“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But, that’s ok. The journey changes you-it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you…Hopefully you leave something good behind.” Anthony Bourdain
“How are you?”
A question I am frequently asked, as most of us are. Normally, my responses are “pretty good”, “hanging in there”, “not bad”. This month it has been mostly, “Meh” or “Ugh” which to me means “not awesome, at all”. This is not exactly the word I thought I’d be using to describe the beginning of my new year. The first week of January was awesome but everything went downhill quickly after that.
December 26th. I had just finished another gamma knife surgery days before and I was boarding a plane to Kauai, what could go wrong? I was going to my happy place. On NYE I stood in a local Hanalei bar with my new friends, dancing, talking, listening to some good music and drinking mai tais! I visited all my favorite spots while there and many new ones. It felt like every beach was better than the last. Moloaa and the juice bar, Haena, Tunnels, Cannons, Grandpas which I call Puddles, Hideaway, Secrets Beach and a secret spot I named Tidepools.
I wake up on my last day in Kauai and have a funny feeling in my throat that typically means sickness is upon me. Before leaving I visit with my friend Becky, and she gives me a gift. Her favorite coat that I offered her a lot of money for a few days prior and a sunrise shell. A shell that I have been searching for every trip. A shell, she happened to find on a day that was incredibly significant for her. I cannot say enough about the new friends I have made through this magical place. Thank you.
I was leaving Kauai to spend another week on a different island, the big island and one of my closest friends is flying all the way from NH to join me. I get off the plane, make my way to baggage claim and stop off at the restroom. There is one person in there and I see sneakers and I think, that’s her. We both walk out of our stalls at the same time, see each other and start screaming and hugging like little girls. Not soon after our reunion I say, “Dude, Im sick” and she says, “Dude, me too”. It was perfect.
Despite our wretched illness for the entire week, we still managed to do some awesome stuff. Akaka Falls, Kohala coast, Mauna Kea beach, Waimea and Volcano National Park! The island of Hawaii is the largest island in the United States and is built from five separate volcanoes. Kohala, Mauna Kea (which is the world’s tallest mountain and yes taller than Mount Everest), Hualalai, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Two of these volcanoes are still active. This means that the island of Hawaii is still actually growing. Between 1983 and 2002, lava flows have added approximately 543 acres to the island.
We rented a beautiful cottage in the area of Pahoa. In 2014 this area of the island became the target of a new lava flow. 14 miles of the town were ultimately covered over by the flow. We explored the area a bit and just down the road from the cottage was the southeast coast with stunning black lava cliffs with the beautiful blue water below. A week of volcanos and beaches and rainforests and churches and waterfalls and whiskey and so much laughing, we had the best time. Both of us leave, wishing we could stay or continue our adventure, a trip we will never forget.
Not more than a few days after arriving back to NH, I was in the hospital. I came home sick with bronchitis and a sinus infection. Not only that but a strange ugly brewing infection in my leg. I even drew a circle around the wound and the next day I woke up and said to my Mom, “I think I need to go to the hospital.” The redness had extended past the lines and I now had red streaking heading up my leg. Honestly, I was terrified and I could barely walk it was so painful.
One morning around 5am, I’m laying in the hospital bed, I look at my phone and see the date, January 17th. This is the 3 year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis. I was 34. On that day 3 years ago I was sitting in my office at work and the phone rings with caller id saying, UNAVAILABLE, and I hear, “Angela, I’m so sorry, but you have breast cancer.” After two different antibiotics and the hospital doc finally just cutting into my leg to put in a drain, the infection started to clear and I was sent home. Another 5 days at home were spent laying on my couch waiting for this to be over.
Due to this infection my January was entirely F’d up. I had to cancel a weekend in FL with my oldest friend for her birthday. I had to cancel a surgery to replace one of my breast implants gone bad. This crushed me. I have been waiting for so long to get this new boob and carved out 6 weeks of my year for recovery. Honestly, I felt even more upset because my choice is to actually remove them, however, finding a plastic surgeon to agree to this has been impossible thus far. Not only that, but a very close family member was in the hospital in severe heart failure and I couldn’t be there with him.
During this last month I had a moment that I don’t really want to admit out loud but I will because I want to be honest. I thought for a moment “maybe this is the beginning of the end and it’s not even from cancer! What a joke.” I even did something I said would never do and said, “Why?” Ive tried very hard in the last three years to avoid this very thought. There doesn’t need to be a reason. It just is. I have a choice on how I walk through this time in my life and sitting here asking myself “Why?” has never been something I’ve done or wanted to do.
As I sit currently in Yarmouth Port, MA watching the water and storm outside the window it occurs to me that just yesterday I watched a TED talk that had a lot to do with “Why me?” Janine Shepherd who titled her talk “A broken body isn’t a broken person” was an athlete who was hit by a truck during a training ride skiing. She shares her story about her injuries, surgeries, emotional struggles and recovery. Her message was “You are not your body, and giving up old dreams can allow new ones to soar.”
As I sat here listening to her, I welled up with tears because even though it’s not exactly the same sort of injury, the emotional toll was the same. She talked openly about saying to herself “Why me?” She didn’t give up at all, she became a pilot and learned how to walk again. I haven’t given up either despite the challenges I have everyday. Janine said this at the end of her talk and it truly resonated with me.
“I was about to embark on a project, that of rebuilding a life and even though I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do, in that uncertainty came a sense of freedom. I was no longer tied to a set path. I was free. I was free to explore life’s infinite possibilities and that realization changed my life.”
So, not wanting to end January on such a low note, I did the something spontaneous. I bought a new bike. A 2017 Harley Davidson Iron 883 Sportster, the same bike I had bought myself for my 30th birthday. I was determined to turn things around while I still can. Even if I only have it a year it will be worth it. And yes, I pulled the cancer card for a discount and it worked! The sales guy, Sean, was a funny dude. When I told him my situation he was a bit taken back. My best friend’s husband and a great friend to me, Liam, sat next to me in his office waiting for the paperwork and Sean says, “So you must have seen The Bucket List?” Liam and I look each other and know that as soon as we leave this office we are going to laugh so hard.
When buying a new Harley at the dealerships there’s actually quite a bit involved. And sometimes it can take a while. As Im sitting there 4 hours later, surrounded by big men, they start saying, “You have to ring the bell!” Im like “No way, no need, Im good!” Liam and I realize they aren’t going to let up so I walk out and see the bell on my right and grab hold of the knot at the bottom and swing it as hard as I can and keep on walking. I felt like I was ringing the bell for so many other reasons than having just bought a new bike. I was ringing it for getting through this month, for having clean body scans, for having just spent a couple of days at the ice castles with my Mom, for still being able to be “Out Living It”. Thank you First Descents.
So, how am I?
I have degenerating bones in my shoulders, a fractured rib on the right, a lung nodule, a messed up implant, two very big liver tumors and terminal breast cancer with mets to my brain.
Other than that…I’m great!
“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do and mostly Live.” Dalai Lama XIV