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Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape = The Sea

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It is safe to say that the Weekly Photo Challenge topic for this week called my name.

ESCAPE means different things for different people.  But if you know me — either through this blog or in “real life” — you know that my favorite escape is almost always water-related.

Here are my photos for this week (all taken during a holiday in Puerto Rico):

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As always, thank you for visiting.  And if you’d like to participate in the challenge, just click here:

The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenges

Travel Theme: Light

As you probably know, this has been a rough week. So in lieu of writing about everything that’s happened tonight, I’m going to keep it “light” — pun intended — and just do a couple of photo challenge posts.

This post marks my first response to Where’s My Backpack’s weekly travel challenges.  If you haven’t visited wheresmybackpack.com, I urge you to take a look.  Ailsa’s blog is a treat to visit.

Without further ado, here is my photo selection:
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These photos were taken in Puerto Rico on our last night — it was a night filled with happy memories of the kids, so I especially love these photos.
Thanks for visiting!

“Give me back my peanut butter!” — OR — “My 1st Bucket List Adventure: Part I”

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Thank you to everyone who cheered me on as I embarked on my first “bucket list” adventure.  I am glad to finally tell you that our intended mystery destination was… Puerto Rico.  Visiting this lovely place has been a dream of mine for many years.  Why?

#1:  Thanks to photos and travel shows I formed this picture in my mind of a beautiful island filled with old world charm and beautiful beaches.

#2:  I have always wanted to visit a Caribbean isle.  Our passports expired long ago and P.R. is one of only two Caribbean destinations (that I’m aware of) that doesn’t require them from U.S. Citizens.  Since it’s the cheapest of the two to reach, it was an easy choice.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s 30's young puerto rico vacation kids twins beachThere were other reasons, but these were the big ones.  All in all, we were looking for a relaxing tropical vacation.

But this was hardly what we found…  And when I say we, I am referring to my twin 8-year-olds, my husband, and my dear friend, jme.  Jme and I grew up together (she was Jamie back them).  We’ve experienced many milestones together.  And we’ve experienced some significant losses together.  And you may recall that when jme first learned that I had the disease that played a role in her mother’s death, her reaction involved getting on a plane and flying clear across the country to show up on my doorstep.  She is the kind of friend you would feel lucky to have — if you were one of the rare few fortunate enough to know someone like her.  Anyway, she flew across the country again a few weeks ago, but this time it was to say a quick hello to her family before getting on a plane (a bunch of planes, actually!) to seize the day and make some memories with me and my sons.

I’m getting side-tracked already!  Okay, enough backstory…

The First Uh-Oh.

We left the house at an ungodly hour for this region.  Okay, 4 a.m. is probably an ungodly hour anywhere.  But in western N.Y. in mid-January when it is as cold as it is dark, you get the sense that you are violating some unwritten law by being outside at this hour.  It just feels wrong.  Especially when you haven’t slept a wink in a couple of days.

But I was excited and determined.  I had been waiting for this for most of my life.  So my husband (I’ll refer to him as “H” for husband from now on)…  Crap, where was I?  Oh, yes, so H dropped us off and drove off to park our minivan at an economy parking lot nearby.  And we went about the business of checking in for our flights, begging for seats near one another, printing our boarding passes, checking our bags, and ensuring that they were free (thanks to a credit card perk) at the counter.  This shouldn’t have been a big deal, but when 5 people are booked under 5 separate reservations (this is a requirement for getting the huge travel discounts that we do), it is.  No big deal.  Still excited.  Let’s get to security.

Photo Credit:  huffingtonpost.com

Photo Credit: huffingtonpost.com

After taking our shoes off and putting all of our belongings in buckets on the conveyor belt, I was told that in lieu of a traditional walk through the metal detector, I would need to stand in the full-body X-ray scanner.  Not one to speak up or slow a line down, I reluctantly said that I would rather not.  I was asked if I was refusing the security measure.  So I explained that I had had enough radiation in my lifetime to grow a tail and start glowing and, thus, I was leery of the X-ray scanner if another option was available.  I told him that I would prefer the pat down option.

This is not me in the scanner.Photo Credit:  http://www.aetherczar.com

This is not me in the scanner.  I wish I had her butt, though!
Photo Credit:  www.aetherczar.com

The T.S.A. agent was rather smug and made me feel as though I was I causing a major problem.  He set me off to the side and told me that I would have to wait for someone to come to give me a pat-down — and did I want to reconsider in lieu of being a giant P.I.T.A.?

I told him I’d wait for the pat-down.

