Happy Birthday, Ma!

I was supposed to be in New York City today, honoring the life of my precious mommy, but I got rained out, so guess what? I’m dedicating a blog to her!

On this date, July 29th, in 1924, an amazing baby name Genevieve Josephine was born in Palmer, Massachusetts, or that’s the way the story goes. Back then the records weren’t always so accurate. Ma always said that she may have been born on the 27th or 28th. But the accepted date was July 29th, and that’s when we always celebrated the date of her miraculous birth. Ma was someone worthy of many celebrations!

Children never want to think that their parents had lives before they were born. Admittedly, I didn’t know enough about her younger years until after she passed away.

Genevieve’s parents came to the United States via Ellis Island from Poland and were largely uneducated. However, Genevieve was a hard working student at Palmer High School. She always spoke with pride about graduating in 1942. The first picture (above) is her graduation picture. Genevieve, being a daddy’s girl, would hold tight to the dream of someday going to Czestochowa, Poland to visit a monastery called Jasna Gora, home of the world famous Black Madonna, to honor her father by lighting a candle for him there. Maybe Genevieve, being a small town girl, couldn’t dream big enough to think that this would ever come true. But it did. One of her future daughters would make sure of it.

Genevieve worked what some would now call “menial jobs.” But she wouldn’t remember them that way. World War II was raging in Europe and Asia and Genevieve would be a part of the effort to support the troops. When the war was over she would marry a striking but troubled young soldier named Albert and together they would eventually have six babies. All of those children were girls, the first one born in 1951, the year after they were married, and the last in 1966, when Genevieve was 42 years old, quite a feat at that time in history.

Genevieve gave everything and more for her six children, but she never had the comfort of being a housewife, for Genevieve and Albert were not rich by any means. They both had to work full time jobs in order to have a safe place to live, a decent car to drive, and nice things for the children. Genevieve and Albert didn’t seem to care much about that, because they had each other and their six girls.

Then one cold winter’s day in 1977, Genevieve no longer had Albert, because he died suddenly. She had to go on alone and somehow fight through life without her only love. Genevieve kept going to work and keeping her family afloat even though her spirit was ripped away from her without warning. It would take her a decade and a half to get it back. Meanwhile, her beloved children began to scatter and break apart.

Many years after losing Albert, and as her six children struggled to find their own footing, Genevieve found a new and unexpected love: traveling with her youngest daughter, though that love would be fraught with constant worry, as her family fell apart. As strong and as perfect as her love was, it just never seemed to be enough to mend the destructive forces at work around her. As much as she loved traveling, the loss of the love of a few of her daughters, and the death of her beloved husband couldn’t ever be replaced. She would never be able to fully enjoy life again, though there were happy times. She held her head up and moved forward.

In the end, Genevieve went further than she ever thought she would: to that monastery in Czestochowa, Poland to honor her father, to the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, and on some pretty great road trips to most of the 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. In 2004, Genevieve took her final road trip and never looked back.

Or, maybe she did. But as her youngest daughter and travel companion, I believe there came a time when she said, I’ll see you when you get here, and chose to truly rest in peace.

Seventeen years is a heck of a long time to be without her, but in some ways it’s a relief that she is in that “better place” and away from a few individuals who still insist on tarnishing a legacy of love, from a heart so pure that everyone should be so lucky to know such beauty. Sometimes I wonder why I’ve fought cancer so hard when I’ve had some pretty great opportunities to be with her again, forever. My love of life won out, but next time, who can tell.

For now…

I love you, dear Genevieve Josephine, and I will spend the rest of my life defending your honor, no questions asked, because I know you deserve better. You deserve the best. I will make up for anyone foolish enough to think differently.

Happy Birthday.

California Reunion

Hey, if you don’t mind I’m going to take a break from talking about living with a chronic illness for a post or two. I have to tell you about my reunion with California!

This joyous reconnection with the Golden State was extra special because it came so frighteningly close to not happening. In fact, as I said in my last post, which I wrote while I was on the road, the trip got cancelled twice, the first time because of cancer, the second time because of COVID19. For weeks I was sure that once again something would stop me from going, that it wasn’t meant to be. It was so nice to be wrong! And the trip could not have been more perfect.

If you said that I’m kind of “prone” to hiking trips, you would not be mistaken. However, this wasn’t a hiking trip. Which is not to say that I didn’t do any trekking. Of course I did! But the entire plan was based around seeking out graffiti in Southern California and born from seeing the works of a professional photographer on Instagram who travels the U.S. taking pictures of really cool stuff. I did my research and strung several sights together, then figured that while I was there I may as well just take another week to see some old favorites, and there was my California reunion!

I lived in Los Angeles for five years from 1995 through 2000, and traveled extensively in and around the state. I guess I didn’t really realize until now how blessed I was and am to have been able to do that. It’s the only place I’ve ever lived other than Massachusetts, where I was born and currently reside, and I have to say that for me, a lover of the American West, there could not have been a better place to be. Mother Nature took one of everything amazing and tossed it into California. Sometimes, more that one of everything amazing. Though I’ve been a million other places around the world, I’ve never quite fallen in love with anywhere like I have the American West. I used to crucify myself for never having lived in a foreign country. How silly that all seems now.

