STORIES FROM ME
As we kick off vacation season — yes it's May, hopefully time with family and friends and taking some time for ourselves — I think of the things I wish I’d known before my first trip after treatment. Looking back, a few tips would have made it much easier for me and my family.
In the middle of October 2016, I had my last radiation treatment and needed a break. After 7 rounds of chemo, lumpectomy with lymph node removal and 35 rounds of radiation, I was ready to get out into the world. And, because bigger is always better in my family, I planned my re-entry accordingly. New York to London during Thanksgiving (so far, so good) and, because I lived in Europe before I was married and still had friends there, how could I pass up a week visiting with them in Paris and Nice?
As I was planning the trip, it seemed pretty clear to me that this was not the most adventurous or audacious trip I’d ever planned. Given my past traveling experience (remember, I'm married to an Aussie and we spend our holidays in Melbourne), it seemed just right to me. Wrong. This not-so-busy trip that I had planned without much thought of my body post-treatment was no beginner trip. And, despite all my positive thinking as we walked through the London streets, reality hit me: Even though I was a seasoned traveler, my treatment had put me into a new traveling category: Newbie Traveling Breast Cancer Survivor.
How could I have known that my legs would feel like cement as a result of my treatment and Aromatase Inhibitor after walking all of London from Fulham to Covent Garden? My head was saying “you got this” (I’m a New Yorker, by birth!!) but my body was not cooperating — I was dehydrated, exhausted and lethargic. My not-so-bold plan — one that I was determined to follow through on — turned out to be truly audacious; one that was not as well-suited to my post-treatment self as a beach vacation in Long Island might have been....
The truth was, and remains, that my family and I needed time together. But my expectations needed to change. I was still the same Melissa, but my body had been through the ringer. So, like great philosophers before me, rule 1 is: Know Thyself — As you are in this moment, the round-the-world trip can wait. Beaches are good. Country B&B's. Quiet, sweet special times away from home but not a walking tour of all of London and Paris!
A trip away is perfect to help yourself feel better after treatment, but take it easy on this first journey. And remember to check out InKind Space's 5 Essential Traveling Tips before you go.
I learned so much about myself on that first re-entry into my traveling life, as I'm sure you will as well. My lessons were true to me:
1. I needed to tell my family (guilt-free) that I could only do so much in a day. And I needed to tell myself, kindly and gently, that I wasn't missing out on anything. (I mean, the Queen of England wasn't asking me to tea, so it wasn't that difficult to say to my friends and family, who love me, “see you in the afternoon.” And honestly, I'd rather be with them than royalty anyway.) For me, letting the people who love me know my limits was important.
2. Bringing items from home to ease any anxiety is A-OK. You don’t need the kitchen sink, but take the ginger tea that makes you feel good, or your own pillow, or the Lorna Doone's that you stash in your purse. A photo of your Golden Retriever, your favorite sleep mask, trail mix that makes you happy, lip balm for hydrating those lips, socks that keep those feet cozy or a blanket that gives you comfort. (Linked to my favorites!)
3. Changing my environment after going through treatment was a way to put things behind me and move forward. I was amazingly fortunate to travel to London and Paris, but crossing the GW Bridge and going to New Jersey would have been equally good for me. I learned that traveling after treatment is more about re-entering the world on your terms and realizing that yes, you're the same person! Treat yourself with loving kindness, the love and kindness you put out into the world and into your loved ones. And please let it reflect back to your important self. All trips ultimately lead to the same place: self-knowledge and enlightenment. Enjoy!