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.

 

Miss Elsie the Cat’s Summer Vacation

Hi everyone. Here I am sitting in a house on a lake in Northern New Jersey. I am not sure I know where that is. I do know it different than where I have spent most of my life. First it is really, really green here. I mean, big trees, green grass, big flowers and more. I am very thankful that I can still find dirt to roll in. As many of you know that is one of my favorite things to do.

Janet tells me I am going to spend my summer here. Hmmm….I wonder what summer means…..hmmm…I wonder what spending my summer here means. I think I am OK with this.

You should see my room. Well I am assuming it is my room. This room is huge compared to my little home on wheels. Janet brought in my toys and blankets. This is so I am more comfortable here. I like it because there are four windows that I can sit in and watch birds and chipmunks. It is a good way to pass the day when I am not resting. Us cats need our beauty sleep. All my essentials are here. That makes me happy.

A very large water bowl

At least once a day Janet hooks me to my leash and takes me outside. This outside is very different. There is a huge water bowl when I go outside. Janet calls it a lake but I think it looks like a giant water bowl. I am a bit nervous about all that water. One night Janet had me sitting with her and she started throwing bread into the water. What the heck? All of sudden there were these pops and bumps at the top of the water and the bread disappeared. Ginny, Janet’s sister says that they are fish. Wow someone lives under the water. Imagine that? I wonder how they breath.

Kitty Lepore

There is another kitty that lives here. Her name is Kitty Lepore. She is big and round and soft. And, she has a limp. I am not sure what to make of her. She doesn’t seem to be bothered by me. I am nervous around her. I have had a few bad encounters with other kitties so I am cautious around Kitty L. I hiss at her and growl and then I run away. I am not always as brave as I appear. Kitty L just sits there and looks at me.

Ginny and Frank are Kitty L’s caretakers. They seem to be really nice people. Janet tells me that they will be taking care of me for the summer. They seem nice and let me get to know them on my terms. I like that. I get nervous when people try to approach me too quickly.

There is this rug in the living room that smells of catnip. Mmmm…I love catnip. When I am brave enough to venture down the stairs I go to that rug and roll and play with the toy that is there. The rug is my safe spot when I am brave enough to make my way downstairs. Each day I get a little braver. I am careful because I don’t want to lose any of my nine lives exploring this new place.

Janet has been telling me she is going away for a while and I am staying here. I am not sure what that means. She tells me she will be back. I sure hope so because we are a team. In the mean time I will make myself comfy and try to make the best of my summer on the lake.

Uh Oh-Camping Trip Interrupted

After a brief visit with my Ohio sister, Ruth and my great nephew, Ward, my New Jersey sister, Ginny,  and I left for a camping trip to the east coast and her home.

Well that camping trip did not last long. We camped for one night on a beautiful reservoir that border Ohio and Pennsylvania and then…..being sick happened. I was hit first. We instantly made a decision to head to I-80 and head for home.

 

Here is what I know today.

  • I love my sister, for doing the five plus hours of driving. She never flinched, just got behind the wheel and rolled. (80 on 80 she says). I don’t even want to know.
  • I love the fact I was in an RV. I disappeared to the back and was able to crash on a comfy bed.
  • I love the fact that said RV has a bathroom.
  • I love rest stops on the interstate.

A day later Ginny succumbed. By then we were home and she could retreat to her comfy bed. Then a day later her husband, Frank, succumbed. Ay yi yi. We are all in recovery mode and life is looking a little brighter. Food is beginning to look and taste good and we have survived another sickly adventure in life.

Being sick is no fun. Listening to what my body needs, takes a little attention and agreeing that I don’t need to be strong. There are times that the best thing I can do is crawl into bed and feel sorry for myself and sleep it off. Sometimes it is OK to let others help you out. As a proud and independent person, this is not always easy to admit.

A good thing about family is that we can push past the barriers that one sets for oneself and help each other out. Ginny helped me when I was at my worst. Frank and I helped Ginny when she was at her worst. And the two sisters were there for Frank when he was at his worst.

The real bottom line, here, is IT IS NO FUN BEING SICK. Yet when it does happen it is good to have family and friends close by who are more than willing to jump in and help out.

Hmm, I am getting hungry.😋

Sisters

Traveling solo in my RV can, at times, be a lonely existence. There are days that I grow weary of my own company. I miss companionship. I have discovered over the past few years how fun it is to travel with others. There is more laughter and definitely more talking. I have enjoyed the times when I have traveled with others.

I am on my way to northern New Jersey, to my sister’s home. Miss Elsie the Cat and the rig are going to spend the summer there, while I travel to South Africa. Miss El and I know how fortunate we are to have a place that is safe and secure and loving to go to. 

A week ago I texted my New Jersey sister, Ginny, and suggested that she fly to Ohio, where my other sister, Ruth and my niece and her family live. She could then ride back to New Jersey with me. I totally expected her to say no. And, I would have understood. It was a last minute kind of thing. 