Unlike most people, who think the desert is “too hot” and “boring”, I absolutely love it there. Deserts have ghost towns, tumbleweeds, and cactus. What’s not to love about that? I spent several days driving around the Salton Sea, an imposing but fascinating (and smelly) remnant of a failed experiment to lure vacationers and home buyers seeking the good life. If you’re like me and looking for graffiti, sand, and desolation, wow do you ever have to see the Sea! In addition to all that there’s Bombay Beach, an almost ghost that was revived as a quirky artist’s town, and Slab City, an “off the grid” settlement where people live for free. There’s lots of additional interesting art in Slab City as well as East Jesus, the eastern corner of the “squatters paradise.” I even did some research into one of the towns near the Salton Sea because I was inspired to use it for a locale in the book I’m writing. Such excitement from a place most people pass by without giving it a second thought! Is it any wonder why I choose to travel alone so often?

Didn’t I tell you that California has one of everything? Or, let’s make that more accurate: California has EVERYTHING!! Let me expand on that.

The post-graffiti part of my trip brought me to the Sierras, where the best ghost town in America nestles. No, Bodie isn’t in the desert, but it is at the end of a wild dirt road about twelve miles east of Bridgeport, California, and it is a state park, so there is a small fee (I paid $8) that goes to Bodie’s upkeep, which is impeccable. On the way I drove a few hundred miles of US 395, which I have to proclaim one of the country’s great highways. I stopped off in Lone Pine, which is still very much like the desert, and did a short and stunning hike to Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills, where I also got a pretty special view of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the “lower 48” at 14, 505 feet. Did I mention that you can see Whitney through the arch, too? No, the thrills just never end.

Mono Lake and the Mono Basin are right outside Yosemite National Park. To me, Mono is so good it’s okay to skip Yosemite to see it. Don’t miss the short hike through the odd fantasy of the South Tufa Trail. You can bet that I didn’t!

Girl, take a breath…

The June Lake Loop is a sixteen mile drive around four lovely lakes at an elevation of 7,600 feet. Of course I had to get some hiking in here, and I encountered some bristlecone pines, that are said to be the oldest living things on Earth, even older than sequoias and redwoods. Even older than me! The loop was my last stop in the mountains before I headed back to the desert. I had to have one final jaunt in the hot sand before I came back to reality.

Death Valley Junction is the gateway to the park of the same name and a charming little desert hamlet with a hotel and opera house, much of which are beautifully hand painted by its former owner. Read her incredible backstory here. I’ve loved this town since I first saw it on a map as a dreamy-eyed teen, and it was so special to see it again before I moved on to Death Valley. Yes, I intended to hit the trails, but at 100 degrees at seven in the morning, I had to rethink my plans. Hiking had to be done in short bursts with plenty of time in the air conditioned SUV in between! Death Valley has been getting a lot of attention lately for record breaking temperatures, but the mercury varies greatly depending on what part of the park you’re in. I headed to Dante’s View to marvel at the salty Badwater Basin far below. It was twenty degrees cooler and with a hair-mussing wind. Lastly, no temperature was hot enough to make me miss wandering through the pastel hills of the Artist Palette. I felt like I’d fallen into a giant vat of ice cream!

Two weeks, a two thousand mile loop, and I just barely scratched the surface of the greatness of California. Oh well, looks like I’m just going to have to go back!

The Fun Doesn’t Need to End with a Chronic Illness

At Mono Lake, California, South Tufa Trail

Did you ever notice how you wait and wait and wait for a certain day, (wedding, vacation, birthday) then it’s suddenly here, and then the days just keep going and going, even though you want time to stop on that pivotal day? Yeah, I’ve experienced that phenomenon many times in my life and am, in fact, feeling it even as I type. I’m currently on the later end of a road trip that wasn’t really ever supposed to happen. But it did happen, and I don’t want it to end, even though I have many other plans this summer!

This was the trip that I had to cancel in 2019 because of cancer. This is the trip I had to cancel again in 2020 because of COVID19. I got a really cheap plane ticket to Vegas this past April, when things were just starting to open back up, and I kept my fingers crossed that maybe, just maybe, I would pull the trip off the third time. Well, I’m kind of believing that “the third time’s a charm,” because it has been absolutely amazing, everything I had hoped it would be and more. All the photos included here are from the past two weeks. Sick of seeing my face all over my posts? Too bad. I think it’s only proper that if I’m trying to make a point I should show that I’m not just saying something, I’m doing it too. You know, talking the talk and walking walk. My message is: Yes, I have a chronic illness. Yes, I’m enjoying life, and yes, you should be too, whether you have a chronic illness or not.

Here goes post number three in a series of six. In my first two posts I started to discuss the basic rules of living life with a chronic illness:

1) Get the best medical care possible

2) Seek no sympathy

3) Find new ways to do what you love

4) Find new things to love

5) Surround yourself with positivity

6) Don’t let your illness define you

In this post I’ll expand on number three, Find new ways to do what you love.  And what better time to talk about it, than when I’m doing just that?

