Screw You, Cancer – I went on a Cruise to the Caribbean – solo!

I have always loved my own company. 
My sister was 19 years older and married and off on her own by the time I was born, so I was raised as an only child.

I have always loved to entertain myself, even from a very young age.
I would sit in my room and play with my Breyer horses and my Tonka trucks with horse trailers and set up make-shift equestrian centers, complete with barns and outdoor arenas filled with vertical jumps and oxers and cavaletti.

I would curl up under a blanket on the couch in the living room with my dog Bootsie and watch Petticoat Junction and Hee Haw and The Brady Bunch.  My favorite, though, was Speed Racer, which I had to watch with the sound turned down because my mother wouldn’t allow me to watch it because they “stab people.”  I would design an incredibly elaborate race track with those orange sections of plastic track and race my Hotwheels cars for hours until it was time for dinner.

Another favorite pastime during my alone time was sitting cross-legged in the rain under a blanket and a bubble umbrella reading a book.  Yes, I’ve always been weird.

Don’t get me wrong, my parents paid attention to me. 
My stay-at-home mom would do craft projects with me and catch butterflies with me; my dad would play catch with me in the back yard and go bike riding with me, and teach me how to change the oil or a tire on the car.

But, I always preferred to hang out by myself most of the time.
I don’t know if it is this upbringing or the fact that I’m a 100%, textbook Aquarian – aloof, independent, stubborn, territorial – but whatever the combination, I have always preferred to hang out by myself most of the time.

It is because of this, I absolutely love to travel solo.
I love to travel with my best travel buddy Kelsey, but solo excursions and adventures really get me!  I can do what I want, when I want, stop when I want, switch gears in the middle of an activity to some other activity completely unrelated, and no one looks at me like I have three heads.  I can take a nap all afternoon and no one is nagging me to “get up and do something.”

Welcome to reacquired independence.  Wait!
After my divorce and finding my way back to being comfortable in my own skin and to the place where I had always been before marriage – mentally, physically, financially – I was diagnosed with my second breast cancer.  It was Ductal Carcinoma in situ, which differed from the first diagnosis because this time it had not yet invaded the surrounding tissue.  Crap!  I was just crawling out from under the rock of oppression!

But, it is what it is, and I had thankfully started to re-discover my old self, my independent self, my determined self in the few short months of freedom, and with the help of God and my nieces, I was going to kick cancer’s ass once again!

And not only did I survive breast cancer again, I am thriving and have an entirely new outlook on life. 
During and after my first bout with cancer, I was angry.  So angry.  Angry at God, angry at my genetic make-up, angry at all the junk food I ate, angry that cancer had taken my dad and my sister, angry because I lost everything – my farm, my animals, my cars, my hair, my sanity.  Just totally pissed off about everything.

My second diagnosis was so completely different.  And, it wasn’t like a conscious effort to have a different outlook on life afterward, it just happened.  Like a light switch.  I wasn’t angry this time – at all!  Sure, I was nervous and scared, and even though I have always been an independent, determined person, the woman I was now with the second diagnosis was much stronger and much more determined.  I faced it down with a fierceness I didn’t know I had in me and beat its ass!

That fierceness has carried over into my sense of adventure.
Sure, some of it is a sense of desperation at not knowing when or if my cancer will return – and feeling the need to cram in as much as I can before that happens (read more about that here); but, along with that has come a new, even-greater sense of adventure.  I have always been fearless, and had more guts than brains, but even this new outlook was something far greater than even I could have ever imagined.  And I can imagine a lot!

The world seems more colorful, more vibrant, more interesting and I want to see it all!  Always have, but now it is imperative!

Combine my independence, my sense of adventure, and my insatiable wanderlust, and you have the makings of my first solo cruise.
I had been on two cruises before – one with a girl friend in 2001, and a second with my then-husband and step-daughter in 2012.

But now in 2016, I booked my first solo cruise, and I absolutely could not wait! 
I flew to Miami alone, checked myself in on the cruise alone, took up the entire bed in my cabin alone, went out on shore excursions on my own – and absolutely loved every minute of it!  My dining room tablemates were lovely and surprisingly included another woman solo traveler, so it was nice to have something in common with someone at the table, other than the standard “happy couples.”

I danced to Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” with our Maitre D’ on formal dinner night, and got “Low” and funky in the dining room aisle with our really cool waiter during casual dining night.

I would wake up in the middle of the night and run upstairs in my pjs to get myself an ice cream cone from the free 24-hour soft serve machine and take it back to my cabin and settle back into my bed with a complete sense of freedom and joy for life.

I pampered myself with massages and mani/pedis in the ship’s spa, played arcade games and bingo solo, and drank Mudslides while laying out poolside on the deck.  I showered when I wanted, ate when and where I wanted, and lounged around in my cabin naked – and no one cared!  It was amazing!

There were only two downsides.
It was only 5-days long; and I missed my dogs.

