Cancer is like walking through a door into alien world. Recently, I’ve come to think of this world as having outposts, stop-off points where I can get perspective
before proceeding on my journey.
This past week I traveled 12,304 miles. Aside from racking up points for future flights, the excursion nudged me forward. I didn’t realize I was ready to move on, nor that I had, until I shared my experience with my cancer support group. In fact, it wasn’t until our meeting was over that my transition dawned on me.
This was not my first trip alone to Brazil. It was the third and my second on Aero Mexico. The first time I’d flown this airline was a year ago. I was flying to Sao Paulo for the birth of my granddaughter. My son had sent me a ticket. This time, despite last year’s travails, he’d chosen Aero Mexico again. The price was right, and now Lillie was having her first birthday. I thought, oh no, here I go again. I thanked my son and daughter-in-law and assured myself that I would do better this time, that this time I’d be less disoriented.
For the Aero Mexico flight attendants, Spanish is no problema. But for me, well…Even though I faithfully attended weekly classes for four years and was at least fluent in diabetes, it had been seven years since I’d used Spanish in my work. Except for interactions with my gardener, no tuve opportunidad de practicar – unless I was flying Aero Mexico, of course.
On last year’s trip the onboard announcements were garbled in both my native tongue and Spanish. As we landed, I picked up some words that indicated that when I changed planes in Mexico City something was about to happen to my luggage. I was clueless that my checked bags (two, gigantic ones, jammed-packed with baby gear) would be again subject to inspection. I was equally unclear about the need to go through customs. Worse yet, the forms to declare my presence and purpose for being in Mexico were not passed out on the plane where I could have asked questions. So once in the terminal I found myself floundering around with a drug-sniffing dog, wondering if the various foodstuffs I’d packed would land me in jail. I passed. Guess they were more interested in sniffing for drugs than maple sugar candy.
This year I was more prepared, although no more fluent. Conveniently, the customs forms were passed out on the plane. Thank God! While I joined the line to wait for my turn with the grim-faced officials, volunteers checked to make sure I had filled out the form correctly. No dogs, this time, and I had a singular, much lighter suitcase to deal with.
I had an unforgettable visit with my son and his family and made it back and forth to South America with only jet lag. My accomplishment didn’t occur to me until it was mirrored by my fellow survivors making me realize how truly amazing I was…am!
My cancer treatment had rushed me from a place of pride in my fitness and stamina to one of almost instant vulnerability. After chemo and radiation, things I had always taken for granted like expecting my body to behave appropriately now became a point of weakness. The downward slope was quick and remarkable, the journey back less so.
My friends reminded me that the someday of near normal that had seemed so elusive was reflected in this recovering body. That five years ago this body couldn’t make it around the block without support. This was the same body that couldn’t trust its bladder or bowels for a short outing. The realization was exciting. Time had healed and even restored a little of my pre-cancer arrogance.
A moment of recognition with my fellow travelers once again shifted my focus – sick to surviving, anxious to confident, around the block to around the world.
What a journey!