I am the queen of road trips. Not was. Am. I’ve been road tripping since I was in my twenties, and I’m a lot older than that now! When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2019 it sure looked like the only place I was going on a road trip to was the grave. But because I got the best medical care possible, my health and life turned around quickly and here I am, still at it. I didn’t give up anything that I loved to do. I may have had to do things in a different way until I was strong enough to do them like I did before cancer, but if it meant eventually continuing my pre-disease life even while fighting the fight, I was okay with that. Here are some examples of how I altered the pastimes that make me the happiest.

Writing: I had a lot of fun penning fiction for several years. Around the same time I was diagnosed I had decided to concentrate on blogging and writing nonfiction. Though I didn’t expect to be producing a story about how I survived Stage IV lung cancer (this is still quite unbelievable to me!) that’s what I did because it seemed like the right thing to do, it was therapeutic, and hey, it was writing! I really did plan to publish it, but eventually it only seemed to make me relive that part of my life over and over again, so I shelved it. But I didn’t shelve my love of writing. I’m currently working on another manuscript. You can read the beginning of it here.

Hiking: For over a decade I’ve been keeping activity lists and calendars. I love looking back at them and seeing all the things, near and far, long and short, I’ve done over the years. They also help me understand how I’ve built my strength and endurance back up after two bouts of progressing cancer. (I’m currently in remission.) Speaking of endurance, hiking is more often than not seen as a test of just that. Not in my book. Some of the best hikes I’ve done are easy with big payoffs. (The South Tufa Trail at Mono Lake, as seen above, comes instantly to mind!) As I was building back up to tougher hikes I did a lot of easy stuff that was very pleasing. Now, I’m perfectly fine with doing hikes and walks that keep me in shape but don’t necessarily challenge me. I’ve always been a sucker for a beautiful view! Usually once a week I’ll do something that does challenge me. I can still pull off the leg busters on command!

Traveling: Because of COVID19 the verdict is still out on this one! I’m continuing to get my road trip wings back. I took my new SUV on the road last summer, have taken weekend trips, and have visited my niece in South Carolina several times, all of which went as hoped and planned. Later on this year I’ll take my first international trip since my diagnosis, provided my health holds up and COVID19 stays quiet in the U.S. Here’s hoping that everyone’s gets vaccinated so we can keep moving forward!

I hope that my examples have given you some inspiration. Please don’t give up on what you love! Doing so is the biggest mistake you could make. You need to do what you love more than ever now. Do whatever it takes to continue to enjoy life!

On the road…literally!!

Come On, Get Happy: Life with a Chronic Illness

Howdy friends! Been getting your adventure on? You can bet I have. I wanted to get this next post up before I hit the road of life again, and here it is!

Last time out I started sharing my thoughts about what it takes to live a good life with a chronic illness. Yes, it can be done, even on those days when you feel like the world is kicking you to the curb. For sure, it kind of sucks, and some days will be worse than others, but it can suck a lot less if you go about it the right way.

In my introductory post I laid out some ground rules:

1) Get the best medical care possible

2) Seek no sympathy

3) Find new ways to do what you love

4) Find new things to love

5) Surround yourself with positivity

6) Don’t let your illness define you

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Right. And pretty easy? That’s where you’re wrong. All of these points take time and patience and the ability (and willingness) to make good decisions. Some of the choices you’ll be faced with will also be tough. Maybe you’ll need to end relationships or change jobs or stop doing things you’ve always done. The focus is you, not anyone else. This is hard for those who are used to always taking care of others. This time it’s about you, and your ultimate happiness. Look at it this way: you’re already sacrificing enough by leading a life that may consist of pain, appointments, and missing out on fun that you once had. Why give up more?

Getting the best medical care possible is my first suggestion, and was covered in my first post. Rather than rehash it, click here to read about point number one.

Which brings us to point number two: Seek no sympathy. Social media is full of individuals with no self-esteem who look to their “friends” to build them up. Don’t be one of them. One of the things I dreaded most when I first got my diagnosis was what others were going to say to me or about me. This has nothing to do with whether your friends and acquaintances understand and “like” you or not. It’s not about how your hair looks or what clothes you’re wearing and whether they’re envious of you or you’re envious of them. You shouldn’t care about any of that anymore; you have much bigger fish to fry now. It’s about what they think of you knowing you have this new “thing” that is suddenly part of your life. Chances are good that they’re going to come at you with sympathy because of this terrible luck that has befallen you. How do you think you’re going to handle puppy dog eyes? Tears? Your name with the word “poor” in front of it? And what will you get out of it? Will you feel better? I headed my sympathizers off at the pass by announcing my expected diagnosis before I even got it. This likely helped me to acknowledge what was happening to me as well. I’ve come a heck of a long way since. Whether the people around me have gotten as far as I have is a matter of opinion. You’d have to ask them. But I warned them about how I wanted to be treated. I’ve spent the time since my diagnosis (inching closer to two years now) trying to figure out how to continue to be ME again, while so many others have spent the time trying to make me be someone else. Be it a hero or a disease-ridden ogre, it hardly matters. I used to be one of US, now I’m one of THEM. No matter what I do, no one lets me forget it: I’m “different.” And for that, I need sympathy. Sobbing. Words for “warriors” like, “You got this.” Assumptions that I’m “suffering” (I’m not) and that I’m some kind of superhero (I’m not.) Shrug it off or defend yourself against it. You don’t need it.

