When I sat down to write this article, my original goal was to express what it’s like to travel for a week to an international beach vacation while living with metastatic breast cancer. I was going to tell you about the three different doctors (two neurologists and one oncologist) whose approval I needed to gain before going away, the brain MRI I had to have three weeks ahead of traveling, and lengthy list of medical instructions each doctor gave me. I was going to write about what it was like to be in Jamaica while having to take 16 pills daily; 6 Xeloda (oral chemotherapy) pills and 10 anti-seizure pills (because my 8 brain mets gave me the gift of a seizure disorder). I was going to go into depth about being at an all-inclusive resort watching everybody else drink and not being able to have a glass of wine with my dinner, and the layers of sunblock that I had to apply while sitting underneath a full body canopy in the shade. There is so much more I could cover about this trip with MBC, both the bad and the good, including the fact that I was still able to go in the first place. Then my mind started to travel (pun intended) into a different direction. To steal from the famous writer Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn’t help but wonder something. Do I have cancer or does cancer have me?
Traveling has always been something I never thought twice about. I always just did it. My first flight was when I was 5 years old from New York to LA, when smoking was still allowed on planes and children could be taken to the cockpit. I was given an airplane wing pin by the pilot I visited, and was made into a traveler, right then and there. Thankfully I have a supportive family who always encouraged my exploration, often ventured with me, and often financially backed my desire to visit parts unknown. My wanderlust has taken me to all 50 US states and many countries, including a 6-month stint living and traveling across Australia. I never needed much with me, although I somehow always over-packed. Mostly just clothes for every possible situation, makeup, and basic toiletries. Sometimes for a three-night trip, I would cram everything into a backpack.
In the eight months leading up to my MBC de novo diagnosis in May 2014 (the week of my 33rd birthday), I was a jetsetter, hitting up Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, South Carolina, Jamaica, a week-long New Year’s Eve cruise, and Washington, D.C. While I was off plane hopping, partying, and being a care-free single woman, I had no clue that a literal cancer was growing and spreading throughout my body. I did not know that in less than a year’s time that not just the way I traveled, but my whole life would become extremely different. Very soon I would be living in “the upside down.” My world would become dictated by doctor’s appointments, drug schedules, side effects, scans, and waiting for the unknown to become known.
Three and half years post my diagnosis, my greatest concerns about scheduling trips are drastically different. It is no longer about getting the time off from work because I am now on disability, but instead is it physically possible? I have made some big trips while living with MBC, including spending an amazing 10 days in Hawaii, but that was before my brain mets became known. That combined with an associated seizure disorder is a different ball game. They play by their own set of rules and make them up as we each make a move. I must schedule trips around treatments and scans, and cross my fingers, hope for the best and buy travel insurance. I once had to cancel a cruise two days before I was set to go away because I was not cleared for travel. Cancer won that round. It had me and I didn’t have it. However, I have been able to make up for it by taking a week-long cruise last May and just got back from a 7-night trip to Jamaica. I stayed at the same resort that I went to just 6 months prior to my MBC diagnosis.
I was in my hotel room, on my balcony, looking down on the volleyball net in one of the pools and remembering the game that I played with my family. I saw the swim-up pool bar where I had a great Bahama Mama. How did I not know what was happening internally during all that fun back then?? Then I went inside and I looked at my four prescription pill bottles, my medical face masks to wear on the flights, antacids, multiple cans of sunscreen, 4 different lotions to soothe my achy Xeloda feet, and giant water bottle to make sure I stay hydrated. This low-key frequent traveler went to a cancer patient occasional traveler who needed a whole lot of stuff, which brings me back to the question of do I have cancer or does cancer have me?
I think the answer is, we have each other. I am still alive to travel and satisfy my wanderlust, but I no longer have the freedom to just pick up and go someplace like I did before.
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