Well since I haven´t yet discovered the meaning of life or had any more definitive medical news regarding my treatment, I am going to dedicate my next blogs to discussing, not cancer entirely, but life. And in particular, my favorite part about life…. the reason that any sane person would embark on a teaching career: summer vacation!
When Dr. Majlis told us the latest encouraging news from the pet scan we asked two important questions: “Will I be able to go back to work next year?” and also… “Can Jon and I go on vacation?” The doctor was certain that I would be able to go back to work come next July (hopefully even earlier) and that yes- not only could I go on vacation… but I SHOULD go on vacation. After scheduling my next chemo treatment for January 29th, we talked about the glories of the south of Chile, he cautioned me not to eat any raw shellfish, and Jon and I set to work hastily putting together a trip. Since we had cancelled the Brazil tickets it only made sense to hop in our car for a ten day road trip south: destination Pucon, Puerto Varas, and Valdivia. When I realized the Brazil trip was not going to happen, I got more and more excited about exploring this fantastic part of the country that we live in. Luckily I have been feeling pretty tremendous following my last round of chemo. The good news definitely helped me to focus on the end result instead of wallowing around in self-pity. I haven´t had any of the bone pain of last time, despite receiving the shot in my stomach, and have had excellent amounts of energy. A few days out from treatment I felt good enough to sit in the sculpture park with some friends for the Providencia jazz festival. It was wonderful to be sitting outside with the crowd on a summer night, but unfortunately the music didn´t improve my appreciation towards jazz at all. I keep hoping I will like jazz, but the more I listen to it, the more it continues to bore me to tears. Call me crazy, but I prefer my music to have a beginning, middle, and end… and also some words to help capture my interest. Anyway, after realizing I still don´t like jazz despite my best efforts, we met up with my friend Kelsey the following night for another Santiago tradition- the open air movie festival in Parque Bicentenario. Parque Bicentenario is right by my house and is my favorite place in the city. The views of the city skyline are unparalleled, the dogs really enjoy running around in the bushes, and the park routinely puts on events like crafts expositions, food and wine fests, and this summer movie extravaganza. After being welcomed on the festival´s “red carpet” we were entertained with the various company giveaways that greeted us. Free Heineken beer, free rum tastings, free ice tea and free information and handouts about Clinica Alemana. (We passed on the last offer- I already know just about everything there is to know about that place, thank you very much!)
After grabbing some pizza and handing my free beer and rum tickets to someone more likely to enjoy them we settled down into our seats in front of the giant, blow-up, six story movie screen to watch the extremely depressing yet uplifting movie, The Impossible. Around Academy Awards time, I make it a goal to see every movie nominated for Best Picture as well as the major acting awards. Since Naomi Watts was nominated for her role as tsunami survivor I was eager to see the movie. But wow! That movie was extremely hard to watch and yet, very compelling all at the same time. I have always been drawn towards human tragedy and after seeing the movie became obsessed with reading more about the 2004 Asian tsunami. I know this sounds strange, but as a teen I was also obsessed with the Holocaust and read just about every book on the subject that I could get my hands on. I could simply not imagine humans committing such atrocities! On the other hand, I could not imagine what it would feel like to be a someone, a young child, a mother, a father…. in that situation. The pain, the misery, the true heartbreak of it all was just too much to fathom. Anyway, the stories of the tsunami drew me in like that as well… it is amazing the depth of sadness and the overwhelming loss that a human being can be forced to withstand. And yet, some people survive and life goes on. I think actually this helped me a little to deal with the news that I had just received. I know that I am not out of the woods quite yet, and it is extremely possible and even probable that my cancer can flare back up, but it is also now possible that I may also be a survivor. And for some reason, that realization has been a little difficult to process.
For you see, cancer is truly the great equalizer. Cancer doesn´t care whether you are young or old, whether you have people who love you, whether you have a family that you need to take care of, whether you are poor or rich, whether you are black or white or Asian, or really anything. Cancer doesn´t care. In fact, since I have been diagnosed, I have realized that pretty much everyone that I know has had someone in their family, or a close friend, diagnosed with cancer. There are some truly terrible and sad stories of loss out there regarding this horrible disease. In fact, it is so prevalent, that I would compare the rate of cancer in the modern world to that of the plague in Medieval Europe. The only difference here is that we do have some drugs available to help with the disease and sometimes people survive. When I started this journey in September I mentally prepared myself for the worst. I knew, even though the doctors never gave me a percentage number, that I would be very lucky to survive this. Dr. Majlis described it as winning the lottery. Sometimes you get the winning ticket, sometimes you don´t. And while I feel extremely grateful to perhaps be one of the few who received a golden ticket, it also seems a little unfair. “Why me?”
Some people have declared my news to be a miracle. Not being a religious person myself I am very uncomfortable with that word. I am also uncomfortable with the words “God”, “hero”, “brave”, and “courageous”. Honestly I feel like I haven´t really had to endure very much. All I did was listen to my doctor, take the poison, gain 15 pounds, and try to live my life as close to normal as humanly possible. When compared to some of the truly horrible things that people all over the world deal with on a daily basis, my situation hardly warrants such a declaration of praise. And while I know that most 31 year old people I know haven´t had to deal with a life or death situation, I know there are an equal amount of 31 year old people out there that have. Going on this trip has helped me to savor the joys of life and also has given me time to process the realities of my future. And while I promised not to spend this blog talking about cancer, I guess I needed to remove all of those thoughts from my head and get them on paper before I can regale you with humorous tales of our Chilean road trip. It seems frivolous to tell you about riding ski lifts up volcanoes, and zip-lining across rivers and through forests, without first discussing the elephant in the room. So now that I have done that, I can spend the next blog telling you all about the fabulous time we´ve been having. It´s funny. Even though my life has totally changed from the life I had or thought I would have four months ago, things still remain the same. I am still me. Cancer hasn´t made me any less scared of adventure sports or less likely to drop my Iphone into a thermal hot spring. Cancer also hasn´t stopped me from tearing up with joy while watching some penguins waddle down to the water to fish or prevent me from 7 kilometer hikes in the forest. I still laugh when reading incorrectly translated menu items like “raw steak in poot” or when a huge glob of palta falls from my sandwich onto my foot at a roadside lunch break. What cancer has done is make me appreciate it, ALL of it, so much more. What a glorious world we live in and how lucky I am to be able to see so much of it! It truly almost breaks my heart. And now, if you´ll excuse me, I need to remove myself from my un-air conditioned hotel room and go enjoy my summer vacation!