LIVING AND TRAVELING WITH CANCER

Do you ask yourself from time to time, how much longer do you have to live? What if you knew that your days are counted, would you live your life differently? Would you love more, hug more, and appreciate little things in life that you did not even notice before? How about traveling? Would you rush to those places you always wanted to see? There are no universal answers to these questions. We are all different and so are our reactions to life changing events. I wrote this post in hope of helping others to live and travel with cancer or at least to put some light on dealing with the condition. 

Living and traveling with cancer. Sunrise in South Carolina.
Make every day special. Sunrise in South Carolina. 

LIVING AND TRAVELING WITH CANCER

Each cancer is different as so are our life stories. This is my story, not intended to be an universal example or a medical advice. Just my personal encounter with the illness and how I manage to not only to live, but travel extensively despite my diagnosis.

What is cancer?

“Put simply, cancer is the abnormal growth of cells. Cancers arise from an organ or body structure and are composed of tiny cells that have lost the ability to stop growing. This growing structure then sticks out from that organ or body structure until it reaches a size large enough to be noticed by a patient or physician. ” Source: What is Cancer? by Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center.

Living and traveling with cancer. Mont Saint Michel France.
Life in not a fairy tale. Mont Saint Michel France.

Cancer diagnosis

Before my official diagnosis, I already knew that something really wrong was happening to my body. All signs and initial tests were pointing toward cancer. I feared the worst, but I already had my trip to Paris scheduled and was not going to give up on it. My thinking was simple, if cancer did not kill me by now, it could wait another 10 days until I returned from Paris. What if never lived to see the city? I did not want to take that chance. My trip turned out to be great. I did not let my worries to destroy my visit.

Living and traveling with cancer. View of Paris.
What if you only had one chance to see Paris?

As soon as I came back from Paris, I had to face my fate. The diagnosis was brutal, stage IV breast cancer. I needed to comprehend not only the severity of the diagnosis, but also the very strange scenario –  cancer cells from my breast escaped to my bones and uterus without forming any noticeable tumors in my breast. Even though deep down I knew I had cancer, stage IV felt like a kick in my stomach and at first paralyzed my thoughts.

Living and traveling with cancer. Mona Lisa in Louvre.
Fear of facing a cancer diagnosis did not destroy my trip to Paris.

When diagnosed with cancer, people usually ask themself, why me? I did not. My question was, what else? What else can happen to me that would destroy me? I just got divorced after 32 years of marriage. I felt hurt beyond pain, sold my dream house in a neighborhood I loved, and was trying to put my life together. With the horrifying news, I had to deal with an even worse enemy and not only rebuild my life but fight for it.

Living and traveling with cancer. Champagne region of France - meadow.
Is this how heaven looks like? Meadows of Champagne region in France. 

Dealing with cancer diagnosis

Like with any bad news, the first reaction is disbelief. You think, it has to be a mistake. But the news about misdiagnosis never comes. I had to face the fact that not only I had cancer, but it was not curable. With that kind of diagnosis, I was going from all stages of panic to a complete numbness, until my defense wall finally gave up and I accepted a horrifying reality.

Living and traveling with cancer. Purple flowers.
Will I have enough time to enjoy another spring?

By then, I already knew that crying in a dark corner would not change anything, so my next step was to take action. I was terrified, but not ready to jump on a first course of treatment offered to me. I asked myself, what I wanted to achieve and then looked for options.

Choosing your cancer treatment

It was always a good idea to get yourself educated before making any important life decisions. I consulted different doctors and spent weeks searching internet for the best approach to my condition. I was not looking for cure, I wanted to maintain a quality of life. What that meant, I wanted to stop fluid accumulation in my stomach and postmenopausal bleeding.

Living and traveling with cancer. Traveling to Phoenix.
Flying to Phoenix for treatment. 