When the patter-downer arrived, she asked if I would like to have it done out in the open or if we should go to a private room.  I jokingly said that I’d had enough surgeries to make my dignity a non-issue and told her to go ahead right there.  She smiled and began.  It was my first pat-down and not a big deal.  It did take much longer than I expected, especially given that I normally walk through the metal detector and that’s it — quick and simple.

I passed, of course, but my jar of peanut butter didn’t fare so well.  It didn’t cross my mind that the sealed jar of organic peanut butter I brought to make everyone’s sandwiches with during the long day of travel wouldn’t make it through security.  Alas, it did not.  And my inconvenienced T.S.A. agent friend seemed all too happy to confiscate it.  Since I would much rather airport security be more cautious than less, I happily sacrificed my jar of contraband in the interest of national security.

We finally redressed (coats, sweaters, hats, shoes) and made our way to the gate, still with 5 minutes to spare before boarding.  It was about 15 minutes after we were supposed to board when I started to get a bit nervous.  We were on a tight timeline.  You see, to do this trip on a shoestring budget, we had to book two separate itineraries with two different airlines — and do it all through a 3rd party website.  In hindsight, it was a bit crazy.  But it was the only way — and it should have worked out.

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We began boarding at about 5:45 a.m., toting our carry on bags out of the warmth of the airport and into the bitter cold and darkness that surrounded the little plane that waited to carry us to New York’s J.F.K.  We shivered as we inched up the plane’s steps and found our seats at the back of the plane.

And we waited.  And waited.  When the pilot announced that we were experiencing mechanical issues and that we wouldn’t be leaving until they were taken care of, I wasn’t surprised.  “These things happen,” I thought.

The surprise came when he later returned to the intercom and announced that they were unable to fix the problem and that we were to collect our things and leave his aircraft while further repair attempts were made.

“What??”  I didn’t understand.  “Why can’t we just wait here while they fix it?  It’s going to take longer to get off and get back on.”

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Photo Credit:  komu.com

I really didn’t understand — until we were told that we could rebook our flights at the gate.  Uh oh.  We didn’t have enough padding in our schedule to account for this much of a delay.

So we reversed the boarding process and walked the steps down the plane and the steps back up into the airport.  At the gate we were told that we could form a line and the gate attendant would attempt to find alternative flights for everyone.  H immediately took off.  He left the secure area to go out to the main ticket counters at the airport entrance to see what could be done there.  So while jme and the boys sat patiently, I stood in gate counter line with a bunch of other passengers and tried to figure out how to get us to Tampa, Florida in time for our JetBlue flights that afternoon.  I knew that if we missed our flight out of Tampa, our trip would not happen.

It still seemed possible to get to Florida.  But it wasn’t.

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There’s more to come… I just know that if I break without posting this first installment, it will be harder for me to carve out the time to finish it later.  And I know it’s not that riveting a story to warrant a cliffhanger, so thank you for indulging me!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Love

Well, I have returned from my first adventure…but things have been far too hectic and I have been far too exhausted (and ill with cellulitis) to write about the experience yet.  But it is a post I am looking forward to sharing!  In the meantime, I thought I would return with a photo challenge post.  Thank you so much for all of the likes and comments on my last post — and for being there to cheer me on…

These may not be the greatest photos, but to me, they are wonderful representations of this week’s photo challenge topic, “love.”

There were many contenders, but I am far too tired to add them all (and I don’t want to bore you!), so here are just a few.  I may come back to add more at a later date…

Thank you for reading!

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It was Christmas and my littlest sister decided that after all of my chemo and surgeries, the best gift she could give me would be a little companion to help me weather the remainder of my cancer treatments.  So she chose this sweet little mini dachshund and presented her to me with a red ribbon around her furry little body.  Ginger has spent many hours snuggling with me and giving me comfort in the two years we have been together.  And she is a wonderful reminder of the special kind of love sisters sometimes share.

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Another Christmas photo…  I was sick and so tired.  And my sweet miniature schnauzer, Mattie, snuggled up next to me.  I had so much to do to get ready for a busy day of making our Christmas rounds that day, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to lay there with my special girl.  And I am so glad that I did because she died suddenly of cancer a couple of months later.   She loved me unconditionally and I miss her as much today as I did when she first died.

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And my boys…

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Love

If you would like to participate in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/category/photo-challenges/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/weekly-photo-challenge-love/

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Resolved — In Memory of Julie

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Julie (left) & Me

I missed last week’s photo challenge, but when I saw this week’s topic, I had to pull out my old photo albums.

The photos you see here embody my New Year’s resolution for 2013.  What is it?

