Surgery

Last Monday, I voluntarily checked myself into the hospital to have a little surgery on my brain. The doctors, Jon, and my parents kept telling me it was a normal procedure and that many people have wires and small boxes in their head.   When Dr. M arrived home from vacation, he did his due diligence, visiting me in the hospital and comparing my MRI scans with those I took at Alemana in November. Since there were only possible benefits, the surgical procedure was part of the treatment plan. The surgery may help with my balance and speech issues. It may not improve anything; it remains to be seen.

When I was locked in the hospital the week before, the neurosurgeons were insistent that I have surgery soon to put a stent in my brain to help drain dangerous fluid build up. You see, my head hurt because I had so much swelling, called edema. Since I have never actually seen my scans and know they look bad, I was pretty upset that I was shown them so readily. After a few days, the doctors calmed down, and actually looked at my previous scans of my tumor. It turns out when they actually compared the scans, the tumor hadn’t grown since my last MRI in November. However, the neurosurgeons were very concerned because the tumor is preventing regular drainage of my edema, or intracranial brain swelling. Since there is blockage, and not normal drainage, the stent is meant to circumvent the tumor. Since I have a huge tumor, the box was implanted to allow for natural drainage into my stomach.  The neurosurgeons drew me about 27 pictures of my brain and the blockage. They were worried. According to healthgrades.com,

“fluid collection within the brain tissue, called edema, can result from…numerous causes, including infections, trauma, brain tumors, certain toxic substances, extremely high blood pressure” and all those high altitudes I fly and travel to. I’ve agreed not to fly anywhere until I’m recovered.

  1. Right before the surgery I was nervous, because even though it is a relatively normal procedure, afterwards I will forever have a wire and a small metal box in my head. I shut my eyes tightly in order to pretend they were not cutting into my head. I fell asleep to the anesthesia that was administered correctly by a nice anesthetist, and in went the stent. I did pretty well, I thought, as I complained only minimally. Of course the surgery went fine, but I am in pain trying uto find a comfy way to lay my head on a pillow. Try as I might, all I can feel is (it’s not hard…) a wire and a small metal box, which I apparently pointed out too much. I wasn’t in the recovery room too long before they brought me to my parents and Jon in this tiny hospital room on the cancer ward. We all tried to sit in the room but Jon was on the floor, so the three of them took turns spending the night. Even though my curtains opened to a magnificent view of the Andes mountains, I’m not sure anyone slept really well because my steroids could only think about eating the next meal. Everyone did such a good job of feeding me, except the hospital. The food was so, so gross. Who wants to eat a processed manjar cake, a chalky red sandwich on toasted white bread, and canned peaches for every meal? My stomach didn’t actively hurt, but I was bloated for sure.
  2. I wasn’t in the hospital long, because my insurance company couldn’t afford it (go figure!). As I swung my legs around to the edge of the bed, I took joy in the fact that I could go to the bathroom without anyone watching me like during my last experience. What a relief! Unfortunately though, a nurse had to help me shower before I left the hospital. I was humiliated, but running the water over my naked body felt so good. Although I was cold and kept thinking of the showers in the Holocaust, (always a history nerd) the cold water felt good on my body. Due to the surgery, hair was matted to the back of my head with blood. The nurse had to work really hard to get the hair to separate from the drainage box. The back of my head is still matted, and I have a Band aid centered in the middle of my forehead that I can’t remove until Tuesday when I have my post-surgery follow-up. I also can’t clean my hair till Tuesday so that presents a little problem…
  3. I feel the weight of the steroid pills, even though my dosage has halved from what it used to be. Like an acne-ridden teenager, my nose has been a mess with pimples, white and black heads. It is slowly healing itself. My neck and chin have puffed up to the point where I can no longer recognize myself. Before I go to sleep at night, I play a game where I try to bite down on my jaws, as I have full on steroid clench. My mouth is clamped shut from the pills, so it is very painful. For days and days, I had intense and painful diarrhea brought on by the new medicine. Well, it got so bad, that Dr. M had to take me off all medicine, except steroids, in order to clear out the mess in my gut. Next week we will try to reintroduce the more effective oral chemo pill, which was so strong it was choking me and making me pass out in the middle of the day.   The pill made me very sick, so I hope I can tolerate it. If not, I’m not going to take the oral chemo pill, because quality of life is important to me.   I’ve already got many people to support me on that one, including Jon. There’s no point keeping me alive if I’m not myself anymore, and that’s how I feel about that. Obviously I want to take my pills appropriately and stay alive, but not at such a huge cost.

