BARTENDER SPOTLIGHT: Jesse Teerenmaa
We read every note we receive from every bar that signs up to participate in Negroni Week. Amid the notes saying (great!) things like “Can’t wait for Negroni Week 2015!” and “We heart Negronis” was a striking and personal message from the head bartender of Finland’s Grotesk Bar, Jesse Teerenmaa. It read: “I had testicular cancer four years ago, and as of May, 2015 I can say that I’m totally cancer free. I will give our donations with a smile on my face in the hope that others will not have to suffer through what I had to suffer through.” He and his team will be donating their Negroni Week earnings to the Finnish Cancer Society. Teerenmaa spoke with us about his own experience with cancer, and what Negroni Week means to him.
Imbibe: How long have you been bartending?
Jesse Teerenmaa: It’s my seventh year now, and I’m loving it.
Imbibe: How did you find out that you had cancer, and how did it affect your life?
JT: Well, it was quite certain that something was wrong when my other testicle puffed up to double the normal size. I still could not process the word when the doctor said that I had cancer. How could that happen? I had been healthy my whole life and then they drop this news. The next few weeks were the most difficult ones of my life because I didn’t know if the cancer had spread. Basically, I wasn’t sure I would live through the summer. It was relief to hear that cancer had not spread and my odds for survival were rather good. At that time, I was studying and bartending at the same time, so I had to put both on pause. Between the treatment and surgery, I had to take six months of sick leave. Before I got the news, I was doing my thesis for school and was planning to open a bar with a friend. Both got rain-checked. After sick leave, I had to be checked several times a year for many years to see if the cancer had relapsed. But now, as you’re reading this, I’ve been to my last check-up, and I’m officially cancer-free. Cancer forced me to see life in different perspective. Nowadays all the small shitty stuff that happens in life doesn’t feel that bad anymore.
Imbibe: What got you through your illness and treatment?
JT: I’ve been blessed with a lot of good friends who kept me sane during those times. Cheered me when needed, and kept me company when I was most down. I have to thank all of them. Also my family supported me those times a lot, and afterwards too. It wasn’t that easy to get back to normal life.
Imbibe: What’s the best thing people can do to support people in their lives who are dealing with cancer?
JT: I think the best thing is to treat the people like they’re healthy. While suffering, I think it’s important to not let them think of themselves as dying.
Imbibe: Tell us a bit more about why you chose the Finnish Cancer Society as your charity?
JT: The Finnish Cancer Society spreads awareness about cancer, which is very important because too often people find out too late that they have cancer. The research they do is valuable to the people that suffer from this disease. Every organization that provides this important information deserves some charity.
Imbibe: Why is Negroni Week important to you?
JT: The Negroni is one of my favorite cocktails, maybe even my most favorite. I love that the week is all about having fun and also supporting a great cause that’s important to you.
Imbibe: What will you be serving during Negroni Week?
JT: I’m hoping that we’ll put the Negroni on draught that week. We’ll be the first ones to serve draught cocktails in Finland, but we have to be sure the machine will work first! If not, we’ll probably be serving classic Negronis and White Negronis.