Traveling and cancer: everywhere I go, there you are

Traveling and cancer: everywhere I go, there you are

Traveling and cancer don't go together very well. Some of my friends will have ongoing treatments for a long time, frequent blood tests and scans. Leaving their web of physicians and caregivers can be frightening and, even, risky.

I've always been glad that the folks I know who love to travel work things out. MK went to Florida for several months in the winter to soak up the sun and spend time outdoors. Before she left, she secured an oncologist in her new location and made sure that her regular doctor had communicated, shared records and important treatment information. It worked very well for her.

For some of my friends, traveling is scary. They are weary of doctors and tests, waiting rooms and infusions, but leaving all of those feels a little bit like being thrown in the deep end before you know how to swim. Doctors, especially, become our life jackets.

Even those of us in remission, filled with hope and optimism, on the verge of using words like "cured" or "cancer free," sometimes feel unmoored by travel.

I know I do, but then, I have always struggled with travel. I'm a homebody. I like to putter in my kitchen, throw a load of clothes in the wash, work on my back patio, pull a weed or two. Like a cat, I suppose, I like my couch and my patch of sun. I don't feel the need for a couch or patch of sun in another world.

But, travel I do. My first trip to England, at 25 or 26 years old, was my attempt to say, "I'm an adult. I can take care of myself." I was on my own and had never traveled anywherealone. I'd never been outside the USA. It was terrifying, but I made myself do it, and it's always seemed a watershed moment in my life. I not only did it, but I had fun doing it.

Then I married my husband, who is British, and travel overseas is a regular part of our lives. It's still hard for me, but I've learned to adjust. When my daughter was born, travel became a brand new thing. She loved every single part of it.

Wow! The tray tables fold down. Wow! They bring us food on a tiny plate. Wow! I have my own headphones. Cool! There are clouds right outside my window.

She loves planes, trains, boats, cars, anything that moves her from here to there. She's a seasoned traveler and seeing it all through her eyes has been so good for me.

The last time my husband and daughter traveled to Europe, I couldn't go because I had to teach. It was a stifling, hot summer and became one of the worst of my life. At the end of it, I was diagnosed with cancer.

I hope someday to be able to date the things in my life in relation to something else, but for now, life is divided into before cancer and after cancer. When I think about it my vision starts narrowing into a tight focus on a black, blank screen.

Two years later, we are all traveling. We've been to Paris for a week and have been with family in England for a week. It is a similar trip to theirs, and I keep trying to shake the sense that when we get home I'll have bad news waiting.

Even still, it's been one of the best trips we've taken. I love having weeks where I barely think about cancer, where the present moment is so intense that I have to live within it and experience it.

My favorite moment from this vacation was the night when France beat Switzerland in the World Cup. We were in Paris, one of our last nights, having dinner and then walking down the Champs-Élysées. The entire evening was punctuated by a city roaring with every goal. When they won, Parisians came unglued.

Cars full of fans circled around the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs-Élysées, round and round, shouting, honking, waving flags. The exuberance upstaged everything else Paris has to offer. It was a moment that you couldn't plan or buy a postcard of. You just had to be there.

I didn't think about cancer until the next day when we had a drink at a cafe and I saw a woman, gaunt, wary, head wrapped in a turban, no eyebrows or lashes. Cancer is a ghost, a cloud, an essence. It's everywhere. As cancer loosens its grip on me, I'm aware that it tightens its grip on others.

The next day we were on our way to England via the Eurostar. I fretted about descending into a tunnel under the Channel as my husband and daughter soaked it all in.

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