Biked, Baked & Bried

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” A.R.

I have no cancer anywhere in my body, except my brain! My bone scan, CT scans of my chest, abdomen and pelvis were clear. Let’s just start with that!

Before I get on with this entry though which is about the super fun topic of travel and not sometimes sad cancer, I’ll fill in the rest of the lame medical stuff. So no cancer anywhere else, yay! I have two liver tumors which we are monitoring already, a nodule in my lung which they’re not worried about and a fractured rib that I totally didn’t know about and that for some reason isn’t healing. I wonder if the radiation caused that? I feel like I should know if I have a fractured rib.

As far as my genes go, we know about my MutS Protein Homolog 2 (MSH2) gene variance already. This gene combines with another gene to form a protein during cell development that helps “fix mistakes” in DNA. Actually, to me, the lame medical stuff is sometimes kinda not lame at all but totally fascinating. It’s astonishing what happens inside the body, inside our cells & DNA, just to make a tumor. I also just found out after a test was done on Hannibal (one of my brain tumors, former) that my Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor (FGFR1) gene is messed up too. This gene from what I’ve read is linked to abnormally fast cell growth and division. Hence, the three brain tumors in as many months. The mutation in this gene is quite widespread and there could be a clinical trial available. I’ve been referred to another new SUPER neuro oncologist and I’m very anxious for her thoughts on this.

Now that’s over with, I can talk about CAMEMBERT, COFFEE, CANALS, CAVA & CANNABIS (Amsterdam & Spain)! I’m breaking all my blog rules tonight! I used B’s instead of C’s in the title and I just used five C’s instead of three! Let’s see if I actually get to the end of this entry without my OCD kicking in and changing it all back to three C’s. Anyways, this entry is about my trip to Europe this past summer with my cousin and what a magical trip it was.

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I had been planning this trip to Amsterdam for a year. Before I even booked my flights I bought a ticket to see Coldplay there. The deal was made, I was off to Amsterdam. A place that has been at the top of my dream list for a very long time. Even better, I was able to use my airline miles to upgrade my seats. A private pod just for me and as much champagne and fancy snacks as I could eat and drink during the flight and I didn’t feel bad about it at all.

When I arrived into Amsterdam my cousin was waiting for me and off we went to find our apartment. As we ride the bus into the city I’m thinking how excited I am but exhausted. I was so happy and grateful Anthony decided to come along for this trip. The flat is beautiful, in a perfect location and has two balconies! At one end of the bricked street there is Vondelpark, a grocery store, a cannabis store (which the Dutch call ‘coffee shops’), a wine shop and a great cafe for morning and afternoon coffee and writing. At the other end was one of the beautiful canals. We walk to dinner on the first night and I think…I’m going to soak up everything, every moment, every sight, every ‘coffee shop’, every walk on the canal, every harrowing bicycle ride, every frite with mayo and every beer and museum and park. All of it.

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We walked to a little pizza shop, sat and had a local beer, settling in to the away from home mode, watching the bikers pass by. I don’t remember anything after that. Ha! Just kidding but what a first night out in Amsterdam. Our waitress and her roommate became true friends to us while there and brought us out for a ‘few beers’ after her shift. What a great way to experience Amsterdam on the first night. We walked through Vondelpark to reach the city center and it was beautiful and dark out with the park lights creating a lighted path for us. The park opened in 1865 and is 120 acres in size. There was a foggy mist that settled in during our walk and glowed under the lights above. We talked about our lives and why we were there and their lives and their dreams. And then we reached the bars. Thankfully on the way there Evita and Diana had taught me how to order beers in Dutch. Vier biertjas, which to me sounded like fear beerchas!

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The next thing I knew we were walking home at 5 in the morning watching the night turn to day with a bit of rain and a rainbow. I was more happy than I had been in a long time. The whole night we drank, we danced, we sang, we walked, we laughed and I even got a make up lesson somewhere in there. What beautiful people to be surrounded by my first night in this place I’ve dreamed of. I fell asleep at 6 am listening to the thunder and rain and my heart was happy.

