“Death is not fearful, suffering is.” BJ Miller
This blog comes at an awkward and sad, yet, joyous time of my life. Having just received some incredibly disappointing scan results, I’m finding it difficult to focus on what this blog was originally going to capture. I was supposed to be writing about an amazing trip to Spain but my thoughts are with The Dirty Dozen. I can literally feel them re organizing for their next war, as I squint through a tumor headache, swallow a pain pill and attempt to see Spain through the Cancer.
Spain was incredible. Spain was beautiful around every turn. Spain was historically complex. Spain was delicious. Spain was sunny and vast and full of love and spirit and faith. Spain was a celebration of life every day we were there. Spain was a celebration of the merging of love, friendship old and new and of course more vino and tapas than I could imagine!
We started in Malaga, Spain the southernmost city in Europe on the Coast of the Sun, 80 miles north of Africa. This is where Picasso was born and raised and where it is not uncommon to see Antonio Banderas having a drink downstairs from his apartment, right inside the historical center. Muslim rule continued here until 1487 when it was retaken by Christian forces. The clear combination of Muslim and Christian rule shines through in the architecture the most.
After a couple days in Malaga we took the train to meet up with my longest, closest friend and her new husband and friends. Let the wedding celebrations begin in one of my favorite places I’ve been, Córdoba, Spain. We rented an adorable apartment steps from the historic center and the largest Mosque in the entire world. We celebrated on the rooftops with wine and (pineapple juice ;)) and platters of hummus and other Spanish dishes! We laughed and hugged and celebrated this new union overlooking one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Córdoba was a Roman settlement, but then colonized by Muslim armies in the 8thcentury. Córdoba consisted of hundreds of workshops creating goods like silk. There were libraries in addition to the many medical schools and universities. Córdoba had a prosperous economy with its “skilled artisans and agricultural infrastructure”. Recaptured by Christian forces in 1236, this historic center was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After the Christians recaptured the city, the mosque was converted into a large Catholic cathedral. Còrdoba was known as a spot of “peaceful coexistence of three different cultures: Jews, Muslims and Christians”. There is also a popular saying that the prettiest women of Spain are natives of Cordoba!
One day we decided upon the urging of others to go see the Alhambra, a Moorish palace in Granada. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the landscape includes olive groves as far as the eye can see. This area is based at the bottom of these majestic mountains where there is a combining of 4 rivers. What an incredible short road trip from the historic center of Còrdoba. Our tour of the site began in the gardens of the Alhambra, a stunning and colorful view laid before the palaces made of stucco against the bright blue of the sky and the backdrop of the green and snow capped Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The Alhambra,”The Red One or Female”, is a 35 acre palace and fortress complex built in AD 889. It remained ignored until the ruins were covered with a new royal palace in 1333. The Alhambra is a “palace city” that was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984. It consists of a walled city, a defensive area, residential palaces, gardens and orchards. The Alhambra is a testament to Moorish culture in Spain and the skills of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian artisans and craftsmen. Poets have described it as “a pearl set in emeralds”.
The palace complex garden was designed with endless rows of – have to stop and smell every blooming rose-kind of garden. The wildflowers, myrtles and fountains blew my already exploding Cancerful mind. I was panicking trying to capture everything in photo but at times dropped the camera for my own eyes. As I stop to see and listen there is a mystical and captivating sound of water everywhere with all the fountains, cascades and long sun lit reflecting pools. The majority of the palace buildings are quadrangular with all the rooms opening to central courts. As each new ruler came through the palace, new sections were added, covering the old and following the “paradise on earth” theme. It was here in 1492 Christopher Columbus requested a royal endorsement for his westward expedition.
During our last couple days in this magical old town we settled in at our favorite vino/tapas bar, walked around the mosque and saw it lit up against the dark of the night, sat on our deck, took a long walk to the cathedral with a nun who liked to rub my head and hold onto me real tight and sat on our deck taking in the view of old Còrdoba and saying goodbye to friends venturing on to new places. Before we knew it, it was our time to move on to Seville.
Seville is the capital and its Old Town contains of 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We were lucky enough to visit 2 of these sites but many others. Seville was originally a Roman City then conquered by Muslims and again by the Christians. Seville became one of the most important ports for trans-oceanic trade and it was here that the first circumnavigation of the Earth departed in 1519. Many people even travel here to visit film sites for movies like Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars and most recently Game of Thrones.
Seville is also known as the birthplace of Tapas, a term meaning ‘to cover’ or ‘top’, the cuisine that originated as thin slices of bread and meat consumed with small glasses of sherry. Surprisingly I actually lost weight on this trip. I think moving here should be considered. Seville is approximately 2,200 years old. Along with tapas, comes the birthplace of Flamenco. What an amazing dance to witness. The dance began in the gypsy culture, as an expression of the poor and marginalized. Today, there are more flamenco dancers in Seville, than anywhere else.
The official motto of Seville is “NO8DO”. It is believed to mean,”No me ha dejado”, or “It [Seville] has not abandoned me”. The eight in the middle represents a skein of wool. Legend states that the title was given by a former King to the city and is now the emblem on the municipal flag and on city property such as manhole covers. It is also imprinted on Christopher Columbus’s tomb, located in the Seville Cathedral. With such mysteries as these, one of the most popular Spanish cultural sites in Seville is the, Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza which we received permission to tour.
