‘Giving words to cancer has helped Joanne’


RATUM – A versatile and artistic woman. You can say that about Joanne Ellenkamp, ​​who died of cancer on January 3 this year at the age of 61. Because she liked to make sculptures, as evidenced by the large number of statues in and around the house in the village of Ratum that she shared with her partner Carolien Nijhuis. She also sang with the Achterhoek choir Classic WM and played as a saxophonist with the Ratum fanfare Crescendo. And she wrote poems for a long time. A selection of these has now been published posthumously.

By Bart Kraan

She also did everything she could to become a better poet. Before moving from Rotterdam to Ratum with Carolien, she took classes with Poetry International and various poets in her former hometown. After their move, she discussed her work with other poets. With the feedback she got, she started working on her poems. Both newer and somewhat older works. Joanne would have liked to have published a small collection herself while she was alive. But that was no longer allowed because of the illness that eventually killed her. Carolien took over with the help of two friends, which resulted in the collection ‘As if everything knows its place’. This is for sale in Kramer bookstore from this week. The booklet contains poems and photos of trees in Ratum selected by Joanne Ellenkamp. “Joanne made the choice and printed the selected poems herself,” says Carolien, who wrote the foreword. Of course, a number of poems are about cancer. “Putting it into words helped Joanne. She read a lot and liked to philosophize.’

“Here Joanne was Joanne. People didn’t want anything from her, she could be herself’

A number of poems in the collection were recited at an event in Rotterdam over three afternoons in June. A number of sculptures by Joanne were also on display there. She made these works to express her feelings and images about cancer in clay. Before her death, Joanne asked a friend of ours, who is a director and director of a theater, to organize this exhibition. He, I and a few other people then turned it into a kind of tribute to Joanne”, says Carolien, who has included pictures of the exhibited sculptures in the booklet ‘Cancer Images’. ”I wanted a booklet with that exhibition as a guide. At many exhibitions, visitors can receive a booklet that tells something about the works on display. I think it has become a fine book.”

It is not surprising that Joanne has devoted quite a few of her poems to cancer. The last seven years of her life were dominated by this terrible disease. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, from which she was eventually cured. But in 2015 she developed lung pain. “At first the doctor thought it was a pulled muscle,” says her partner. ”But it just didn’t get better, so at some point it was clear it wasn’t about a muscle. It got worse and worse, to the point where she couldn’t move at all.”
Joanne then went to her doctor, who came up with three possibilities: heart problems, pneumonia or metastases. Examinations showed that there were no heart problems or pneumonia. “It was about metastases, pictures taken at the hospital in Rotterdam indicated that there was fluid between the lung lobes. That fluid contained tumor cells, it was metastatic breast cancer that could not be overcome. She was told her life expectancy was two and a half years.”
Joanne Ellenkamp’s world came crashing down because it was clear that a very active life would come to an end. “She was active in politics in Rotterdam, was chairman of the board of the anti-discrimination agency RADAR and director of the care institution Pameijer,” said Carolien. Joanne then indicated that she no longer wanted to work and that she wanted to spend as much time as possible with her partner.

So both ladies have spent most of that time in Ratum. This was not unknown to them, as they already had a holiday home at the Wiltershaar campsite in Kotten before their move to the Achterhoek. “So we came here every year and loved it. We walked the Scholtenpad, I was really impressed”, says Carolien. Finally, via their Ipad, their eyes fell on a farm in Ratum. “We already knew this place from our walks. About in the evening we immediately called the estate agent, because there was a guest house, a shed for Joanne’s studio and a house.’
The sale was completed at the end of 2017 and the move followed in March 2018. Quarters were made in the traditional way, after which Joanne, despite her increasing illness, and Carolien threw themselves fully into Winterswijk life. For example, Joanne became a member of the Achterhoek choir Classic FM, for which she soon acted as treasurer. And she joined Crescendo, where she played as a saxophonist in the Lego orchestra. “She loved it, she played twice more with the brass band at the folk festival in Ratum.”
And because she was so satisfied with the care and attention she received at Queen Beatrix Regional Hospital, she became secretary of the client council at Winterswijk hospital in January 2021. “She also thought it was important that SKB remained independent.”
But Joanne was already so weak by September that she decided to stop this work. She had already stopped the treatment in June because she wanted to have a nice and pain-free summer. In the last months of her life, she was often in her studio because she wanted to make a series of statues and a set of ceramic plates, cups and saucers for her partner. “She really enjoyed it. She finished her last picture on December 31st, I was able to show it to her on January 2nd. She died on January 3rd. Joanne wasn’t afraid to die, wasn’t afraid of death. But she still had a thousand ideas that she regretted not being able to realize.’
Of course, Carolien is sad that her partner is gone, but she looks back with satisfaction on the time they both spent together on their farm in Ratum. Especially because Joanne could be herself in the Achterhoek. ”In Rotterdam she was always busy with her work and people always wanted something from her. It was also busy here, and many people still came by. But here Joanne was Joanne. People didn’t want anything from her, she could be herself’.

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