You know what she said? “I am already packed!” Woo Hoo! I was immediately surprised, excited and happy. We are going on a road trip. Ginny and I have done road trips together before. There was that time in Maine when we got so mad at each other, we had to pull off the road so we could yell at each other. By dinner we were friends again. 

We have explored the West Coast, the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce together. One of our last trips was to western Massachusetts and New York State. I was doing a “Fam” trip (familiarization trip). I was exploring the area before I took a tour group into the area. We have discovered interesting places together. Near St Johnsbury, VT we were guided by a local retailer to seek out the Dog Chapel at Dog Mountain.

Dog Mountain is set on 150 acres on a private mountaintop spot. The grounds are always open to people and their dogs. Stephen Huneck and his wife, Gwen, bought the property in 1995. They turned the barn into studio space. Stephen was a hand wood carver. During a serious illness Stephen had a vision to create a space for dogs including The Dog Chapel. What an interesting find. the whole area on the top of a mountain is dedicated to dogs. Inside the chapel the walls were covered with photos of dogs who have passed over, others that were sick. We added a picture of one of our favorite kitties, Wally. It is important to encourage diversity. Stephen and his wife, Gwen, have both died. A foundation continues to run and manage Dog Mountain.  There are hiking trails and a dog agility park. All dogs and their humans are welcome. Yes I would encourage you to explore this unique find when you are in the are

Tomorrow, all three of us sisters will be reunited, however briefly near Columbus Ohio. I look forward to seeing both of my sisters and my great nephew, Ward. My niece and her husband are out of town. After a good visit, Ginny and I will get in EmmyLou the RV with Miss Elsie the Cat and we will venture the backroads to northern NJ. I am looking forward to the company. I am looking forward to what we might discover.

Hopefully this will be the beginning of others, and you know who you are, joining me for long or short trips in my RV. I will treasure the company. My world appears to be expanding.

 

 

 

 

The Adventure of the Anxious Traveler

Navajo National Monument

Since leaving San Diego, I have had a beautiful ride and some nice hikes in my favorite parts of the United States. I have visited friends and helped out where I can. It has been a relaxing and easy time.

As I was crossing the Navajo Reservation, I found, although I was enjoying the scenery, I was anxious. The closer I got to Durango, CO the more my anxiety increased. I tried breathing. I tried diverting my thoughts. And finally I took a Xanax.

Rafting the Animas, Durango

The big question, why was I so anxious? I love this area of Colorado. It has a bit of a feeling of coming home. Why the anxiety?

  • Jim and I bought 45 acres of property here, in 1999. It was going to be our retirement home. We have upgraded the property. For the first couple of years after Jim died I was unable to come to Durango, much less visit the property. Last year I realized that 45 acres was more than I wanted to manage on my own and I put it on the market.
  • I have a good realtor. I have a lawyer that is making sure all my paperwork is in order. I have good friends here who offer to help me any way they can. Yet I find it is hard to let go. I try to keep the emotions out of this sale. It is, at times, hard to do.
  • As I drive across this great country I have a lot of time to think. If I focus too much on the issues with my thyroid and cancer I get a little anxious. Have I made the right choice to wait until fall? How long do I have to live? How long do any of us have to live? Why does the diagnosis of cancer create all these mixed up emotions in anyone? Well aren’t these just a bunch of loaded questions.

Very good friends

What surprises me about anxiety is that it shows up suddenly. I have done little to precipitate it. I would like to tell it to go away. If only it was that easy. On the drive into Durango, I diverted my attention with a qood audio-book. This technique helps a lot. It has to be a captivating book. Stopping to take photos also helps me refocus (sic). I know I can reach out to friends as well. Not that afternoon as I was driving in and out of cell range.

I have been in Durango for two days now. I have had a chance to visit with friends, meet my realtor, and take care of some business. I have gotten one good bike ride in and I am doing better. The anxiety is less, yet I still feel it simmering in the deep backgrounds of my being. I am breathing more, throwing in a little meditation and reminding myself that this is just property and as others have said to me, “it is just business”.

I am choosing to find things to do that bring me joy. That has helped lessen the anxiety a lot. If you have never been to this country, joy to me, is being outside and in nature. I can hike, bike, walk and more. There are lovely stores in town that cry out to be explored. The art galleries are my favorite. I may even go off to the hot springs and soak. There is a lot to do in Durango.

I am more than coping. I am being adult when I need to be and then I can drop that and go off and explore and enjoy my day. I am remembering to breath. It is good to inhale spring at elevation. The sky is clearer and bluer. The mountains are an amazing backdrop. I think I will kick anxiety out the door and go and enjoy my day.

 

 

 

Slowly, Very Slowly Moving East

Zion National Park

Mojave Desert

After a beautiful drive across the Mojave Desert, last Monday, I arrived in southern Utah. I planned on a few days outside Zion National Park (ZNP) and then would be on my way east. I am here a bit longer than I expected.