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I have always been drawn there. The people are kind and generous and welcoming and interested and interesting. I felt comfortable there. A once small fishing port, Amsterdam is now a thriving cultural capital of the world on 60 miles of canals. That first night made me feel a bit emotional the following day. Thankfully we slept until 3 in the afternoon and I had the Coldplay concert to look forward to that night. I remember knowing where the emotions were coming from. It came from a place of pureness and beauty. I had such a wonderful first night and we all talked so much about life that it naturally stirred up some sadness at the same time for me.

Throughout this trip I found myself in plenty of situations where I was asked “What do you do?”, in both Amsterdam and Spain. It’s a natural first question. The dilemma of telling people the truth about why I’m traveling versus the desire to not make people sad or uncomfortable, which is sometimes the effect, can be a difficult place to be in for me. Sometimes I just say, “I’m taking some time off to travel.” This always seems a bit wrong to me but I know it’s not, technically. I’m more comfortable just getting it out there. I want people and new friends to understand me and why I’m choosing to live my life this way.

COLDPLAY! Holy shit and Lianne la Havas as an opener! I went alone and I had a horrible seat. I thought I would fall down from heat stroke but I danced and yelled and sang and stood up the whole time. I had seen Coldplay before in Boston but this show was different. For me there is a power in their music that opens my heart. Lianne is an amazing musician and she’s beautiful and her smile and lyrics light everything up. I had tears in my eyes for most of the show and I had no shame about the them or the sweat pouring down my face. “Paradise…every time she closed her eyes.”

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One night a friend of Anthony’s that lives just outside the city center invited us to her home for dinner with her partner and their adorable two boys. A wonderful family and I felt really overwhelmed with their genuineness. To be invited into their home was such a fantastic night to be a part of. During the days we rode around the canals on our bikes, through the parks, sometimes we’d stop and lay in the sun and I would smoke a joint because I could or sit by a fountain or visit a cheese museum. A couple nights we had a wonderful dinner in our apartment with wine and the Euro cup on TV. I loved the feeling of actually being there, in a true Dutch apartment, not a hotel room. Like I was really part of it all. I could get used to that life.

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One rainy day we ended up at the Stedelijk Museum, mostly because we couldn’t get into the Van Gogh museum in any reasonable amount of time. The Stedelijk Museum holds 150 years of modern and contemporary art and design. It holds the perfect blend of old and new. I have never been drawn much to modern or contemporary art but I was moved by what I saw there. Room after room of ‘wows’. There were pieces by Van Gogh, Kandisnky, Warhol, Picasso, furniture from the early 1900s. I read an article online yesterday and the writer described this museum and it’s collections as, “confusingly beautiful”. I couldn’t think of a better way to describe it.

Our last day in Amsterdam. I’m sad and excited. We take a bike ride, we eat frites, we have lunch at our favorite noodle bar while it sprinkled rain on us. That evening we were so graciously invited on a private cruise of the canal by a friend of a friend. He lives on a houseboat on one of the canals and has just finished renovating it. We bike to the boat and it’s a gorgeous space. It takes my breath away when I see the soaking tub in the master bedroom overlooking the canal. He takes us out on his smaller boat and puts on a fantastic spread of prosecco and munchies. He takes us all over the city for over an hour. I was so happy and not just because I wasn’t barfing! He points out the famous sights, even where he grew up. I may not have gone inside the Anne Frank house but I got to see it by boat from a private tour on the canal! It really gave me a different perspective seeing it all from below, if you will. Lots of people were looking at our boat and waving and for a moment or two I think we all felt a little bit like celebrities and not tourists. I guess it’s a bit appropriate given our new friends are in the film industry. As much as our first night couldn’t be beat this was just as amazing and the best way to end our time in one of my new favorite places.

My cousin and I had to move on and were looking forward to the next part of our adventure, ESPANA! Evita, our new friend accompanied us to the airport and gave me a wonderfully thoughtful gift before we left. Goodbye Evita, Dianna, Femka and all our new and old friends. Thank you for absolutely everything and I truly hope to see you all again. I was overwhelmed with pure joy when we left Amsterdam.