In order to make sure this blog is not one long list of complaints, which it is turning into, I’m going to stop here. I’ve already detailed on other posts how much I hate steroids, and the long-term affect they have on my body. Supposedly, when I feel better from the surgery, I will benefit from less swelling, and therefore, less steroids. We will see how that goes! Ojala…

Hospital Jail

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As most of you know, I’ve been in the hospital for about a week, “asserting myself”. Unfortunately, for strong women used to logical reasoning, living in a macho society and sticking up for yourself can be very frustrating.

Two weeks ago I began to have some pain in my brain, not unlike the pain I first   experienced when cancer had taken over my brain and the swelling made it hard to put my head on a pillow. So I scheduled an MRI at Clinica Las Condes (CLC), as I knew that it is slow to do anything medical here in Chile. Amazingly, the MRI was scheduled very quickly the next day.   So, after my impromptu MRI scan on Tuesday, the late night CLC crew threw me into the cardio-ward, and locked the key until Dr. M arrived from his Israeli vacation next week. Too late! The door clanged shut before I could do anything about it and I was captured.

After seeing my brain scans, Dr. Luis, Dr. M’s replacement and my temporary doctor in charge, immediately whisked me away to talk on the phone next to the scanner. He was very worried about my health, and kept talking about the need for emergency surgery. He mentioned many times I was going to drown in all the liquid that was blocked off from spinal fluid not draining around the tumor and into my stomach. Dr. Luis wouldn’t even let me go home for an hour to grab a bag of clothes and toiletries that I knew I would need for my stay. My poor husband had to guess what goods I needed, and all you ladies know that men, god bless them, NEVER get things like that right…

At the beginning of the ordeal, no less than 20 nurses and doctors I had never laid eyes on came into the room. They introduced themselves, but damned if I remembered who they were the next day. There was Dr. Luis, Dr. M’s replacement while he was gone, the speech pathologist, who kindly informed me that I had trouble swallowing.

“That’s news to me,” I said, after touching my tongue back and forth to the roof of my mouth, nose, and cheeks. The physical therapist came to walk me down the length of the hall so I wouldn’t get dizzy. She kept asking me if I was “mareado/dizzy”.  “Yes,” I replied, indignantly, as I turned a corner of the hospital ward. “I’ve had a year to deal with this unfortunate life circumstance. I’ve been dizzy since April, and I have methods in place to help me stay upright.”

There were the day nurses, night nurses, and various doctors and assistant doctors on call. Then there were the women who came to clean my room, my trash, and make the couch, etc. The nutritionist took my food order to see what I would like to eat during my stay in Hotel Las Condes.  It was then that I made the unfortunate mistake of telling her I liked ave-palta sandwiches and natural fruit… which I ate for 15 straight meals afterward. There was also a beautiful Chilean woman who administered a British memory test to me. I had to repeat British phrases to her in her halting English. It was bad! I answered her as best I could, but the questions were so culturally biased, it was really hard to take her seriously. She came in two straight days to give me more vocabulary questions, which I answered in both Spanish and English. She also kept trying to tell me that I did well on the tests.

“Don’t tell me you’re using these results to prove a point,” I muttered under my breath while trying to keep it cool. I could see her heart break a little every time she came into my room. Having to face me every morning, with her worthless (in my eyes) exam results was probably a little too assertive, even for me.

