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!









Screw You, Cancer – I went to Neskowin, Oregon – June 2017

Proposal Rock on a sunny day in the Pacific Northwest!

I’m a real science nerd!
– especially when it comes to nature, geology, astronomy and especially marine biology! I wish I would have followed my dream to become a marine biologist, but that’s an entirely different blog.

I combined my love for both travel and squishy things in June 2017.
I had never been to the Pacific Northwest (and only on the west coast in Los Angeles), but have always wanted to see the Oregon and Washington coast. I and Kelsey, my favorite traveling companion, rented a cabin on the Pacific shore at Neskowin, Oregon.

I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing this experience was.
First off, we both love to fly, so we didn’t even mind the long trip through the air across the continent.  Seeing Mt. Hood jutted above the clouds just below our plane was an impressive sight. Once we arrived at the Portland International Airport, we collected our bags and our rental car, and headed off for the 1 ½ hour drive to Neskowin.

Mt. Hood
Mt. Hood

When making plans for this vacation, I was certain of three things:
1) I wanted to be on the beach where I could hear the surf at night and where there would be tide pools to search for marine critters;
2) I wanted to be able to ride horses on the beach; and
3) I didn’t want to be in a hotel.
Anything else was going to be added value!

Neskowin absolutely did not disappoint!
I did a lot of research before finding a website called VACASA.  On this site, people who own property all over the world can list their locations for rent – Airbnb-style.

I searched the site and checked out several hotels and cabins on the coast, but absolutely fell in love with Fisher’s Roost.  As soon as I saw it, I knew it was the one.  Reading the amazing reviews solidified my decision.

Fisher’s Roost Cabin

Fisher’s Roost was absolutely perfect for the two of us.
There were two bedrooms, 1 and ½ baths, washer and dryer, full kitchen, dining room, living room, tv, and woodburning stove. Outside, there was a wraparound deck and a propane grill at our disposal.  The best part, the beach was just across the way from our front door.

The Pacific Northwest coast is fabulous!
It’s beautiful! The forests go on for days.  It only took a matter of minutes for us to throw our stuff into the cabin and wander out into the sand and surf.  I was overwhelmed and awed by the beauty of the area.  And even though the first two days were foggy, Proposal Rock could still be seen standing majestically in the water.

We dug around in the tide pools, where we saw barnacles and tiny shrimp and sea anemone clinging to the stumps of the Ghost Forest.  We collected shells and agates on the beach throughout our visit.  I had hoped to come across a nudibranch in one of the tide pools, but it wasn’t meant to be.  However, I was not disappointed, as there was so much to take in.

Neskowin is nestled between Pacific City to the north, and Lincoln City to the south.
Pacific City is small and homey and quiet. Lincoln City is larger and more touristy, with pastel colored souvenir shops and most restaurants and fast food places you’d expect of a decent-sized city.  Kelsey and I fell in love with the Pig ‘n Pancake and had breakfast there three out of five mornings.  There is also a Safeway in Lincoln City so you can stock up on all the goodies you’ll need to make delicious meals on the grill at the cabin.

Crab Benedict!  That’s right, I said Crab Benedict from Pig ‘n Pancake!

Up north at Pacific City, the atmosphere is more sea-faring, laid-back, and hometown. There is a little place called the Village Coffee Shop where we stopped and ate lunch before our beach horse riding adventure.  The cheeseburger!  So juicy!  You can’t beat it.  And the people were so nice.  Great service!

Once full of burgers and fries, we made our way to Green Acres, a little stable on top of the crest of the hill.  Kelsey and I walked among the horses and petted each one as they munched their hay.  We were matched up with our rides and given a short tutorial on horsemanship before mounting up and heading down to the beach.  It was still a little foggy on this day, but the beach was stellar, and riding along hoof-style on the surf was everything I had hoped it would be.  My horse, Charly, was the coolest.  He was very nice and mannerly.

Horseback riding on the beach!

We rode along the surf for about a half an hour before turning inland to climb up the dunes to the ridge.  The views from here were spectacular.  On one side, you could see the ocean in all its splendor stretching on for infinity.  On the other side, you could look down and see the forest and the park and the small weather-beaten town off in the foggy distance.  It was surreal and everything I had hoped for an more – especially since beach riding was one of my bucket list items.

Our cabin was wonderful.
I felt so completely relaxed there. The entire place is a gated community, so the privacy and sense of peace was greatly welcomed.  I took the bedroom that had the patio door for two reasons:  1) in case some miscreant tried to break in during the night, they would have to go through me to get to Kelsey; and 2)  I’m selfish!  It paid off.  I slept with the sliding glass door cracked open several inches at night and went off to dreamland with the sound of the crashing waves lulling me to sleep.

We spent our mornings sleeping in and our afternoons either in some activity or simply walking along the beach looking for sand dollars and shells.

On the last full day, we ventured south of Lincoln City to Newport, where we took in the Oregon Coast Aquarium – again, engaging my love for all things squishy.  The Aquarium had both indoor and outdoor exhibits, and each was well marked with information on what you were looking at.  We experienced the feel of the critters in the touch pool – some sea urchin, starfish, anemone, small skates and rays – and it was amazing.

Squishy things!

I had just purchased my new car “Penelope” a week before our trip, and I couldn’t resist the urge to stop in the gift shop, where I found a pastel purple, stuffed jellyfish to hang from her rear view mirror when I got home.

“Nessie” (named for Neskowin) hanging from Penelope’s rear view mirror.

On our last night, I truly did not want to go home.
I could have stayed there forever in that tiny little cabin, just right for me and my favorite traveling buddy, on the beach, listening to the surf, and enjoying the absolute peace and quiet. I will never forget this trip of a lifetime to a part of the country I had never been to.  It did not disappoint, and I will be returning!

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.