A good and very long time friend, Sharon, is in need of some assistance so I am going to be here through the end of the holiday weekend and depart next Tuesday. She was in an accident and is bruised and banged up with a few fractured ribs and sternum tossed into the mix. This is what friends do for each other. They help each other out. It is my honor.

This is not a hardship. I have known the whole Hatfield family since I was a girl and I love this woman dearly. We have ample time to talk and relax in each other’s company. And when she is off to take a snooze, ZNP and surrounding areas are there for me to explore. It is amazing country out here and I never tire of walking off down a wash to see what I can find.

Sharon has a lovely yard. It is big and currently needs grooming. Since she cannot tackle it, in her current state, I am gardening for her. There is nothing I love better than getting some gardening gloves on and digging, prune the trees, pull up weeds, and get things organized. It is probably the one thing I miss, living my current lifestyle. I love the smell of dirt and loam. Earlier in the week it was raining, which brings all the smells forward. There is no other smell like it.

Elsie and I are camped in the driveway. I chose to live in my small space this time, rather than finding a bedroom to sleep in. I have gotten quite comfortable in my cozy tiny home on wheels. Miss Elsie the Cat has too. I spend my day letting Elsie out and into the rig. She has discovered the catmint in the driveway and is a happy camper lying in the midst of it. When Elsie is out, Dharma the dog is in. When Dharma wants to go outside, Elsie goes back into the rig. I am the animal monitor. Who is in and who is out. I definitely need to stay on top of this. Dharma would like to meet Elsie but Elsie is not so fond of this idea. So I remain the door monitor.

Having been to this park many times before (it is good to have friends that live so close), I have not felt a great urge to hike every trail. Instead I have wandered from Sharon’s home and explored what I can find on foot. The Virgin River is at the end of the drive. It is an easy walk. Currently there is a lot of water in the river which adds so much drama to a river visit. When not there I have wandered the town of Rockville. I have visited the cemetery and meandered the side roads. This is a delightful and quaint little town. And, how convenient that it is so near the entrance to ZNP. On Monday I may decide to explore it by bicycle. That would be a new experience for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so my adventure unfolds a bit at a time. I have rather enjoyed the slow pace yet I know that I need to move east. Africa awaits. Next stop southern Colorado.

Living With or Without Cancer-Getting Ready to Roll

“There’s always a story. It’s all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.” – Terry Pratchett

Today I am changing my story. Instead of dying with cancer I am now living with cancer. It is possible that I am fooling myself and there is no cancer within me to live with. Well that is a cool thought.

Moores Cancer Center

Last Wednesday, with the support of Yvonne, we drove to the Moores Cancer Center at UCSD (University of California San Diego). I had a second opinion appointment with one of the primary head and neck surgeons. I define second opinions as a way to gather more information, so that I can be comfortable making a decision that will shape and define my life.

This whole complex of buildings that makes up the cancer center and other technologies are imposing as you drive in. The structures are big and impressive. There is one building that is dedicated to all things radiological speaking. The Novel Technology building is so new that the staff is not sure what it does. I was curious enough to do some on line research. It appears that it is a specialty that works with deep brain tumors and microscopic surgery. Interesting. It is good to be impressed by what I see.

My appointment went well. I met with Dr Brummond and his associates. They were kind and amazingly good listeners, especially the medical student that did the intake interview. Most of the information that I was given was not new, but that is what I wanted, a confirmation that my surgeon and endocrinologist were on the right track. I will have the other half of my thyroid removed upon my return from Africa (yes I am going). I did receive one new piece of information. This doctor feels that if the biopsy on the left thyroid comes back negative for cancer he believes I don’t need the radioactive iodine treatment. So I will gather that information into the ongoing puzzle of thyroid cancer.

Dr Brummond feels it will be OK to wait until my return in the fall to have the surgery to remove the other half of the thyroid. That is good news, really good news. I am relieved that this appointment is over and that I can begin to really plan for a trip of a lifetime. I imagine my friend and travel companion, Phyllis is glad to hear this too.

With the help of a therapist I am now getting ready to go into the final planning mode for this trip. Today I got my typhoid shot. All the other meds are gathered and ready to go. I am planning to leave San Diego this coming Monday and begin an amble east. Elsie says her bags are packed as well. I am daring to allow myself to get excited without getting overwhelmed. Living with cancer allows me to dare, to get excited, to dream. I was already getting weary of the feeling of dread that has been hanging over me. As I take each step towards Africa, the dread will disappear more and more.

My life is too short to be fearful and experience dread. That is a hard way to live. I would rather live hopefully and with a little or a lot of joy, depending on the day. These are always personal choices we all have to make every single day of our lives. Yes even you, dear reader are included here. Sometime the choice to live with hope is easy. Other days well we all have to dig a bit deeper to find that place. And so dig I shall.

Getting to Roll…New Jersey here I come….AFRICA here I come.