What traditional medicine offered to me was a hormonal pill and a procedure called abdominal paracentesis, which is a painful draining of a abdomen with a small tube. I had three of these done within three months from each other and the fluid kept coming back, all 1.3 gallons of it! It was not the way I wanted to live. I knew the answer lied in immune therapies which would help my body to fight cancer.

Living and traveling with cancer. First chemotherapy.
Am I doing the right thing? First chemotherapy.

Fighting to take your life back

I found a clinic in Arizona which offered non traditional, means not FDA approved, low dosage  targeted chemo treatment. It was combined with a high dosage of immune boosting substances.  Despite low dosage, I was not tolerating chemo well. After 7 weeks of treatment, I felt that my body was destroyed, but the bleeding stopped. In my eyes, I was halfway through to achieve my goal.

Living and traveling with cancer. My hair is falling out.
This is when you know that despite low dosage chemo, your hair is falling out, not even three weeks into treatment.

While recovering from awful side effects of chemotherapy, including hair loss, I was searching for options to achieve goal #2 of my battle – stopping the fluid from accumulating. We all have cancer cells, but a normal body can control them. Mine lost this ability and it needed a boost. I searched in the USA, but could not find any clinic that would specialize in it.

Living and traveling with cancer. Home after chemotherapy.
Finally home, trying to recover from chemo that took a huge toll on my body. 

Then I discovered Integrative Medical Center in Wroclaw Poland, practicing holistic approach to healing and I decided to give it a try. After my first visit, three weeks of various treatments, I felt much better and the fluid in my belly was almost gone without brutal paretesiss. I was not cured, but ready to live again!

Living and traveling with cancer. My hair starts to grow.
For over two months I did not look into mirror or touch my scalp with my bare hands, afraid that my hair was not going to grow back. That is the day I touched it and I felt a tiny growth. I was so happy!

Living with cancer

I went to Integrative Medical Center in Poland one more time and planning on going for maintenance at least once a year. I still have cancer, I still take a hormone to control my estrogen levels, but I am able to live without major suffering and this is exactly what I wanted to achieve.

Living and traveling with cancer. Sunset Costa Rica.
Let’s see another sunset. Manuel Antonio Costa Rica.

Why Not Just Live with Cancer?

For every person diagnosed with cancer, you have a choice to fight cancer or live with it. Living with it? Not what we humans want to hear. We want a fast fix to everything, from headache to a common cold, but in many cases taking an aggressive approach may not be the best.

“In some cases, this may be the right thing to do. Since some cancers grow very slowly, exposing a person with a slowly growing tumor to either surgery or chemotherapy may make him/her very sick without doing much to improve that person’s survival.  ” Source: What is Cancer? by Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center.

Living and traveling with cancer. Meadow in Arizona.
What a beautiful world! Meadow in Arizona.

This is exactly what I figured out on my own. I am so not good with suffering, I refuse to do any more harm to my body in name of killing cancer. My goal it to have my immune system doing its job for me. I will die eventually, like everyone else, but I today I feel OK and that what counts. Hopefully, tomorrow will be another good day.

Tips you may find helpful when living with cancer:

My tips could be summarized in one general advice, eliminate insult to your body and mind. If you look at leading causes of cancer, you can easily see that there are ways to prevent cancer or keeping it under control if you already have been diagnosed.

Living and traveling with cancer. A weekend visit to Prague.
Taking a break from immunotherapy with a weekend trip to Prague.

Do not smoke cigarettes

Smoking is the leading cause of cancer. If you are a smoker, quitting is the best way to improve your health!

Eliminate or reduce alcohol intake

I know that alcohol is not good for me, but I give myself a permission to have a drink or two when traveling or going out. I have beer and wine in my house, but touch it only on special happy occasions. Do not use it as a stress reducer. It is a dangerous route that could lead to depression and addiction.

Living and traveling with cancer. Soave outdoor dining.
How can you not have a glass of wine when in vineyards of Soave Italy?