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Spain was never a place I thought I would travel to, or it wasn’t at the very top of my list. Anthony has wonderful friends whose family offered us their home to stay in. It’s on the beach and has a pool and so we headed to Spain instead of Prague! His friend from his high school days lives in Torrevieja and picks us up at the airport. I know instantly that I’m going to like her and that she is going to make me laugh a lot this week, just with her smile.

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Torrevieja is on the southeast coast of Spain and was originally a salt mining and fishing village. Vicky takes us to the home we will be staying in for the week and all I keep saying is ‘no way’. This house is a palace on the sea and I can’t believe these wonderful people are letting us stay here and they’re not even here! Every moment I was there I felt lucky and grateful. The idea of living your days as if they are your last is very real here and so are the people I had the good fortune of meeting. They love this area. They love their lives. They love their friends and family. They’re passionate and their smiles are incredibly contagious.

One hot morning I walked along the path running along the sea to the outdoor, weekly market and I felt like I was in veggie foodie heaven. There were stalls after stalls of everything and anything you would have ever needed and any kind of food you wanted. On top of everything being so fresh the prices were shockingly low. I bought enough fruit, vegetables AND CHEESE for a few days for only 14 euros! All the vendors were yelling back and forth and the men and women were exchanging loud hello’s and some were shouting to the crowds their prices or how fresh their produce was. It was infectious and fun and I was so happy I made the trek.

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While there we were invited to a local wedding reception. I was a bit nervous at first but everyone I met the first couple minutes made that fall away. It was so loud and everyone was shaking my hand and hugging me and kissing my cheeks and getting me drinks. It was great. We had so much fun. We had this whole little bar to ourselves and another night of dancing. One day we went jet skiing out to a tiny mountain in the sea or “the big rock” as the locals call it. The water was beautiful and so was the big rock. I was a tiny bit disappointed that our jetski was “limited” in its speed tehe but the last thing I need is another citation in another country.

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Spain was a perfect choice after our week in Amsterdam. I rested up, I laid by the pool, I went swimming everyday. It was a beautiful relaxing retreat. In the 6 days I was in Spain we ate paella 3 times from the same restaurant. There was an endless flow of red wine. I don’t think I have consumed as much cheese in my entire life as I did on this trip. Brie, camembert, manchego, old cheddar the options are endless. It was hard to believe the week was over already.

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Amsterdam was everything I imagined and more. Spain was the perfect compliment. The entire trip for me was magical. It was truly the trip of a lifetime . Everyone that I have had the pleasure of meeting has been so genuine and honest and beautiful in their own ways. They have all been so caring and compassionate and curious about my life. Sometimes I talk about my life and what’s happening and sometimes I let it go but when I do open up they listen and understand and praise me for living my life this way, for living my life with hope. It’s a strange notion to me to be praised in this way. I feel understood now. I feel like I fit. I feel like I could live in any of these places quite happily. I feel like I have made connections and friends that I will remember always. There was never a day that went by where I didn’t use the word ‘magic’ to describe my day or night or a moment. The last morning in Spain I sat down on the sea view terrace and looked to my left. I saw Tony meditating on the lawn overlooking the ocean and I realized that we were both where we were supposed to be at that very moment.

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This year I was lucky enough to live through some pretty cancerful stuff. I have met so many special people in my travels this year and last and in all my life. I’m blessed and I know this everyday. The amount of encouragement and strength I get from new friends is sometimes as equal as I get from my ‘pillars’. My pillars are the people in my life that lift me up, that continue to make me smile, people that I consider family or that are family. I got this word and this meaning from a new friend in Spain and I think from this day forward I will always use this when talking about my ‘support system’.

I was made aware of the word Ubuntu this year through a fundraiser that my oldest friend held for me. A South African phrase that means human kindness. When I read about it and the history of the phrase and the sacredness of it I can’t help but feel its definition deep in my core. Desmond Tutu described the word and its meaning as, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours…A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole…” I have so many people with ubuntu in my life. How’s that for being blessed?

“As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult, but in fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed.” Vincent Van Gogh

See everyone after HAWAII! xo

 

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