As many people told me, the doctors and nurses were just trying to help me during this time. I understand. If you don’t know me, or my health history, the scans look bad. But Dr. Luis didn’t come across as understanding my long history with Metastatic Breast Cancer, which Dr. M has been privy to over the past four years.   Surgery may be part of the long-term plan, but we just switched treatment medicine, so I expected the first results to be a bit skewed. Turns out, on comparison, my lesions have not grown at all since last scan.  I trust Dr. M to make a treatment plan based on my quality of life as a longtime Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) patient, not just as a neurosurgeon, technician, radiologist, or highly competent doctor with condescending bedside manner. I felt like there were two very different perspectives to my surgery issue. One from a neurology point of view, and one from the MBC point of view that I most subscribe to.

Dr. Campos, the main neurosurgeon, came to my room twice a day, to sell me on the elective hydrocephalus drainage surgery. After much thought and prodding, I have decided that since the surgery is so minimally invasive and basically carries no risks, and could even help me, I’ve decided to do it. I’m not thrilled, as you can imagine, with people going near my scalp with knives. However, if people want me to, I will. As I said, the shunt and the procedure are very safe, and the incision very small. My only concern is long-term benefits vs. risks. I have been assured, many times by multiple doctors, that the surgery could only help, not hurt. I might get better, I might not: I have decided it’s worth the risk. If it could help me to walk straight again and enjoy my vacations more, then I am in support. If insurance covers the procedure, I will go ahead with the drainage shunt, as well as a change to my medicine in order to be more effective in the brain. Currently the new drugs are tearing up my stomach. I have some very painful issues going on, and I hope it goes away soon. I am not sleeping or moving off the couch. Neither is my bleary-eyed husband.

So, for now, here I am, at home; recovering from hospital jail. My parents are here to keep me company, and my sister will be coming down soon. I have an interview coming up with Moon travel, which I’ve been dreaming about my whole life. I thought I’d be better a day after the hospital, but I was still so drugged up and dizzy that I barely pulled it together for the Skype interview. My tongue lay heavy in my mouth and I could sense some difficulty talking and making a solid argument. Moon Travel was very nice and postponed the interview. Since she was interviewing for all the Latin American books, I think she was glad to have the break honestly. I earned bonus points for attempting to interview right after a week long hospital stay. Being honest about my health condition may hurt my chances, but I really want to work for someone who knows about and is understanding of my health condition. Wish me luck in the interview re-scheduled next Tuesday!

The Luckiest Unlucky Girl: The End

For many years now I’ve wondered when my blog would end. Well, I’ve decided, today’s the day…

The last few entries have been about my tough times, my misery, and my despair. However, life is about more than metastatic breast cancer. I’m tired of moping about the house waiting for my own demise.   I’m sick of complaining about my bruises and steroid puff. My disease is what it is; nobody can do anything about it.

But that’s not my whole story.  Yes, this particular blog is about cancer- but the history of a life can’t be summed up by one word. If my experience with this disease has taught me anything, it is the knowledge that my life may end soon, or it might be prolonged. The most important truth about death is that no one really knows when the end is coming.

That leads me to the title of the blog… Being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at thirty-one, is extremely unlucky. All that I’ve been through: the chemo, the brain radiation, the various pills, is unlucky.   The hair loss, the mastectomy, the debilitating dizziness: all of that is unlucky. In fact, if you look back at these blog entries, my thirties have been consumed with moments of extreme sadness.

However, I have also been incredibly lucky during my lifetime. I have a husband who loves me, a loyal sister, caring parents, and amazing friends and family. When I close my eyes, my heart fills with memories of good times, not bad. A huge thank you goes to everyone who played a role in my happiness. I want to finish with the poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson that inspired this blog in the first place:

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded.

Signing off (for now),

   The Luckiest Unlucky Girl

Beneath Cancer’s Shadow

It is February now. My summer trips are over. I no longer watch the blue-footed booby dart through the crystal blue waves to fish. I no longer hear seal lions frolicking on the beach in front of our hotel. As I look over my calendar, I note that I have no job and nothing planned besides this month’s doctor’s appointments. The skies are starting to darken, and cancer’s shadow seems to be growing.

