Just a little over four years ago, we embarked on the adventure of a lifetime–an 11-month round-the-world journey with our four children. At the time, we took more than a little heat from skeptics who questioned our sanity. When we patiently tried to explain our reasons for going, we would always include what seemed a purely hypothetical rationale: you never know how long you’ll have your health. Sure, Tom had had some complications after his hip replacement surgery in early 2006, but we never really considered them life-threatening. The scenarios that played out in our minds revolved around bum knees and bad backs. We didn’t imagine that our time together might end before our 90s. At 5’2″ and 90 pounds, I was rather cavalier about my health and figured I’d live to be 98, just like my Grandma Lucille, who passed away during the first month of our trip.
What a rude awakening I received two months ago. I went to the emergency room with severe stomach pains and came home 2-1/2 weeks later missing half of my colon and all of my female reproductive organs and with a grim diagnosis of late-stage cancer. Though I was tumor free at my PET scan 3 weeks ago, the less-sensitive doctors we’ve visited are certain that my cancer will return and that it will take my life in not so many years. We now avoid those doctors. My current oncologist has a much different attitude as do my surgeons, who saved me from some highly aggressive tumors. They have prescribed an 18-week regimen of chemotherapy and are relatively confident we will kick this ugly disease. I start my second round tomorrow and continue to be up for this fight.
As Tom mentioned, when things were at their darkest in the hospital, the thought occurred to me that I might never travel again. To be honest, that didn’t bother me. I was simply grateful that we had been crazy and carved out the time and savings to take our kids and roam the planet. What did bother me of course was the thought that I might not get to see my kids grow up, have their own crazy experiences, and form their own families. In my sadness, I realized that while this future could be taken from me, my past could not. I’ve spent countless hours with my kids and made all my major life decisions around their welfare, but the 330 days I spent traveling with them (and their dad, of course) were some of the best of my life.
We fully intend on taking Kieran and Asher around the world again in a few years when McKane has gone off to college. At the tender ages of 4 and 6, they derived very different things from our first trip than their older brothers. There is so much we want to show them, so much we want to experience with them, so much time we want to spend with them. Asher recently started watching old home videos, and after watching some footage from the trip pronounced, “I want to go again and do everything exactly the same.” She was referring specifically to the houseboat in Kerala where she and Kieran got up to some mild mischief, but her thought was a sweet one. There wasn’t a thing she would change about those 11 months and neither would I.
Tom and I are grateful beyond measure for the outpouring of love, prayers and support we have received in the past 9 weeks. We have been flooded with meals, emails, gifts, and well wishes and are amazed by the kindness so many have extended. We have felt the power of your prayers and continue to find hope, joy and optimism in our faith.
I have no intention of falling short of Grandma Lucille’s 98 years. I view this as a trial that will strengthen me, teach me compassion, and undoubtedly help me to savor all of life’s moments, not just the extraordinary ones like the trip. But then again, each day I get from here on out will be extraordinary, a blessing that might not have been.