Change your diet

It matters what we put in our mouth! Cancer thrives on sugar – eliminate it from your diet. The best way to keep your immune system in good shape is to eat organic food and follow plant based diet. Natural immune boosting supplements, like tumeric, are also proven to help. Learn about best anti-cancer supplements here.

Living and traveling with cancer. Mozzarella and tomatoes.
It really matters what you put in your mouth!

Do not push yourself physically

Moderate exercise is good for you, but running a half marathon is not. Strenuous activities add an insult to your body which is already busy fighting cancer. Listen to your body and give yourself plenty of rest if needed.

Reduce your stress level

I know, easy to say, but try your best. Do not worry about small things. Find new ways of relaxation. It is known for years that stress can cause cancer. This recent study reveals How chronic stress promotes breast cancer stem cells. 

Surround yourself with family and friends

Remember, a majority of people in your life would love to help, but they do not know how. It is your job to tell them. You do not have to face cancer alone.

Living and traveling with cancer. Christmas tree and friends.
If you need help, ask for it. I needed friends to help me to put my Christmas tree up and make the event brighter. Not only did they showed up, but bought the tree for me! 

Find a hobby

Stress is one of the most powerful causes of cancer. Dwelling on you misery is not going to improve anything. Find something that gives you pleasure and preoccupy your mind with it. For me it is blogging.

Dress up and go out

Meet your family or friends or even go out by yourself. Looking good plus a change of environment will give you a positive feeling.

Living and traveling with cancer. New Year's Eve celebration.
Recently divorced after 32 years of marriage and battleting cancer, I decided to go out with friends for New Year’s Eve and had a great time dancing!

Escape to nature as often as possible

Nothing can compare to healing power of nature. One gorgeous view can make you feel cured even if just for a while. You will love the wind touching your cheeks, and sounds and smell of the woods. You are a part of this beautiful world, take it all in.

Living and traveling with cancer. Green Lakes State Park, NY
Include nature as part of your healing.  Green Lakes State Park, NY.

Let your anger go

Anger is just another insult to your body and mind. Let it go or it will eat you up. Concentrate on your own healing. Find the way to forgive those who hurt you. They most likely were dealing with their own demons and you just happened to be on their path.

Reward yourself with something fun after your doctor visits

Doctor visits are never pleasant, especially when the topic is cancer. I try to find a way to make those visits less depressing. With every trip, I discover new attractions of Philadelphia or just go for a good meal.

Living and traveling with cancer. Philadelphia Christmas Market.
After my morning visit at Fox Cancer Center, rewarding myself with a hot wine at Philadelphia Christmas Market.

Do you know that they are people who cured themselves from cancer just by drastically changing their lifestyle. Read Chris Wark Blog about his journey and a detailed advice on how he did it.

Traveling with cancer

Traveling is the best escape from our daily lives. A new scenery makes your trouble smaller, almost unreal.

Learn how to get your life and love of travel back when facing a cancer diagnosis. #livingwithcancer #travelignwithcancer

Traveling with cancer

If you love to travel and get diagnosed with cancer, you may think, my traveling days are over. That is not always true. Cancer is not an immediate death sentence. Just like you learned to live with it, you will learn how to travel with it.

These are just two of many trips I took within a little over a year since my diagnosis: Iceland and Portugal.

Living and traveling with cancer. Christmas market in Poland.
Christmas market in Wroclaw Poland. Felt so good to meet my close friends from America there! 

Since my diagnosis, I took many trips and enjoyed them. What you need to do is to make  adjustment to your traveling style. These are my tips on how to successfully travel with cancer, that can be summarized into one: eliminate anything that can cause stress.

Living and traveling with cancer. Philadelphia Flower Show.
Philadelphia Flower Show. You eventually learn to enjoy life despite living with cancer.

Buy travel insurance

Most travel insurances do not cover preexisting conditions, so of course you cannot expect to be treated for cancer during your trips. But again, cancer does not just jump on you out of nowhere like let’s say a heart attack would. What you need is a coverage against all emergency situations that could happen even to healthy travelers. You need a peace of mind. Learn more on the subject: Is Travel Insurance Worth It? 