When I returned from the Galapagos, I was really dizzy and wanted to rest.   Even with Jon’s help, transferring from one rocky boat to another was difficult for someone with balance issues. I enjoyed myself, but I have a lot of bruises on my body as a result. I had an appointment scheduled with Dr. M right when I got back because he was soon to go on vacation, like most Chileans during the month of February. Since I am still mareada (dizzy), Dr. M decided to switch up my medicine before he left. His consultant at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston suggested I take a pill that more accurately targets brain tumors than the previous oral chemo pill. Xeloda, the new drug, is a chemotherapy pill as well.   Like my other medicines, I have to take it at a certain time in the morning with stomach medicine. The steroid pills remain at the same level as before. I no longer take my daily hormone therapy pill (Femara) or the monthly oral chemo pills, Tamoxifen. One day I will ask Dr. M if there will ever come a time when I don’t have to take any pills, but I’m afraid I already know the answer.

The pharmacist at CLC told me about the possible side effects of Xeloda and they frightened me. I’m not sure why, since I’ve taken worse. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, oh- and my hands and feet might become red and painful. I don’t know why, but the last effect frightened me the most. I really didn’t want to take this new pill now, especially right before hosting my very good friend’s baby shower.   But like a dutiful patient, I swallowed the pill when they told me to. My cheeks have become rosy, but so far I seem to be tolerating the new drug.   I take Xeloda twice a day for two weeks and then I have a week off. I guess it could be worse.

Despite the rosy cheeks, there are some days that the cancer shadows are dark and gloomy.   Some days, as I rest my head on my pillow in the morning, the shadows knock on my window and enter the room. Some days I cannot push the murky silhouettes away, no matter how hard I try. After wallowing in self-pity, I give up on dressing, and become angrier at my situation. It seems so unfair. I allow the shadows to become permanent fixtures as I shuffle to the living room to take a nap. I’m not sure why I’m so tired, as the only physical activity I’ve done is wake up, eat a bowl of cereal, and force myself to take a myriad of pills.

However, as I press the button to open the living room shade, I see there is still light outside. I move towards it slowly, hoping that cancer and its shadows will go away for good.   Today I flipped on the computer and began searching for a future. As the sun grows higher in the sky, the light shifts. Events begin to appear on my calendar. Even though it might be fleeting, there is some sunshine beyond the shadows after all.

Traveling with Cancer

     I am dedicating this blog to my incredible, indispensable, husband, Jon. Our trip to the Galapagos really hammered home how much I rely on him for just about everything. Jon has led me through this jungle called life, and most of the time, with a smile on his face. For the last four and a half years Jon´s words of love and devotion have kept me alive, far longer than I anticipated. He is the one who voluntarily carries my backpack so I have a prayer of ascending the rocky path without falling. He is the one who finds my phone under the bedspread, or in the purse I used last night. Jon, although I know you hate public recognition, I want to thank you, out loud, for driving me down bumpy dirt roads with a bleeding ear. Thanks for lending a hand on a “flat” path, an uphill slope, or stairs without hand railings. Thanks for buckling my sandals so I don´t get too dizzy doing it myself. Without your help I couldn´t function, especially at such a high level. Thank you for all that you do and put up with. I love you forever! Too.

Whoever decided that cancer girl needed to deal with a busted eardrum at her sister´s wedding has a mean streak. They also have a healthy sense of irony. I wasn´t able to drink more than one alcoholic beverage at an all-inclusive, nor get my ear wet in one of the twelve pools at the resort.  Let me back up a little, because last time I left you, I was at my sister´s wedding, on a Costa Rican beach, with an injured ear.

The first thing Jon and I did at Dreams Las Mareas was visit with the resort doctor about my ear.   Besides being good looking, the resort doctor inspired a good deal of confidence. He tried to insert the otoscope (Yes, I looked that up…) in my ear, but there was too much infection and puss for him to see anything. I know: gross, right?! He said the antibiotic drops were not strong enough to fight the infection, so he prescribed some antibiotic pills.   He claimed that, for sure, the horse-sized pills would get rid of the leaking and pain in the ear… and magically, they did.  However, unfortunately, I don´t remember much of my trip to Costa Rica. I know my sister looked beautiful and that she and Dustin got married on the beach. I know I gave a speech at the reception and danced a lot afterwards. I know I nearly stepped on a venomous snake as soon as I entered the country. But, mostly, I just remember the pain radiating from my ear.

