Driving West, The Cancer Word, Moving On

Sunset over Lake Erie

In mid-September I left New Jersey and my sister’s home and began heading west. Elsie the cat and I moved back into our little home on wheels and took off. I have been slowly making my way west, exploring Pennsylvania, stopping to visit family in Ohio and taking time to bird watch along the south shore of Lake Erie.

I spent three lovely days visiting good friends, Helen and Norb, in Chicago before once again heading west. I am now in Lincoln, NE visiting with good friends, waiting out a cold front that is coming through before once again heading west.

For all of my friends that are experiencing very cold conditions at night, I am afraid I am going to bypass you this time. Why? 10 degrees F. is just a bit too cold for my rig. I am going to be driving south and then west so I don’t have to winterize my little home on wheels.

I will arrive in San Diego on October 20. I am scheduled for surgery to remove the other half of my thyroid on October 25. With the support of my doctors I put off this surgery until after my grand summer vacation in Africa. Now I have to move ahead. I guess the vacation is over.

I have been contemplating, otherwise known as thinking, about my life coming up. I am nervous about this surgery. I am apprehensive about the outcome. A few days ago I woke in the morning with the realization that I am experiencing the “C” word for the second time in my life and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, a bit nervous, and a bit scared, and a bit emotional. Ah life continues to hand out the surprises.

There is another feeling I have been experiencing this time with cancer and that is the sense of feeling very alone in this big wide world. When I had breast cancer, Jim was alive and was my major every day support. This time I am having to create my support team. And, honestly?, I am missing Jim.

After seeing Jim go through head and neck cancer I swore that was the one type of cancer I did not want to tackle. Now here I am. I am trying very hard to separate the two experiences yet that is hard to do. I know they are different kinds of cancer but seriously who cares? Cancer is cancer and it is a hard thing to handle.

I know I have heard all the words; “I have a friend (aunt, sister…) who had thyroid cancer and they had their thyroid removed and are fine”, “If you are going to have cancer, this is the a good cancer to have” (that is a horrible thing to say to someone, there is no good cancer to have), “you will be just fine” (how do you know?), “God never gives you more than you can handle” (bull on this one-don’t ever, ever, ever say this to anyone-ever), “It is a simple surgery” (What? there is not simple surgery). And the words go on.

On the positive side of this is that my friends are stepping forward.

  • During the weekend of surgery, Nancy is taking care of Miss Elsie.
  • Cynthia and Ward are taking me into their home to love me pre and post op.
  • Phyllis, I know, will be waiting in the wings to help however I will let her.
  • Helen and Dave, my friends in Lincoln told me to let them know if I need them and they will get into their tiny home on wheels and head west. (this was enough to bring tears to my eyes)
  • My friend Sharon, in southern Utah wants to be contacted post surgery so she can, from a distance love and support me.
  • My immediate family are too far away to physically help out, but I know they will be supporting me from a distance.

I am more than a bit overwhelmed by my friends near and far who will be loving me as I face this newest challenge in my life.

And in the midst of all this “C” stuff well here I am, once again in another October. Today would have been Jim’s birthday. Yesterday he went into the hospital for the last time. Six days from now I have a birthday. The day after my birthday Jim died. Now I have surgery on the 25th. Well isn’t that an actioned packed month. October seems to be more and more a month I struggle to get through. I appreciated when November 1 comes around.

Isn’t this an uplifting post? I have always tried to be honest with who I am in the moment and what I am going through. From the moment I posted my first post I told myself to write from the heart and I hope that I have succeeded in doing this.

Today this is who I am and tomorrow, well, I may be different. Tomorrow I will be moving south and west. Just like the other snowbirds I am heading to the sun and warmth. To my friends in San Diego, I will see you in about ten days and I look forward to reuniting with you.

In the meantime I will drive and explore and be amazed at the places I see. I will remember to breath, deeply and long and relax. And yes the camera will be coming out and join me for the ride. Miss Elsie is as always is my sidekick. I am looking west toward the rest of my life.