And, the itch is looming once again!
With my next “parole hearing” coming up in a month, that sense of urgency is running screaming through my brain!  As soon as I find out I’m good to go (read still in remission) for another Six Months, I am so ready to book my next solo adventure and have been searching for the next perfect solo getaway.  I’m thinking Thailand, Belize, or maybe even another cruise.

Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How I Deal – LIFE AFTER CANCER – Part 1. decide what you want and plan your finances accordingly!

I don’t like the word “remission.”
– especially considering the definition found on Dictionary.com.

CaptureWords like “diminution” and “temporary” don’t sit well, even though as a two-time cancer survivor, I know how absolutely temporary remission can be.  And, just because I don’t like the word, doesn’t make it go away.

It’s psychological warfare.
Do I acknowledge that there is absolutely no cure for cancer? Sure, mine appears to be gone, but I have to remind myself that it is in remission.  My brain keeps saying, “But it was ‘gone’ before and then I was diagnosed again.”  The very nature of remission.

Will my cancer rear its ugly head again? No one can know.  My doctors don’t know, I certainly don’t know.  God probably knows, but He reveals things in His own time.

So, what’s a girl to do?
Accept it! As hard as it is sometimes, I really don’t have another choice.  My unabashed determination and unquenchable sense of adventure drive me forward.

So, I soldier on.
I do the same things other girls do. I go to work.  I fret about my weight.  I spend too much on cosmetics.  I love on my pets as if they were my children.  I yell at other drivers.

I have always had an insatiable sense of adventure and the need to see the world. I want to see and experience everything.  And, I’ve accomplished a lot of that in my 53 years.  But, it’s never enough.  I’d like to be happy and comfortable with what I’ve been able to do.

But, there is always more.
The world is such a vast place with so many intriguing views to take in. From the mountains and canyons and rivers, to the ocean with its beautiful reefs and deep crevices, to manmade wonders, such as the Eiffel Tower and the San Antonio Riverwalk.  There is so much more ethnic and unusual food to try.  So many more animals to pet.  More zip lines, more riding trails, more beautiful malls and museums to check out.  More boats to ride and more planes on which to fly.

I have to be honest – sometimes it feels like absolute desperation.
I think as we get older, everyone feels a sense of urgency every now and then. An impinging notion that we are “x” years old and still haven’t accomplished “y.”  Even before my first diagnosis at 42 years old, I could already feel the beginnings of just such impressions.

After my first round with the disease, it wasn’t much different, although I was in a very different mindset after my first round than I have been after my second round. (Another blog post will come regarding this.)  I was married, and we never had much extra money.  Mainly because of my inability to say “no” to my husband and stepchild.  One wanted a new car every six months, and both wanted the latest new phone and electronic gadget, and every gaming console available, and every cable channel imaginable.  I don’t have to tell anyone how financially irresponsible this is, and I have no excuse for my inability to buckle down, since I was in charge of the finances, and I can do nothing but take full responsibility.

But, I digress.
Now that I am divorced, back in charge of my life completely, and only responsible for my own self, the outlook is splendid. I have money to do the things I want to do.  I have the time to do the things I want to do.

Having cancer definitely heightens your sense of desperation.
No one knows how long they have to live.  And, I am no different.  However, given my cancer history and my family’s cancer history, I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel an added sense of urgency to accomplish the things I want to accomplish.

To that end, I have revamped my own person budget. The first thing I did was execute my idea of opening the two additional checking accounts – an idea I had attempted to implement during my marriage to no avail.

How it works:
My original checking account is used to pay rent, utilities, car payments, credit card bills, groceries, and other household and living expenses.

Once all of those things are taken care of, I then allot the remainder of my paychecks to my second and third checking accounts.

For my second checking account, I allot the same amount from each paycheck twice a month to what I call my “Shopping Therapy” card. This account is funded with enough money to assure my daily living expenses, including gas in my car and lunch at work, as well as some “fun” money, which can be spent on anything I want, including my insatiable lust for Kate Spade bags, over the next two weeks.  The key to this strategy is … ONCE IT’S GONE, IT’S GONE.  After that, I’m taking canned tuna or $1 frozen Michelina’s entrees to work with me and tearing myself away from the Michael Kors jewelry case. But, that’s the very purpose of this account.  To keep the first and third accounts in check.

The third account receives all remaining funds from my paycheck AFTER I’ve taken care of living and daily expenses and my fun money. This account can ONLY be used for travel and experiences (or emergencies).  I cannot use it to buy those tweed Coach loafers – even though it seems like at the time it’s a dire emergency!

Being spontaneous I have no willpower otherwise. My daddy spoiled me rotten, and, (with the exception of deference to my husband and step-child during my second marriage), I have always gotten what I wanted.

This wanderlust continues into my middle age and my post-cancer lifestyle.
Fortunately for me, I now have a responsible financial system in place and awesome vacation day benefits from my job to give me the PERMISSION to get out there and involved in whatever my heart desires.

Because I recognize the absolute need to take charge of my life after cancer, taking charge of my finances and creating a budget to ensure that I am allocating my funds to all the things I need and want, is the first way to ensure I am now able to see a future of fun, adventure, travel, and all sorts of experiences that I can take part in.  Screw cancer.  It  may have had me down and out at times, but I’m back up and still alive – nay, LIVING – each and every day!

