Over the years my husband and I have taken very few vacations together. Oh sure, we took various family vacations with the kids. We visited the Black Hills, Yellowstone, Glacier and other various national and state parks. We took countless trips to Lake Superior’s stunning North Shore. We even splurged and took the “big trip” to Disney World, but we never ventured out too far or for too long as a couple. We had plenty of time to do that later we told ourselves…
My cancer diagnosis changed that perspective. That’s what cancer does best, change things.
During my chemotherapy my husband and I decided we would take a vacation this winter. The unspoken reason was we must no longer take each other for granted. We must no longer put things like vacations off because we don’t really know how many more opportunities we will have for vacations or for anything really. No one does, of course, but cancer delivers this message like a hard slap in the face.
While on vacation I made a few self-discoveries.
The first thing I must somewhat reluctantly admit is that I am literally quite “attached” to my laptop, or more specifically to blogging. I didn’t realize just how much until we started making vacation plans. My first clue was the very fact I could not even consider going on a vacation without lugging my laptop along. Fortunately, my husband also took his!
Then there was the self-imposed “dilemma” about me missing a post or two. “What will my readers think if I miss a post?” I asked my husband. “Will they keep coming back? Or will they stop reading? Will I appear unreliable if I suddenly stray from my up-to-this-point predictable twice-a-week posting schedule?”
Then I realized it wasn’t my readers who would miss me, it was ME who would miss THEM! I would miss out if I skipped a post or two. I would miss out by not putting my thoughts out there. I would miss out on those comments I can’t seem to live without. I would miss reading their posts. Yes, I would be the one missing out! Readers would be just fine.
I needed a vacation even more than I realized. I needed a vacation from myself!
Another thing I discovered was going on a vacation after a cancer diagnosis and treatment felt tremendously freeing. Traveling miles from home where no one recognized me or knew I had had cancer was wonderful. I walked down the street and felt normal. People passing by had no idea who I was or what I had been through. I didn’t have to explain myself to anyone. I didn’t have to worry about my sparse crop of hair or about wearing a cap constantly. No one knew I had recently finished chemotherapy. No one knew my genes were “tainted.” No one knew my breasts were reconstructed. No one knew I was facing more surgeries when I got home. No one knew I am sometimes fearful and anxious. No one knew anything! That felt wonderful. It felt, well, like a vacation!
“I feel like we are participants in the witness protection program,” I told my husband one day while taking our daily walk along the beach feeling especially inconspicuous beneath my hat and dark sunglasses, “and the “crime” we witnessed up close and personal was cancer.”
He laughed, but had to agree with me. We felt like people with new identities. We had left our old ones behind. On vacation we were just your average looking couple from the Midwest trying to escape to a warmer climate for a few days. We looked like everyone else. (OK, not like everyone else, some looked waaaay better, but you know what I mean!) We looked “normal.” There were even times when I forgot all about cancer. It was a very empowering feeling.
Being average never felt so good.
Another important thing I was reminded of while on vacation was the tremendous healing power of nature. Problems seem less insurmountable while taking in the magnitude of things like an expansive ocean. Watching the never ending, yet constantly changing waves, was mesmerizingly cleansing, restoring and healing and I was reminded of my own “smallness” in the scheme of things. I found that to be extremely comforting.
Nature restores the soul if you allow it to. This restoration can happen while taking a relaxing afternoon drive, while walking through your neighborhood or own backyard, while admiring a spring flower trying to make its way through the snow or even by closing your eyes and imagining your favorite place of solitude and beauty.
Good things like vacations end too quickly. I must return to the real world of daily living and being a survivor. I must get back to my “new normal,” which includes yet another doctor appointment this week and three more this month. I am almost relieved to return to my computer without feeling guilty. I’m eager to read my favorite blogs and start blogging again myself. I guess I’ve become even more a creature of habit than I realized, but that’s OK and maybe even necessary now.
Another final thing I realized is there are no real vacations from cancer, at least not extended ones. But I’m grateful for the moments I do manage “to get away,” every day, whether I’m on vacation or not.