Once again, every image here was taken post diagnosis.

As previously mentioned, I’m getting ready to get out of Massachusetts. By the time you read this I’ll be on my way to the land of record hot temperatures and no more face masks. (I’ll still be wearing mine when necessary.) California, of course! With some Nevada thrown in for good measure. A colorful trip that will warrant at least one post, if not more. So forgive me ahead of time if my next piece of writing leaves the above conversation hanging! I promise to be back soon with point number three, Find new ways to do what you love. Meanwhile, I’m going to do just that!

Happy Summer! Adventure on!

Chronic Adventuress with a Chronic Illness

Yeah, I guess it’s time for me to face the facts: I’m going to be a sickie for the rest of my life. Believe me, even if I try to forget about it, there’s always someone there to remind me that I could be just as easily knocking on death’s door as I could be hiking mountains and enjoying life. Whoa, wait, did I just say enjoying life? With a chronic illness? Yes, truth of truths is that no matter what stage IV cancer has taken away from me, there’s still more that it hasn’t taken away from me. The number one thing I still have is my happiness. We’re talking real, deep happiness, not the material kind that a lot of people try to substitute for the genuine product. In fact, I find that more than ever, little things make me smile. A lot of things make me smile. And they make me smile a lot! Understand?

Since I was diagnosed in 2019, I’ve tossed around ways to help others who are struggling with illness. I touched on being “the new face of surviving cancer,” and wrote the story of my first year with the disease. (It’s in a drawer now, unpublished!) I’ve ridden the “Who am I now?” wave the whole time. After a recurrence soured my survival skills for a few months, I’m back in a comfortable place full of hope and future plans and feeling like I have something to offer others living with chronic illnesses.

Before I start sharing my thoughts, let me first clarify a few things. Most importantly, my chronic illness is lung cancer, which, if I had it ten years ago, would have undoubtedly killed me. I am extremely fortunate that my illness can be controlled with medication. This likely sounds far fetched, but it really isn’t. Read here for more information about how we can now treat some individuals with lung cancer. Also, my disease has nothing to do with smoking, so before you think that I somehow “asked for” this, read here about how many people who get lung cancer now have never smoked. With that out there, let me just say one more thing…

I recently Google’d some general keywords to be sure that I wasn’t stepping on anyone’s toes by calling myself the Chronic Adventuress with a Chronic Illness, and was disgruntled to find out that there are a heck of a lot of “experts” out there writing about living with a chronic illness who don’t have a chronic illness. That decided it. I have the first hand experience to back it up. And, I can honestly say that I’ve had to change my lifestyle very little since my diagnosis, thanks to steps that I have taken to preserve my well being. I’ve intentionally peppered this post with photos of me winning at the game of life. All of them were taken post diagnosis.

Without further ado, here are my six suggestions:

1) Get the best medical care possible

2) Seek no sympathy

3) Find new ways to do what you love

4) Find new things to love

5) Surround yourself with positivity

6) Don’t let your illness define you

I planned to talk about all six points in this post, but I know the limits of the human attention span circa 2021. Having the opinion that these are all crucial (and we are, after all, talking about life, and living it as happily as possible,) I think they all deserve to be fleshed out, and I will give them all their due, even if I have to write several different posts! So for now, let me talk a little more about #1, GET THE BEST MEDICAL CARE POSSIBLE.

The best medical care possible? A no brainer, right? If I thought it was a no brainer I wouldn’t even mention it. Getting the best care possible is not a matter of insurance or money or location. It is a matter of choice, plain and simple. While I’m extremely fortunate to live within driving distance of some of the best medical facilities on the planet, don’t think for one minute that patients don’t travel great distances across states, countries, and oceans to get here. And don’t think for the next minute that there aren’t people who have access to the same care that don’t seek it, because there are. I urge everyone I talk to who has a serious illness to research the best, and get it any way they can. The more serious your illness, the more likely you are to need something beyond your local hospital. Don’t waste precious time getting what you need and deserve!

I’ve now exhausted your attention span!

I promise to get back to this discussion soon. Until then, adventure on!

I’m Writing Another Book!

Well, what the heck do you know…I’m finally writing another book! Yay, me!!

My last (and seventh) book was published more than two years ago now. Since then, my life has changed so much and I’ve had so many other things to think about that my writing career pretty much went to the birds. You might say that fighting cancer with all ten fingers was more important than any book that I could write, but not doing something that I love so much has left a big hole in my existence. I’ve been lucky enough to slowly put my favorite pastimes back on track. But finding the right manuscript to delve into was tougher than I thought. I wouldn’t quite call the possibilities “endless,” but I had a few irons in the fire to choose from.

Questions to self:

Do I continue my rock and roll groupie series? Do I continue my “Women Like Us” series? I wrote both under the pen name Brenda K. Stone and really didn’t want to go back to that, so I turned them both down, as much as I loved putting them out to the world.

Do I edit the romance that I finished shortly before my diagnosis? I pulled it out of “the drawer,” read it, loved it, got really excited about it. But I’m here to tell you that being excited about something and following through on a hell of a lot of work are two very different things! I simply lost interest, and back in “the drawer” it went!

