded by breathtaking mountains.
Were you having health problems prior to your diagnosis? How did that change your life?
Finding out I had a tumour around my heart the size of a rockmelon was a very surreal experience for so many reasons. Firstly, I was in really good condition physically as I eat only organic and do yoga every day. Plus paddling, biking, skating, hiking and guiding – these are my interests and I do at least one of these activities every day.
When I was diagnosed I was working non-stop. We’d just started the business so I was guiding kayak tours and running up and down mountains, teaching yoga at night and rebuilding an old house we bought which was totally rotten from the harsh weather.
We had no time to look up. We worked solidly from June to September. The week the season finished I collapsed on the couch with really bad fever, severe aches and pains all over my body. I couldn’t get off the couch for two weeks. I tried everything herbal ‒ that’s what my mother has taught me ‒ but it wasn’t working.
I had this weird smell about me. I know now it was the smell of death. Being in top physical form on the outside and being told you have stage 4 cancer with a tumour around your heart is rather ‘surreal’. Also, the cancer was made up of two types ‒ one very aggressive and one not so (this is not common, of course I had to get the rainbow version).
I’d been misdiagnosed for three years by doctors. My spirit knew something was wrong years before but no one would listen. I was working in a kindergarten constantly surrounded by sick children so I contracted Norwegian strains of measles, chickenpox and so on. My immune system took a serious battering. I was often sick with fever. Because I didn’t grow up here I was susceptible to all the common illnesses.
I kept building myself up with herbs and Norway just kept knocking me down. It’s the hardest country I’ve lived in, due to the lack of sun, heat, vitamin D, fresh fruit and vegetables. I went to a doctor for the first time in my life ‒ until then I’d always had a naturopath. Apart from broken bones, I’d never been to the doctor.
Blood tests were taken and I was told there was nothing wrong every time. I asked them to check for everything, but those tests cost money and they weren’t about to spend it because my spirit was telling me something was really wrong.
Basically if they’d listened to me and done the proper tests we could have caught it early, meaning no chemotherapy, no radiation. I would have healed it with food, herbs, meditation. visualisation and yoga. But alas my soul likes to take the interesting road, it always has. Getting sick is the greatest spiritual lesson I could endure. There is no blame, no one’s fault. It was simply what my soul chose to experience and I am grateful.
To learn everything I have learnt about healing your mind, body and soul is invaluable and I’m eternally grateful. One year of treatment chemotherapy and radiation combined with all my witchy ways stripped me to the very core of my existence ‒ 41 kilos, no hair, third-degree burns from the radiation inside and outside my body, loss of most movement in my hands and neck. It took over a year to get my fingers working and be able to turn my head slightly to the right or left. So yeah, rebuilding from the ground up.
The medical treatment is so invasive so hard, essentially they are killing you with poisons to kill the illness, so you’re dying. You can feel it. You can taste and you can smell it. Mentally, it’s super challenging to have to sit with an IV going into your chest, full of poison, for long four-hour sessions. You’re going into convulsions, vomiting, shaking uncontrollably, knowing all you want to do is rip that cord out of your chest but knowing if you do you may give up the chance of winning the battle. That’s a head fuck indeed.
But I was blessed to have an amazing man beside me who entertained me in my room, kept me laughing constantly reciting “you can do this standing on your head”. In Norwegian they say ‘Stor pa’. It means ‘Stand up and take it like a Viking’.
Then there’s all the paperwork that goes with it. Sandro handled all of that, which is a full-time job in itself. Getting that severe illness in a cold country minus 25, no light, no sun, different language, different everything to what I knew was tough. Having to endure medical tests and treatment beyond your wildest dreams changes every part of you, not the core of your soul but every other aspect of your being.
I learnt how to heal myself with the combination of alternative and traditional medicine. I learnt about energy, deep meditation and visualisation to keep the energy flowing in my body while being conscious of every mouthful of food I managed to eat ‒ healing through food.
These tools and knowledge are so invaluable. I feel totally blessed…just a little proud. I’m eternally grateful to my family, friends and all the doctors and nurses I worked with ‒ they are truly earth Angels. What they do on a daily basis is incredible. I bow to each and everyone of them, they’re amazing.
A very dear friend told me in the beginning to make myself known by name so I wasn’t just a number. Super smart advice. The harsh reality becomes a little kinder when you’re not just a number.
How are you feeling now?
I just got my final five-year results before Christmas, officially giving me the all clear, signing me out of the medical system. I’m still absorbing this ‒ my eight-year journey is over. I’m still repairing the physical damage though.
The treatment was so severe that I still have pain and get very tired very quickly. I’ll probably never be able to work the way I used to which is hard on my heart because I love what I do. I have a lot of side effects from the treatment which I’m learning to live with. I continue all my spiritual practices everyday, I eat my way to health and try to do one thing I love doing every day.
Now it seems I have a duty to share all I have learnt in as many forms as possible. I’m thinking of writing a book. When I got sick I had no reference point so I started reading. I read so many books and started putting together my plan of attack, compiling information on alternate treatments as well as medical and spiritual practices. I’m thinking of writing it all down under one cover. If it helps even one person who might find some comfort in what I share, it’s worth every second of this crazy journey I’ve been on for eight years. My focus now is to stay well and help others heal in some fashion. I’m not sure where it will lead, but the unknown is super exciting.
You know I never cried through the whole experience but this year I’m crying at anything…like if there is no milk in the fridge for coffee. How funny is that? Humour is the way to get through this life being able to laugh at yourself and all the crazy shit we do during this human experience.
If you have the chance to visit Norway, do yourself a favour, head up to Lofoten and book a tour with Reine Adventure.