This bullring in Seville is considered to be one of the best in Spain and one of the oldest in the world. Although many of the younger generations in Spain loathe the sport, new regulations have been slow to come around to protect the animals but also to maintain a balance in cultural events. The Seville plaza dates back to the 1760s and can seat 10,000 people still today. On the tour of the ring, we visited a small museum, seeing memorabilia like costumes, posters and bullheads. We were also able to visit the actual ring, which was incredibly intimidating and heavy with sadness, especially for me who could never witness such an act.
During the fighting season, around 20 fights will be scheduled here. The building is in the shape of a 16-sided hexadecagon. According to one expert, Alexander Fiske-Harrison, author of Into The Arena: The World of the Spanish Bullfight, “Bullfighting festivals have existed for around 300 years, although the fighting of bulls dates back to Roman times. The first bullfightswere on horseback to celebrate special occasions such as royal weddings and military victories.” The regulations on bullfighting define in exacting detail the structure and procedure of bullfighting in Spain.Rarely, when a bull shows exceptional skill, the animal is pardoned and, rather than being killed and sent to slaughter, lives on the ranch where it was raised.
Seville was the perfect city to end our adventure. Spain, a special place and home to a saturated history, beautiful food, architecture and people. I couldn’t have envisioned a better trip. It felt important to me to witness these sites, traditions and cultures and to learn the history. Not only a final resting place for Christopher Columbus, but also a city soaked in picturesque churches and buildings. This has been my 2ndtrip to Spain and I hope it’s not my last. How I would love to go back to Còrdoba for a month to read, write, wonder the streets, eat and laugh and forget about the rest of my real life.
Coming home, back to NH was nice but the immediate news of my spreading disease wanted to send me packing back to the quiet life in Spain with tapas and flamenco and all of it. I’ve had a hard time with this blog because of that but also because of the amount of content I deleted due to my lack of motivation since the “news”. In my mind plays, “EXTRA EXTRA READ ALL ABOUT IT: CANCER SPREADS!” This makes me think of an article in the paper recently that referenced the clinical trial I WAS on before The Dirty Dozen grew up into adult children while I was enjoying myself in Spain.
This recent article in the paper was quoting breast cancer stats for the clinical trial drug that I was on at $150,000 per year. A drug that makes $14 billion in combined sales with another drug. They also spend $500 million in ads.” These numbers frustrate me for a bunch of different reasons but more so because THIS drug didn’t do shit for my disease as it turns out. My cancer got a few month nap but I didn’t. When it woke up, I lost my clinical trial and a big dose of HOPE.
Cancer’s purpose is to destroy life. Cancer is therefore, the purest definition of evil…”
These recent results have forced me to reach out in other directions, towards other treatments. There’s not much to offer me at this point of the Star Wars in my Brain movie besides the same slice it open and radiate the s@%!* outa my head skit. I have been researching alternative therapies, located domestically and internationally. I wonder if Pfizer or Merck would like to contribute to the 3-month program I was accepted into for the low cost of $58,000 per cycle bill? I have about $500. Looks like that’s not gonna work. So for now, I’ll just keep researching and carrying around anti-seizure meds and opioids then. So if anyone is with me and I start having a seizure, just stuff a bunch of the toxic pills in the shell case in my pocket into my mouth.
“Inhale I am not my past, Exhale I am not my future…” my insanely smart yoga teacher guiding us in a meditation.
Recently I was interviewed by the creator of The Self Stories (theselfstories.com), Jen Morabito, for a feature article for her website. I was in shock that the owner of my yoga studio thought that highly of me to give Jen my number. After that, I realized Jen was also an instructor at New Hampshire Power Yoga, I had just never attended one of her classes. In such a short amount of time I fell in love with this person who is so full of life and ambition and love and who is already doing remarkable things at such a young age. I feel like I should be writing a story on her as her story and zest for adventure reminds me so much of myself at the age.
We met a few times for coffee or a picnic in the park or some nearby trails for the photos included in her article. I am in awe of her and so grateful she wrote this feature on me. She is a beautiful writer and photographer and soul and I can’t wait to see what she does in the next couple years. Please click on the link below to read the story about my history with yoga and how it has enriched my life for the better over the years.
In other Cancerful news, NH Medicaid dropped me due to an error on their part and they are now coming after me for 2 years of any bills they paid on my behalf. Apparently I make too much on social security. Unbelievable. Is there such thing?! I will be hiring a lawyer and I will never pay them a cent…ironic how things have turned out sometimes. Never have I ever thought I would be on or need state assistance and now that I do there is none to be found for me. I struggle with the fairness of this and how at 39 with metastatic breast cancer over 75% of my social security every month is allotted to medical bills. Am I the only one who believes this is right? I can’t work, obviously. Times are tough but I am grateful to those practitioners who offer me kindness and their own generosity.
Another well-deserved headline, for the end of this blog, should read, ” 4 DAYS UNTIL TAHITI LANDING.” My Mother of the Year is taking me on my dream trip of French Polynesia. It may not be a convenient time medically but we are going and we are going to live every moment of it. Thank God she’s also a nurse! Be sure to be on the lookout for that entry and photography. To end this blog entry I want to express my gratitude to New Hampshire Power Yoga, to Jen Morabito of the Self Stories, to my few very close friends that keep me laughing, to my family whom I hold dear always, to my doctors that keep me alive, for my legs that keep taking me up these mountains, to Oskar who keeps me on my toes, to all the people that make me smile and lift me up on dark days and for giving me reasons to take adventures in Spain! XO