Do I edit the true story of my cancer journey, plucked from journals that I wrote freehand in those cloudy days when I was just getting my sea legs to get me through a really frightening experience? To do so would be to relive and relive and relive something I was already beyond. I published a shorter version with an online magazine and kept searching for what I was looking for.

Before “all this” happened I had decided to focus on nonfiction, and started a little thing called “How to Road Trip.” That didn’t do it for me either; who needs to know how to road trip during a pandemic? And after a pandemic, everyone and their cousin will be writing a tome about how to road trip, so back in “the drawer” that went too.

And then, something popped into my head. A real “Oh Yeah!!” moment.

A few months before my life imploded I had written an outline for a a book I dreamed of penning. A small book, short on pages but long on meaning. Something that everyone could relate to; a story of love, loss, adventure and, you know, all that’s good and bad in the world. Well, I found it and I thought it out and I kicked it around, and I decided that it was The One. Rather than just tell you about it, allow me to interview myself (since no one else wants to interview me!)

INTERVIEWER: Does your book have a working title?

BARB LEE: Thanks for asking! Yes, it does. I first called it “A Thousand Winds That Blow,” but have decided to cut it down to simply “A Thousand Winds.”

INTERVIEWER: Wow, great name. Where did it come from?

BARB LEE: Thanks, I thought so too, and I’m glad you asked. The title comes from a beautiful poem called “Do Not Weep” that I discovered when my beloved mom passed. We used it on her prayer cards. I wanted something with very deep meaning for the title of the book and started thinking about lines in that poem, deciding on that one.

INTERVIEWER: Great reason. Now, what is the book about?

BARB LEE: I thought you would never ask! I’ve always thought how amazing it would have been to be alive in the 60s, to go to Woodstock, to participate in the March on Washington, to be a part of the Civil Rights Movement, and many other historic events. So I decided to create a character who did all those things and everything else I’ve ever dreamed of doing. But now she’s dying and she has a granddaughter that she’s at odds with that doesn’t know any of it, and she wants her to know it all. I think the book has an important statement to make about age and life experience, and how society devalues individuals as they get older, even though these people have done such incredible things.

INTERVIEWER: Wow, that sounds pretty incredible. When will it be done?

BARB LEE: When it’s done! I’m not writing on deadlines or worried about word count. Just going to enjoy the experience and the research that comes with it.

INTERVIEWER: Do you at least have a teaser?

BARB LEE: Can do! Below is the prologue in the perspective of Janis, who has just been diagnosed with ALS, a.k.a, Lou Gehrig’s Disease:

The way you look at me hurts. The message in your eyes speaks volumes: You’re old. Therefore, you’re worthless.

            You have no idea.

            Do you think your generation invented sex? Drugs? Rock and roll? You, with your Facebook and Instagram and TikTok? You, that can’t show your face without a “filter?” Because one of your “friends” might see your soul? So you cover it up with whiskers or a pig nose, and think that you have the world in the palm of your hand?

            Do you know what it’s like to truly be loved? By the same man, for forty-eight years? Could you find joy in a sandbox? Or playing house in the woods, where the rocks are your toaster, the trees your shower stall? Have you ever had to disappear into that same forest to escape a man that would hurt his own daughter to satisfy his sick fantasies?

            Coachella is a meaningless spot on the map to me, yet your biggest accomplishment. But were you marching in Selma, Alabama in 1965? Were you in the crowd for the “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC, 1963? Did you see the Beatles land at JFK on February 7, 1964, after hitching a ride from California? Not looking so smug now, I see.

            But there’s more. Much more. The life I’ve led even overwhelms me, to the point I have to leave it in the past sometimes and keep moving forward.

            You don’t know any of it. All you know is that seven years ago you found out that I’m really your grandmother, and who your parents really were. You haven’t spoken to me since.

            I guess you’ll never know where your grandmother has been.

Because you hate me. And I’m dying.

INTERVIEWER: Powerful stuff! Is there somewhere where I can read more?

BARB LEE: Yes! Click here, or go to my In Progress tab. And thanks for your interest!

***************************************************************************

Utah Reunion

My post theme was 80s rock lyrics!

Anyone who knows me well knows that Southern Utah is my favorite place on Earth. And I’ve been to a lot of places on Earth. But if you look back on the past two years of my posts, you’ll find out there was a time when it sure looked as though I would never see my beloved land again. Well, guess what? Life is a funny thing, plays strange games with you. Just last week I had a reunion with my true love, and my trip exceeded all expectations.

Partition Arch, Arches National Park, the Devil’s Garden

I’m currently more than a year and a half into my journey with metastatic lung cancer. This is not the hiking trail I ever wanted to take, but I have to say that in some ways I wouldn’t change it. Yeah, I know, you think I’m lying. That’s because you’re there and I’m here, and until you’re here, you wouldn’t know. In a lot of ways I like myself better as a survivor of a disease that most don’t make it through. But I’m not here to talk about that. Perhaps that will be my NEXT blog. Today, I’m going to talk about my return to travel.