Into Africa

I am going to Africa. Saturday morning my friend, Phyllis and I board a plane at JFK International Airport and we are off.

How did I get to this point? First I agreed to go on this adventure. Early in March I moved into Phyllis’s condo for a couple weeks and we planned. Each morning after breakfast we moved to our computers and began to put this trip together. First we started with the photo safari and then moved on from there.

Pangolin Photo Safaris ended up being our Safari of choice. We will be traveling with professional photographers. I am excited to be able to learn from them. I am excited to see animals and birds  and learn how to photograph them better. I am excited. Our tour includes a hot air balloon ride. That excites me too. Kenya and this safari is the climax of this trip.

It was Phyllis who said “If I am traveling that distance, I want to see as much as I can”. We extended our stay to one month. Then we decided two months would be better. We got input from good friends who planned their own independent trip to Africa (thank you Mary Z) and decided we could do this as well.

Several blogs helped guide us to figure out routes, places to stay and things to do. With the ten hour time difference it took a while to put the trip together. I did have a few late nights so I could contact places when they were open.

And then in the middle of all the planning, I had surgery to remove my right thyroid for what everyone thought would be a benign nodule. Instead it came back positive for cancer. After a few shed tears and oh my God moments, I had discussions with my surgeon and endocrinologist and a second opinion at UCSD Moores Cancer Center. Everyone said go to Africa and so I am. I was started on Synthroid to keep my numbers low. The rest of the treatment is on hold until fall. I am turning the cancer shingle to the wall for the summer and am off on a grand adventure. I know that sounds easy yet, in reality I have to keep my anxiety at bay. It is good to do research but not too much.

Tuesday I picked Phyllis up at the airport in New Jersey. She came to stay at the lake for a few days. In the wee hours of Saturday morning we are climbing aboard British Air and flying off into the wild blue yonder.

Here is our tentative itinerary in a nutshell.

  • Victoria Falls is the first stop. I plan on getting wet in the mist of the falls. Did you know that elephants sometimes walk through downtown Victoria Falls? Elephants!!!!
  • Three days later we will fly to Nelspruit, South Africa and rent a car.
  • After one night in town, it will be time to explore Kruger National Park. We plan a week in the park. We hope to see the big five-buffalo, elephant, rhino, lion, and leopard. In Kruger you can rent cottages in different areas. We are staying in cottages in two different sections of the park. The other three nights we will be staying at a private reserve. Hikes and Safaris are included in our itinerary.
  • When we depart Kruger NP we plan to meander south along the east coast of south Africa. This is the most un-set part of our itinerary. We are going on a road trip.
  • It will be spring in South Africa. Flowers will be starting to bloom. I am looking forward to the gardens and the flowers and visiting National Parks as we travel.
  • Our next big stop is West Coast National Park. We will see more animals and wild flowers. We have registered for a day hike in this park and staying in Langebaan, a town just outside the park.
  • Next is Cape Town. We will be staying at the Parker House, again a recommendation. Sight unseen I have no doubt we will like our accommodations. The owners have been instrumental in helping us with some of the details of this journey, a rental car for one. It is nice to know that someone has our backs and we can touch base with them if we need to.
  • Finally we fly to Kenya and go on our official Safari. I am hoping to see many animals and birds. The Wildebeest migration is at the top of the list.

Elsie the cat and my rig are staying at my sister’s, on the lake in northern New Jersey. Ginny and my niece are taking the rig out for a weekend camping trip. We have gone through all the nuts and bolts on running the rig and turning on the house. The owners manual is close by and I told her that if she has any questions to ask on the RV Lifestyles or Roadtrek Hymer Facebook pages. People have always been helpful when questions are asked.

Here is my condensed summer adventure. I am excited and a little nervous. Hopefully I will remember to try to enjoy my journey just one day at a time. I will remember to breath and allow myself to open up to the experience.

There will be definitely more to come. I am planning to blog often and post photos, of course. I hope you will come along for the journey.