***To appreciate that life is sometimes too short — and to fulfill some of my bucket list wishes.***

The photos I’ve chosen are from a defining point in my life.  Why was this little window of time, this blip in my life, so special that I feel the need to highlight it here?

Because the girl in the photos with me is my friend Julie.  She was one of my very best friends growing up.  I loved her like a sister.  We laughed together, cried together and reached many a milestone together.

These photos of Julie and me are from a once-in-a-lifetime trip we took together.  I know, I know, people say “once-in-a-lifetime” but they don’t always know that for sure.  Sometimes they just say this to be dramatic.

But I am saying it because I know it is true.  I know that Julie and I will never take another trip together.  In fact, we will never laugh or cry or meet another milestone together again.  Ever.

Because Julie is dead.  She was killed in a car accident 5 years ago when we were just 31.

It still takes my breath away when I remember that she is really gone, but I often find myself smiling as I think of the time we spent together.

Though Julie’s death was tragic and horribly sad, her life was the opposite.  Julie exuded warmth and beauty.  She was positive and sweet and lived her life to the fullest.  She was courageous and didn’t let anything stand in her way…

…including me.  You see, I didn’t want to go on that trip.  I had never done anything like that before.  I wasn’t adventurous.  I didn’t think I deserved the opportunity to get on a plane.

It was about a month before our high school graduation when Julie proposed the idea.  Her exchange student for our senior year, now like our new sister, would be returning home to Mexico just after graduation.  What if we went to Mexico to stay with her over the summer?

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I was not the adventurous type and I opted to stay home and work until we started college in August.  Plus, I needed to be home to help care for my little sisters.  And I had never done anything just for me before.  How could I start with something so drastic?  No, I would not go.

But it wasn’t really up to me.  Julie would not listen to my protests.  She jokingly threatened to unfriend me (we had been very good friends since we were kids) if I didn’t commit to going.  She said she knew what was best for me (and I admit that she often did).  So, on one of the many evenings I spent at her house, she made a final plea.  Again I refused.  We were munching on her delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies when she picked up the phone and called the airline (this was before you could use the internet to book your tickets).  She pretended to be me and booked my tickets while I stood in her kitchen.  Though I halfheartedly protested and though I feigned anger, I was secretly delighted.  I knew I would enjoy this special time with Julie.  And I knew I was going to miss Judy (her exchange student), who was now a dear friend and that this was my chance to see where she lived and to say a real goodbye.

This was going to be my first real adventure, my first and last hurrah before heading off to university (20 minutes away – another story!) in the fall.

So we graduated from high school, Judy left for her home in Mexico, and we embarked on our adventure 8 days later.  Before stepping off the plane in Tucson (and driving the 4 hours across the border to our friend’s house), I had been a shy straight-A student who hung out in the teachers’ lounge after school because I could always relate better to people older than me.  Between sophomore & senior year, I took every single Advanced Placement class (and there were a lot!) our high school had to offer — and aced them all.  I was voted “Class Introvert” and could get A’s on Calculus tests without studying.  I thought A.P. Physics and Chemistry were fun.  I had been babysitting since I was eight and got my first “real” job the moment I was old enough to get a work permit.  I balanced school and mountains of homework with two afterschool/weekend jobs.  I volunteered a ton — you name a volunteer activity and Julie, jme and I signed up for it.  I had a resume filled with achievements.  I had a full scholarship to Cornell University and scholarships to a number of other prominent schools for Engineering or Biochemistry/Pre-Med waiting for me and I had every intention of continuing to be that people-pleasing, old-before-my-time nerdy girl…

I thought that maybe before college I would do something crazy like cut my long hair or start wearing lipstick.  I had no idea how this trip was going to change me.

It was an incredible 3 weeks.  Because Julie and I were staying with Judy and her family, we “lived” in the heart of a non-touristy part of Mexico where I was the only person with blondish hair for many, many miles.  We got a taste of what it was like to grow up there.  What an amazing way to see another culture.  Our many adventures included a 28 hour (total) roundtrip escapade on an old, steamy, smelly, jam-packed bus.  We were headed to see another friend (Juan–also a former exchange student) in Mazatlan.  The bus trip came complete with dirt roads, middle of the night stops by gun-toting “bandits” in the midst of nowhere, and people who were so scary that we slept in shifts because there had been a number of recent American kidnappings on buses just like ours.  As the only Americans who had probably set foot on our bus in a very long time, we figured we were targets, which made it that much more exciting for my friends (and nerve-wracking for straight-laced me).  When we stumbled off the bus, though, I realized that it was all worth it.  The area was the most beautiful place I had ever seen.  The days were amazing — swimming in the ocean, drinking pina coladas in the pool, parasailing and so much more — things I never dreamed I’d be doing.