As soon as we arrived home, Jon and I drove to Las Condes to have a qualified doctor examine my ear. The doctor at CLC looked inside the ear canal, and showed it up on the TV screen so Jon and I could see too. He removed a lot of wax, and declared that I could snorkel and get my ear wet in the Galapagos. I perused the seven-day itinerary, and decided his declaration was a huge boon. The Galapagos would definitely have been a much different trip without those two stipulations. He also told me he gets ear infections often, and that when he gets back from vacation, he will drain my middle ear of liquid. The ear has been clogged since I first had radiation a few years ago, so maybe that will help me hear out of my right ear again. Yay!

After my ear cleared while I was in Santiago, I immediately swelled up from hemorrhoids. I don´t know if you´ve ever had hemorrhoids, but they are painful, itchy, and in a very private place. That´s why, for most of my life, I thought they were a back injury brought on by lifting heavy objects. Now I understand why they are forbidden from conversation. However, as you know, I don´t shy away from taboo topics on this blog. The hemorrhoid is better now that I have doused it in cream. However, sitting down on a five-hour plane ride to Guayaquil, Ecuador, was a special kind of torture.

I had mentioned to Jon that this trip was going to be different than those of years past, but I didn´t want to actually believe it. I have been struggling for months to acknowledge that I am not getting better. After several boat to cliff transfers, I realized I am going to be dizzy for the rest of my life. There are certain things I will never be able to do again like hike (especially on uneven, rocky, lava paths). As I found out this summer, I have difficulty snorkeling, walking a straight line, spinning when dancing, or exercising of any kind. For an ex-university soccer player, this is difficult to come to terms with. I have always prided myself on my athletic prowess. I can do some of the above activities, at a low level with Jon´s assistance, and, an even lower level, independently. The brain radiation has also affected my language skills and my handwriting. Both are worse than before. Jon agrees with all of the above. Luckily, I still have the ability to grasp the phrases and vocabulary words that distinguish me from other writers.

The steroids have caused a great deal of weight gain, which annoys me to no end. If I have to endure all that is thrown my way, it would be nice to have some modicum of control over my physical appearance. Not luck there, though. Sometimes, after an hour or so of trying, I can make myself look like a non-cancer patient; if I don´t have an hour to spare, I fail in that endeavor. I know that growing older is partly to blame for some of these changes, but it also has to do with my disease, treatment, and the various pills I take on a regular basis.

Alright… enough complaining. Even I am sick of my kvetching. I still am fortunate to do and see many amazing things. Even though I fell three times yesterday, completely bruised and battered my body and pride, I still saw some out-of-this-world wildlife. By the end of our trip I had seen blue-footed boobies, Darwin´s finches, pelicans, many different species of crabs, two Galapagos sharks, dolphins jumping beside our boat, manta rays leaping from the water, the majestic frigate bird, and several different colors of iguanas. How many Metastatic Breast Cancer patients can say they took pictures of the Giant Land Tortoises in the highlands of the Galapagos Islands?

*As soon as my husband is done sorting through and editing the million pictures he took of animals endemic only to the Galapagos, I will share them with you.

 

 

Costa Rica: Dama de Honor

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Sissy and me at the rehearsal

Hi, I’m Eli, better known as Lizzy to my family, and I am the Dama de Honor, (no Matron of Honor for me, my friends) flown in straight from Santiago, Chile.  I want to thank Dreams Las Mareas for putting on such a beautiful event, and I especially want to thank all the family and loved ones who made it down to Central America for Ali’s big day.