Living and traveling with cancer. University of Wroclaw botanical gardens.
My second trip to IMC in Wroclaw. I was able to function better and do more traveling. University of Wroclaw Botanical Gardens. 

Learn about ways to lower cost of traveling

Traveling is costly and could be very challenging when health related expenses are high. But you do not have to go far and wide to discover new places. Sometimes what it takes is a short trip to a nearby sunflower or lavender farm or to take a hike.

If you appetite for travel is more ambitious, like mine, see what I do to make travel affordable  Basics of Travel Hacking: How to Travel for Free.  

Living and traveling with cancer. Italy - dining with friends.
I am not only back to traveling but making new friends! Italy, just a little over a year after my cancer diagnosis.

Invest in a high quality luggage

Traveling makes everyone tired. That especially applies to those dealing with cancer or any other sickness. Minimizing physical stress is important. I strongly advise against breaking you back with the wrong kind of luggage. Invest in a light pieces with turning wheels that can easily be pushed or pulled.

Living and traveling with cancer. Iceland waterfall.
Visiting Iceland not even a year after feeling devastated by chemo.

Travel by car

In my opinion there is no more convenient way to travel. You carry everything with you and have it easily accessible. Plus, your car will not leave without you like a plane, bus, or train would. You are in charge!

Take local tours

Since my cancer diagnosis, I try to take advantage of local tours versus venturing on my own. They are not cheap, but in most cases worth the money. It is especially true, when visiting large cities. You will save yourself time and frustration by hiring a professional. Check out my One Week Itinerary in Portugal where I took three different tours to explore this beautiful country.

Look for hotels with breakfast included

It is important to start your day with a meal that is not your responsibility. It saves time and eliminates stress of making it and then cleaning.

Living and traveling with cancer. Summer hat and meadow.
Tuscany, a moment of happiness.

Try not to travel solo

Traveling solo could be lot of fun, but it is not the safest way to travel especially if you have health issues.

Take a little break from your diet

Even if you are devoted to a special anti-cancer diet, give yourself a permission to try local food. That especially applies when traveling to another country.

Living and traveling with cancer. Florida road.
Am I taking the right path? I can only hope.

Hope on the horizon

Unfortunately today’s traditional approach to cancer is often a crusade to kill cancer with hope that somehow patient would survive it. I saw people suffering for years, just to die from a devastation to their bodies, not from cancer. Cutting, burning and poisoning does not look like a healing path to me. Hopefully, new immune and genetic science will soon replace this barbaric approach. Learn about: Treating Breast Cancer Using the Immune System

Learn more about my life story here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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15 thoughts on “LIVING AND TRAVELING WITH CANCER

  1. Just started reading your fabulous blog. I’m loving reading it. It’s a sunny February morning here in England and am off out for a whiff of nature in the beautiful Windsor Great Park. I’d just like to say what fabulous clothes you wear! Hope you are doing ok and still enjoying your travels. Much love and I’ll keep reading of your adventures, love Lisa

    1. What a nice note, Lisa. Thank you very much! Glad you signed up to follow my adventures. Greece is next in April and Italy in May. I visited England only once for 24 stopover in London. It was April and 30 F! It felt like the whole city was out and celebrating that gorgeous day. Public drinking at its best! LOL I had such a great time. Planning a longer trip soon. Love, Yvonne

  2. Thank you, brave lady, for sharing your strength and such great tips and resources. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, and as of now I have NED. Thank you, God! xoxox, Brenda

  3. Wszystko co napisałaś może podtrzymywać innych w podobnej sytuacji na duchu i dawać nadzieję na przezwyciężenie trudności.! Nic tak nie przemawia do wyobraźni jak opisanie przez co przeszłaś,a mimo to nie poddałaś się i ciągle szukasz nowych dróg i możliwości……

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