Ta-Daaa!! Selfie at Glen Canyon

Listen, I’ve done my time with COVID19. I’m fully vaccinated, don’t cause trouble in Walmart by being a mask rebel, stayed out of pubic places when I was supposed to. With things starting to look up, I chose to follow through on a date that loomed on the calendar as one of hope. COVID19 was not my only roadblock. Cancer was, too. A lot has happened since more of the shitty Big C was discovered in December 2020. I’m back in fighting shape. BUT…

En Route to Chesler Park, Canyonlands

I saw my oncology team a few days before I left, and voiced concern about my ability to do what I wanted to do in the southeastern corner of my beloved state. Just didn’t think that my endurance was what it should be. I was assured that medically and physically, I should be able to pull off what I set out to do. But I was full of doubt and asking myself questions that threatened to crush me: Can you still do what you used to? What you love to do? Or are you just pretending? Trying to put a happy face on a devastating situation? Let me tell you something, friends: your mind can really “F” you up. In fact, I thought about canceling the trip the morning of, as I had a full blown panic attack that lasted right up until I got to the airport. Then, this crazy calm swept over me.

Top of the world, Arches National Park

Similar things happened to me after my initial diagnosis in late 2019. The country-hopping woman that I once was dissolved into the meltdown queen of the grocery store. I had to work on me a lot to get myself back in the swing of a life that I thought was over, had to learn to walk through the valley of Those Who Don’t Have Cancer as one of Those Who Do Have Cancer. Had to swallow the bitter pill of never being able to live life without this curse after my hope of being cured was dashed in December 2020, between my 54th birthday and Christmas. None of that mattered as I moved smoothly through the airport and blended in with the crowd. Even less when I emerged from the dreaded 737-Max 8 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the American West miraculously reached. And yeah, I know there are quicker ways to get to Southern Utah than from Albuquerque. But I LIKE the drive from there.

Hite Overlook, Glen Canyon. Lunch view!

The crazy thing about my treatment is that if I didn’t tell someone I have cancer, they wouldn’t know. At one time I told a lot of people. I no longer bother, because it doesn’t really change anyone’s attitude toward me, for better or for worse. I guess at one time I’d hoped that if I told someone they might have some real respect for me, but I’ve learned that for the most part, no one cares what I’ve survived. I didn’t tell a soul in the entire huge American West that I have an illness that is going to kill me whether I like it or not. It didn’t matter anyway. Because I was headed to Utah. Nothing matters when I’m heading to Utah. Even less when I’m actually there.

Yeah.

After my emotional reunion at the state line, I motored on to Moab, first discovered with my beloved Mom in 1995, and the center of my traveling world, just like she was. Mom was taken away from me in 2004, but Moab was not. I settled into a cozy room and had to decide if I was going to move forward as me again, or if I was going to crash and burn and go home with my tail between my legs.

Beneath Morning Glory Bridge, Grandstaff Trail

I usually have more time to work with. When I go during the summer I can do some short hikes in between long hauls, pick and choose carefully, move stuff around, and get maximum mileage. Not this time. This was April school vacation week. Time was tight. Before I even arrived I changed my original plans, thinking the treks I relished weren’t in my reach. However, I stuck with an all-new hike on my first day out, the Grandstaff Trail to Morning Glory Bridge, a moderate offering with a lot of stream crossings and a massive natural bridge at the end. Unsure of myself, I swallowed my fears and started slow. Paced myself, something I never really had to do before. One foot in front of the other, pour water down my throat, have a snack if necessary. It worked. I felt okay. My energy level was normal enough. I wasn’t dragging along or huffing and puffing. I was also at much higher elevations than anywhere in the East, so that was a good challenge too. Grandstaff went great. So I put the original plan back on the table!

Back Home!

Back in 2013 when I first had the crazy idea to hike all the national parks in the United States I knocked off all five Utah parks in one trip. I’d been thinking about repeating the Devil’s Garden at Arches, and had it on my list, remembering the vast array of spectacular scenery along the way. This time I wanted to do the loop, instead of the out and back I did in ’13. The primitive loop. What the heck does that mean? Well, let me tell you, I found out! It meant exactly what the sign said:

No lies here!

I could have turned back. But I didn’t turn back. This was my proving ground, and the hike turned out to be nine of the most challenging miles I’ve ever done! Think scaling twenty foot rocks, neck-breaking drop offs, hiking in soft sand. Oh, and at least ten incredible arches along the way! I’m not sorry that I did it, even though I didn’t feel like getting up early enough to do the eleven miler that I planned to do the next day. No worries, I cut it down to six and got a crazy workout anyway! And still had a bit of energy in reserve for Glen Canyon on the last day of my reunion!

Good-bye, My Love. Until Next Time…

Then there I was, back at the sign. The scene is always so different in reverse, when Utah is in my rear view mirror. But as always, I swore that I’ll be back. Lord willing, I will be back!

Until then, I have more adventures, more reunions up my sleeve, and I’ll continue to live by one of my favorite sayings ever:

Rebirth!

Don’t you love spring? I certainly do, always have. This year, I got an extra special present two days after the beginning of my second favorite season: I’m in remission again. Thanks to the latest offering for metastatic lung cancer from Big Pharma, my scans from March 22nd look very promising. Promising in what way? For cure? Being done with treatment? What? Let’s just leave it as promising and hope for the best.