As Maid of Honor, it is my duty to tell you some funny and memorable stories about my sister and the love she shares with Dustin. Hopefully I’ll be able to make it though the speech without crying too much. I took a speech class senior year and gave my appreciation speech to Ali. I think our speech teacher, Mrs. Wiley, had to pull my sister out of class no less than three times in order for Ali to hear the speech through my tears. Here goes…

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If this is true, than I have certainly been flattered by my sister throughout my lifetime. Growing up, Ali did basically everything that I did it, and she usually did it better than me. We played piano together, we caught softballs, we sang in the choir, and we were the twin forwards on the Cooper Dragon Soccer team. Other teams referred to me and my sister as the “Little Green Midgets.” I chose to believe the nickname referred more to the color of our jerseys, and not our height.   When it came time to choose colleges, I was happy to have my sister follow me to a rival Southern California school. Now, instead of playing for the same soccer team, we were going to be enemies. In particular, I remember a very important SCC soccer game during my junior year. The Athenas were playing the Bulldogs in the league finals. After spending most of the game tied zero to zero, my coach pulled me out of the game about the same time that Ali’s put her in. The clock was winding down and Ali received the ball near the goal. She dribbled about half the field and readied herself to shoot.

“Stop her! “ I yelled. “She’s gonna score!   That’s what she does… ”

And sure enough, Alison Timms, star freshman for the Redlands Bulldogs, scored an amazing shot in order to win the game. As a result, the Bulldogs went to the NCAA playoffs and we didn’t. As you can imagine, I was pretty upset after the game and, for the first time, didn’t really want to have much to do with my sister. We had planned to eat after the game and to party together afterwards. Well, I tried to ignore her and get back on the bus, but I heard this familiar voice calling out after me.

Baby Voice: “Lizzy,” she said. “I know you’re mad at me, but can we still go to dinner?”  Well, what do you say to that?

In the movie, White Christmas, Irving Berlin sings about the kind of sisterhood that Ali and I share. And what would a speech be without some singing? In the movie, he croons, “Sisters, sisters, there were never more devoted sisters.” And I believe there were no more devoted sisters than Ali and I. Since we were old enough to write letters to each other, my sister and I have spent much time finding the perfect cards expressing our love devotion for one another….The cards have evolved over time. The first ones I remember were simple stories full of time spent at home, as well as a memorable pinworm infestation while I was away at Girl Scout camp.   In particular, I remember receiving one of these cards on Valentines Day one year. I was in college and was particularly lonely. I hadn’t had a boyfriend for a few years so I was hoping for a surprise care package of chocolates or flowers from a secret admirer (Obviously I had very realistic ideas about the holiday). I looked around the mailroom, but there was no such package with my name on it and no secret admirers in sight. So I took the keys hanging from the lanyard around my neck and opened my mailbox. Inside there was a card with my sister’s distinctive handwriting. I opened it, and inside there was a simple saying that struck me. Inside, the card said, “A Sister is love that you never outgrow.” I felt safe because no matter what was happening in my life, I knew Ali would always be there for me. And she has been.

Most of you know that the past four and a half years have been tough on my family. Through it all Ali has always been one of my biggest supporters. She has come down to Chile many times to be there with me for whatever I’ve needed. And when she couldn’t be there she has been there in spirit through her daily “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” messages as well as organizing a Team Eli Race for the Cure event in Oregon with her Portland friends and my friends in attendance.

For fear of veering into sappy territory, I would like to specially recognize the love and devotion that Ali and Dustin have for one another, because that’s what we’re here to celebrate.   For those who don’t know, this union is a long time in the making. I think about eight years, several small apartments, some Gracie-boo moments, nursing school, and purchasing a condo together. Whatever the obstacle, Ali and Dustin, have made it through together. I think what drew me to Dustin initially was that the first place he traveled to outside of the country was Cambodia. Not exactly your most gringo friendly destination. During our time there it was clear he wasn’t afraid to delve into the unique history of the country or eat new and unknown food. Also, I am very proud to welcome a certified nurse into the family. Dustin has worked hard and the two of them have formed new schedules in order for him to complete his residency, mostly through night shifts and working holidays. Because of this devotion, I know Ali and Dustin will continue the kind of love and devotion that I will always carry for Ali. Indeed, “A sister is love you never outgrow!” Please raise your glasses and give a cheer to Becoming a Timmitchell.

“Pura Vida!”