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Julie parasailing in Mazatlan

And the nights were even more incredible.  More things I never dreamed I’d do.  All of a sudden quiet, shy me who hadn’t really dated much was dancing on tables at these gorgeous open air bars, forgetting about all of the responsibilities waiting for me back home, and getting kissed by older guys in their 20s (Mexicans & Americans alike) who could have stepped off movie sets or off the pages of GQ.

On the bus ride back to Judy’s city, I felt like a new person…  All of a sudden I had gone from being a cornerstone on the math team to someone who had 25 year-olds competing to spend a few minutes on the dance floor with her.  It was fascinating and exciting.

Our next stop was a lovely little town on the Gulf with mountains in the background.  Here we had more adventures with sangria, late-night swims, and mechanical bull-riding.  Then Julie’s older brother (who was in a band & lived in San Francisco) asked us to take a couple of days out of our Mexican adventure to come to see him.  Julie hadn’t seen her brother in a while and she had a huge crush on his roommate, so it was a quick yes from her.  All we had to do was drive to San Diego & he’d have tickets waiting for us at the airport.  Along the way we stopped to visit Judy’s cousins in Tecate (right next to the Tecate beer factory) for another wonderful night filled with yummy food & drinks and happy people.  No matter where we went (with the exception of on that bus to/from Mazatlan), I never heard a word of complaint or saw a frown.  Regardless of what everyone did or didn’t have, the people we met/lived with were warm, welcoming, generous, and positive.

Even the drive up to the U.S. was an adventure.  And then we were off to San Francisco, a place I had always wanted to visit.  We didn’t do anything too exciting, but even a trip to the grocery store was fun with Julie.  And, as it happened, the roommate guy she had a crush on actually “liked” me.  Julie was very gracious about it and happily let me have my moment with him.  He was 25 and an engineer on a big naval ship — the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln.  Though he was quite handsome, he was nerdy like me & we were instantly drawn to each other.  It was odd for me to realize that I had spent my teenage years feeling awkward and burying my nose in books — and all I had to do was take my hair out of my ponytail and throw a pair of jeans on (and talk to people 7 or 8 years older than me!) and voila…  Eric and I stayed up all night every night talking.  And then we all spent the days together seeing the sights.  It was a total departure from the “me” I knew, someone who had only had a few high school boys show any interest in her.  [Eric continued to send letters & call me (and my mother!) for years after this trip.]

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Julie in Spain — wasn’t she lovely?
(I didn’t take this photo — I never made it there)

Before I knew it, Julie, Judy & I were flying back down to San Diego and driving back into Mexico…  And shortly afterward, we made the long trek back to Arizona to catch our plane.  Judy’s family had a condo near the airport, so we spent one last night there — the 3 of us girls — laughing, talking & drinking more sangria in the hot tub (I hadn’t even been in a hot tub (or a condo for that matter!) before).  It was a wonderful way to end our trip.

That summer was — and remains — the best of my life.  After that I started college as a new person.  Still the old nerdy straight-A student who loved math on the inside, but with a new look and a newfound confidence on the outside.  I was always so grateful to Julie for that and so many things.

That trip was the last time I saw Judy… Until 5 years ago — for Julie’s funeral.  Julie was killed by a drunk driver in Spain, a country she loved so much.  The special young man she loved survived, but he was seriously injured — and he had lost the love of his life right before his eyes.  I was no stranger to loss or tragedy, but this was beyond anything I could wrap my mind around.  When jme, who had grown up with Julie from the age of 3, phoned to tell me what had happened, it was an absolutely heartbreaking call.  Jme got on a plane to come back home from Seattle.  And Judy flew from Mexico to stay at my house so we could be together to bury our dear friend…

Though her life was short, Julie’s impact was great.  She made everyone feel special and she touched lives here and across the Atlantic in deep and lasting ways.  The world was a far better place because she was in it.

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Julie (rt.) and me
Early morning somewhere in Sonora, Mexico

So, this year I resolve to be more like Julie.  I resolve to check some things off my bucket list (and to make a bucket list).  I resolve to just “go for it” more.  I resolve to work on living my life to the fullest (I’m sure it will take me a while to get there, but I vow to work on it).  And I plan to honor her memory by trying to find and nurture the little light that she saw inside of me when we were just girls on the edge of new beginnings.

In Memory of Beautiful Julie – 1976 – 2007

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Resolved

If you would like to participate in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge:

The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge

Weekly Photo Challenge: Resolved