Yes, the desperation is still there, but I take solace in the fact that I know good things are coming because I have taken the first step in creating for myself the ability to follow my dreams and desires – financial stability.  Even if the experiences have to happen six months at a time.s, in-the-moment type of person, I need this type of checks and balances because

 

Screw you, Cancer – I Went to The Big Apple – April 2017

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I had previously visited New York City and found it fascinating and tedious at the same time.

I enjoyed seeing the famous landmarks; the bustle of a million people moving erratically as individuals, yet totally in sync as a city; and, of course, the food!

My previous visit was in March 2002. That’s when there was still a giant hole where the World Trade Center Towers once stood.  Earth movers and dump trucks hummed busily in and out of the site hauling away the debris.  The corner Burger King, still with its recognizable red letters x’d out and “NYPD Emergency Operations” scrawled in blue spray paint just under them.  It was moving.  Posters and candles and stuffed animals and flowers and memorials lined the streets of lower Manhattan for miles.  Each an individual tribute to a fallen loved one; collectively, a solemn oath silently whispered by the hearts of all Americans that our Country will not yield to terrorists.

My party had tickets to Phantom of the Opera at The Majestic on 44th Street that year.  Front row mezz!  I thrilled to the goose flesh prickled upon my arms as the infamous chandelier went whizzing by my head at breakneck speed.  An understudy was portraying the Phantom that night, but I sure couldn’t tell.  The evening and the performance were both magical and I was dizzy at the very thought of being in a theater in New York City enjoying one of the most spectacular events ever brought to the stage.

I sit back now thinking how I had my whole world ahead of me. I was 38 years old, thin, in great shape, single, and pretty.  I could walk around Manhattan for hours without taking even a five minute break.  Except to eat, of course!

I had no idea what a difference another four years would make, when I would be diagnosed with breast cancer the first time in 2006.

At any rate, in April 2017, I ventured back to The Big Apple, this time with my 17-year-old great niece Kelsey, whom you will read a lot about in this blog. She is not only my favorite traveling companion, but the very reason I breathe!

It was her Spring Break from her Senior Year of High School and I was hoping this was going to be one of those trips that she will remember for a lifetime.

One of her surprises was that I hired a stretch limousine to pick us up at LaGuardia to take us to our hotel on W. 56th Street – The Manhattan Club – a swank, suite hotel only blocks from Central Park.  I couldn’t wait to get down to baggage claim and see the driver holding the sign with her name on it and her looking at me inquisitively.

Unfortunately, our plane was delayed and the stretch limo I ordered wasn’t available later that day. The company still sent a car – a really big black SUV and she still freaked when saw her name on the driver’s board and all was right with the world.

Long story short … WE HAD A BALL!

We took a bike carriage ride through Central Park and our driver was so cool. He stopped at nearly every possible thing to look at, explained to us just what we were looking at, how long and why it was there, and what movies or tv shows it had been featured in.  The glacial rocks; the Friends fountain; Bethesda Terrace; The Shandor, aka “Spook Central” in Ghostbusters; and, more somberly, The Dakota, where John Lennon was shot.  Needless to say, our bike chauffer got a very big tip, on top of the ridiculous cost of the tickets for our ride.

We spent our days meandering about the island from top to bottom. We shopped in Times Square, visited Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum, and ate nearly everything is sight.  We rode on the double-decker sight-seeing bus and nearly broke our necks looking at everything there was to see.  And, I saw the new One World Trade Tower, which stands gloriously in place of that hole I stared down into 15 years prior.

One of the highlights was The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre on 45th Street.  We had been eagerly anticipating the show for weeks and it was finally time.  As we shuffled into the theater and were ushered to our seats, that old familiar feeling of headiness came over me as I took in the expanse of the theater’s interior.  The production was outstanding – the sites, the costumes, the performances.  All spot on and phenomenal.

More days and more sites and more food.  Cascade Café on 8th and 54th quickly became our favorite breakfast haunt, and I think we had breakfast there at least four out of five mornings.  I use the term breakfast lightly, because when I’m on vacation (or any time really) I’m all about living in the moment.  There was one morning Kelsey and I had Tiramisu for breakfast.  No regrets! – gotta cram in what I can in each six months!

And, though I was exactly two years removed from my mastectomy and flap reconstruction, I was boundless of energy, enthusiastic, and wide-eyed with wonderment at the visions that unfolded in front of our eyes.

As stated previously, this trip was intended as a lifetime memory for Kelsey, and while it succeeded at that, it was also a week that I will absolutely never forget.

As the sun rose on Central Park on the last day of our visit, I rode quietly in the back of our limo, taking a moment from my daily existentialist ponderings, to wonder in awe at just how fortunate I am that once again, I had the privilege to live another great adventure. Thankful, as always, to God, The James Cancer Hospital, Drs. Carson and Cabiling and their staffs, The Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center and my family once again for seeing me through the second time and permitting me to enjoy yet another of life’s most wonderful moments.