Costa Rica: Playa Hermosa

Close your eyes. Imagine the most beautiful beach you can think of. The stretch of sand is shaped like a crescent moon and ringed by palm trees and green cliffs. Now, take away all the people, so there´s only about twenty shadows walking the beach. I´m guessing the sand is white, so turn it the color of volcanic ash. Despite the darker color, the sand is just as warm and soft as its counterpart. The water is colder and darker than it is on the Caribbean side, as this beach is on the western Pacific Coast. However, due to your proximity to the equator, the water is still warm enough to let the tide wash over your feet and ankles. The light hits the cliffs, bathing the fishing boats in a golden glow. The sun shines a brilliant yellow and then pink as it hit the clouds above. As I walked the length of Playa Hermosa, at sunset, I must confess I had a moment. I don´t go to church or believe in an organized religion, but I would call it a spiritual moment. I stared at the incredible landscape and tried to take it all in.  I closed my eyes, did a few yoga stretches, and a tear ran down my cheek. Now that´s the type of image I want to think about when it comes time for the end. I stopped to recover my senses and quickly dried my tears.

Playa Hermosa, translated simply as “beautiful beach”,  was my favorite stop on the itinerary. Our four days at Arenal felt like an eternity, because I was desperately trying to keep my ear dry in the dampness of the rain forest. Finally we drove to Liberia Airport to pick up Jim and Sandi. Jon was very anxious about picking up his parents on time, so we arrived at the airport about two hours early. Since we were sick of rice and beans, I looked up the best restaurants in Liberia. Trip Advisor came up with a German beer hall near the airport. Although fried meat was a far cry from what I would call tasty food, Jon and I were happy to have something a little different.  We met up with Jon´s parents at the airport in our trusty, dusty Toyota RAV4  (I totally want one now), and Jon drove the 17 km to Playa Hermosa.  Famous for its spectacular snorkeling, diving, and fishing on the Golfo de Papagayo, Coco and Hermosa are largely expat towns. Foreigners, mostly older Americans, Canadians, and celebrities, rent condos there for several weeks or buy vacation homes so they can snowbird in Costa Rica during the cold, winter months. Despite its reputation as an expat hangout, I preferred Hermosa to Coco because it is a tiny blip of a beach, and therefore, pretty authentic. Also, the town also had some great restaurants that I couldn´t wait to try out.

We stayed at Villa del Sueño, a quaint, colonial, boutique hotel. In addition to its well-landscaped grounds, the hotel had two pools for guests and a beautiful garden restaurant where we dined on Costa Rican food that wasn´t that bad. The four of us played the card game, Euchre, before dinner and listened to some live Latin music while eating. It was a great atmosphere! The first day we were supposed to take Sandi snorkeling for the first time and see some really cool fish. However, when I woke up, the liquid from my ear hadn´t gotten any better, and in fact, was heavier and full of blood again. So I numbed the ear up with painkillers and decided a relaxing day of tanning by the pool and watching the sunset at the beach was much better than snorkeling. That night we ate a delicious Asian tapas meal at Ginger Bar and Grill. The seared tuna with ginger slaw was delicious, as was just about everything we ate. Jim met up with some friends he hadn´t seen since college, and it was a lively evening.

The second day we took Jim and Sandi on a wildlife river-cruise in Palo Verde National Park. The tour was very similar to the one we took at Caño Negro, but I was glad that Jon´s parents were able to see some of the animals that we saw on the other trip. We also were a lot closer to most of them including the white-faced capuchins and howler monkeys. There were also many crocodiles in the water: 342 reptiles for every 2 miles. Make sure you don´t go swimming or fall in the river!

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The last night in Hermosa was pretty magical. We found a beachfront restaurant called Aqua Sports Bar. Upon hearing the name spokenout loud, it doesn´t sound so magical but it was complete with sand, boardwalk, and a live band playing 90s music like Dave Mathews, Counting Crows, and REM, among others. Also the singer had a really good voice, so our last night in Hermosa was quite idyllic. The food tasted better, especially the seafood and the burgers. Sandi and I both had fresh mint mojito slushies with the national liquor, Cacique, a sweet alcohol made from sugar cane. Along with being quite large, the mojitos might have been the tastiest drink I´ve ever had.  The whole experience is highly recommended!