I didn’t post every step of my journey on Facebook this time. Not because my friends and followers are sick of it, but because, frankly, I am. And I matter for something besides cancer, even though I kinda sometimes feel that I really don’t matter that much because of cancer. Oh, don’t be that way, you say. Be a warrior! You got this! Kick cancer’s ass! And I say, I hope you never have to know what it’s really like to have this monster lurking inside you, and find out how all of that typical language starts to turn your stomach. That’s why I chose not to shout it from the treetops. Instead, I’m standing somewhat firmly on the ground with a pleased smile and hoping it lasts a long time.

Yeah, I know everyone “means well.” And I really do appreciate it. But sometimes I realize that people really don’t THINK about what they’re saying to me. Their fingers just fly over the keyboard of their iPhones because, well, they have to say something to show support in five words or less. My advice: Just press the heart, folks. Just press the heart, instead of breaking the heart.

I am suddenly reborn hand in hand with the entire Northern Hemisphere and can move toward the future with a little more of a stride in my step after a few months of stomach churning uncertainty. Soon I’ll be fully vaccinated and will start to travel again. Plans are made, other plans are in the works. Life feels good again, though as the old saying goes, “It’s always something.” Always something to rain on a parade already drenched with “somethings.” A precious fur baby crosses the Rainbow Bridge, a long time friendship is at odds. Sure seems wrong that I have to deal with all this and cancer too. WTF.

Before all this happened I was living my best life, yet always counting my blessings. Stopping long enough to realize how lucky I am? Yes, indeed. Never so busy that I couldn’t do that. Now I’ve arrived back at that after hours and days of gloom and doom, of wondering how life could go one way for so long then make an abrupt u-turn and continue on to the point of no return. Well, I just never made it to that pinnacle, made another abrupt u-turn, and here I am, so close to having the opportunity to live my best life again after surviving what kills big strong people continuously. A lucky girl? Oh, you can’t even imagine. What did I ever do to be able to tell this particular story and not lie? No idea. This may sound like another lie, but in many ways I wouldn’t have it any other way. When the going is good, like it is now, I am content to be an odds beater. Nothing quite like it. Tom Brady has seven rings. I have life. Beat that.

I’ve had the good fortune of having some incredible people always at the ready to pick me up before I get too far down. They more than make up for the few that should be there but aren’t for one selfish reason or another. It’s okay, you can’t win them all. If someone can’t be there when I’m flying high, when I’m down in the dirt, and when I’m somewhere in between trying to find firm ground, then they need not be there at all. And I know how to return the favor. It ain’t all about me. I get that. Relationships are give and take. How many times have we heard that but still insist on having one-sided affairs? I’m in a secure place with some pretty special people all around. Imagine the irony of thinking that after all the building I’ve done, cancer would knock out one block and the whole wall would collapse. Not the case, I say with a shiver of warmth. The foundation is pretty sturdy.

Shortly before I set out on this journey that would culminate in perhaps my biggest learning experience yet (survival), I was right where I wanted to be. Maybe that was a dangerous thought. But, to heck with it. I hereby announce myself there again.

Born again.

Happy Spring!

Finding A Middle Ground

Hey, did you notice that I changed my site identity from “The New Face of Surviving Cancer” to “Write. Hike. Survive. Thrive?” Yeah, I guess I’ve decided that I don’t want to be the former and would rather concentrate on the latter. Make no mistake, I am not ashamed of who I am now, with cancer survival on top of everything else I’ve managed to accomplish in my life, but the last couple of months have been pretty tough on me and I find myself desperately needing to find a middle ground. I cannot be all cancer all the time.

When you join a clinical trial, (another thing I never wanted to do but have to do if I want to live) you’re kind of at the mercy of the drug company, or “sponsor,” as they so poetically refer to themselves as, and that has been the story of my life for the past five weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful that it appears that I’m making progress. And what the heck else is there to do while we’re all trying to figure out whether COVID19 is coming or going! But I’d still rather be left alone to live my life. Only, that’s the whole point. If I’m left alone to live my life I’ll die. Understand now?

I started out a year and a half ago with this big plan to ditch the fiction writing career I had craved since I was a teenager to focus on nonfiction books and blogging. Hiking and traveling would be my favored subjects. Then cancer came a calling, and I decided that I’d roll with it. I’d start speaking at libraries and other local public places about being a cancer survivor and turn it into a full time gig. COVID19 blew that to smithereens. But I continued to work on a book about my journey, which I finished at the end of 2020. After taking a break from the writing to let it settle for a couple of months, I opened it back up this weekend, read six pages and said, I cannot continue to relive this nightmare.

So guess what I did? I opened one of my “writing drawers” and allowed it to swallow up my “cancer book.” Meanwhile, a fictitious tale of a pretty girl and a football player jumped out. It was one of three other full manuscripts I have hanging around, waiting for the attention I never thought I would give them. But guess what? Fiction is sounding like a hell of a lot of fun again. A hell of a lot more fun than I’ve been having lately. Truthfully, I don’t think it’s a really hot time to be writing books about the hiking and traveling that most of us have not been able to do much of in over a year. And I so want to continue writing books. What can I say? I love writing books. Fiction may be the key again. But I also love blogging. Who ever said I can’t do both? Me. It seems that now and forever, I’ve always been my own worst enemy.

Especially over the past several weeks. My mood has been dreary, at best. My beefs, not necessarily in this order: I have this flippin’ disease. It’s snowing and cold and windy in New England. I’m going up and back to Boston in the worst of it and getting stuck with needles and tested to high heaven to keep me from going to high heaven. Even if I could travel I can’t travel because of a global pandemic. Then my fingers start doing the walking to search out the very worst information I can possibly wrap my mind around about Stage IV lung cancer and yeah, then I’m in the hole big time.

Jeez, enough is enough.

Here’s what I realized the other day. Who is telling me I’m not going to be alive to see the end of the pandemic? Me. Who is telling me that I’m not worth anything now that I have cancer? Me. Who is telling me that I’m never going to travel again? Me. Yeah, I’m the culprit. To repeat: my own worst enemy.

Back to finding the middle ground and the search for some firm footing.

I’ve never been one to live one day at a time. No, more like a whole lifetime in a day with my eye on an even better future. Maybe I get one day at a time now. Still, I need to have plans. I’ve decided it’s safe to look into the near future. And I’m not spending all my retirement money to “live like I’m dying” because I know how that goes. Anyway, I’ve spent the last decade living like I was dying. Yeah, really. Things were pretty good there for some time. Can they be again, in spite of everything? I have to believe they can. But I can’t be too sure of it, because I don’t want to be devastated again. I am moving forward with caution, and with the knowledge that I will still screw up and wind up in the hole again.

But hey…It’s spring. My treatment appears to be going in the right direction. Southern Utah is on the April horizon. I’m thinking about summer road trips. And oh yeah, that book…

I can do this!!!

If This is the End

Maybe you picked up from my last post that my cancer is back, and with a vengeance. Well, it may be more accurate to say that it never really left. Stage IV disease kind of hangs around and wreaks more havoc just when you think that maybe you’ll be the lucky one and it won’t return.

Truth is, I kind of am a lucky one (in an unlucky situation) because I have some magic dust in my tumors that allows me to kill my cancer with a pill, at least until the pill doesn’t work anymore. Which means that if I didn’t tell you I had cancer you’d never know. I plod on and silently battle the killer. Some people go on for years this way. Me, a year and a half, and I just started on med number two after the first one gave out late in the nutty year of 2020. So far, so good, but this is not so different than walking a tight rope. You really don’t know when you’re going to topple off and not have a net to catch you. So you just say your prayers and hope for the best. Look forward, not down.

I’m in better shape than I was when I wrote that last post. The new damage is known and the new treatment has started to tackle it. But I’m having a damn hard time having to go back to where I was a year ago. Starting from scratch is really harrowing, because I was doing so well after round one. Still, the desire to get back to where I was before all this happened drives me on.

Will I get there? Maybe the answer isn’t as important as the fact that I was there once upon a time. When this all went down I had been living my best life for many years. Working hard, traveling hard, laughing hard, hiking hard. I didn’t have any money, because I spent most of it. I didn’t care. Still don’t. It was worth every penny. I visited forty countries, fifty states, forty-plus national parks in the United States, and several in other countries.

I confess to being a country hopper. See a place for a week, be the dreaded “tourist,” and come home to earn money for another week somewhere else in the world, on the next school vacation. Right now, someone out there is waving a finger at me and telling me that I can’t “know” someplace when I only get a little taste of it like I did of a million places. Imagine, spending your life telling someone else what they did wrong.

I confess too, to being a day hiker. Doing a great trail and sleeping in a hotel room after a nice shower while my fellow trekkers insist that hiking isn’t “real” if you don’t sleep in a tent under the stars. Funny, how we have to compete over such nonsense. The way I look at it, if I spend five days someplace really great and it’s the best damn five days of my life, then I add and multiply that several times, pretty soon I have something to reckon with: a life well spent.

I don’t want it to be over, but if this is the end, I’ve had a hell of a run. None of this magic was supposed to happen to the daughter of a janitor. This life that I’ve led was probably meant for someone else and I just happened to show up. Really? No, I lie. I busted my ass for all of it but never got any credit for it from any number of people. Always, I was doing something wrong and inconveniencing them in some way. No, I don’t want to look at your 17,500 pictures of red rocks. No, I don’t want to read your books. No, I don’t want to date you. No, you’re over the top. Stop dressing like that. Stop being so honest and in my face. And now, cancer survivor? You’re TOO MUCH, lady.

I’ve spent my life being rejected by men, by my family, and by people I wanted as my friends. The life I built was the life that accepted me as I was (and am.) Moving quickly enabled me to leave behind what and who I couldn’t have, no matter how hard I tried. I found my happy place. The world, my friends, is my oyster.

Someone out there is saying, she was running away from what she couldn’t have! Or maybe, running to what I could have? I like that better. What I could have was better. In the end, it always is.

Ehhh, maybe I deserve all this. Worked too hard. Laughed too hard. Traveled too hard. Hiked too hard. Guess what? I wouldn’t change a thing. And in my heart of hearts, my soul of souls, and my mind of minds, it ain’t over for me yet. I think I still have some fun left in me. Some miles and some words and some laughs and some thrills.

To anyone who has ever questioned exactly what I’m made of: Now you know. I will not lie down. I will not go quietly.

Surprise! I may have lost value to some the day I got cancer, but I still love life. So there.