If you had told me before this would happen I wouldn’t believe you. I was actually leery of taking this trip. Don’t get me wrong. The idea of a girls’ trip to the Amalfi coast of Italy is something that’s been high on my list of “Things to look forward to”, but there is a part of me that’s all too aware of the germs that float around those planes and airports and with 30-something cycles of chemo just behind me I was a little afraid of what damage this trip was going to do to my body. There’s more chemo ahead and I need to be strong for it.
Doesn’t help when people like Chris (Dr. H’s P.A.) shake their head and say things like “Italy…ah you are braver than me”, but here’s the thing…what’s the point of going through years of chemo to extend your life if you’re not going to get out there given the chance and actually live it? That’s what the breaks are for right? Yes, to ramp back up for the next cycle, but who said you aren’t allowed to have any fun in between? You’ve been given an indeterminate extension on this life. Don’t waste it waiting around for the next remission.
Day 1 had me on a plane to D.C. then to Frankfurt, where I met up with friend #1 and on to Naples where we met up with friend #2. We were escorted in a Mercedes van by a handsome and charming Italian name Francesco to our first destination of Positano, where we stayed at a beautiful hotel on the beach for 6 beautiful nights.
Each day was packed full of cappuccinos, pasta, seafood, wine and some mouth watering desserts and aperitifs. I can honestly say we gorged like a bunch of hungry hungry hippos, but we knew this was an unreal moment that wouldn’t last, so we made the most of it and did our best to burn off one meal before the next by walking along the cobble stoned roads or swimming in the gorgeous (shark-less) sea.
I did a pretty good job of keeping up with the girls, but there were moments where the tired took over and I would quietly retreat for a while. In those moments I worried about the damage I would have to face when this was over, but they were fleeting because I was distracted by the sounds of Italian chatter and zipping mopeds coming from the street below, renewing my determination to enjoy every ounce of this escape.
Every night I put on makeup and dressed up for an evening out which involved being catered to by some lovely Italian men who appreciated our laughter, cheek and love for great food and the Italian way of life. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much seafood or pasta in my life. What I loved most about our meals was that they went on for hours and we leisurely sat back and soaked them all in.
Within 14 days we covered 3 destinations where we made friends of the locals as well as some from across the globe. There is a real sense of community wherever you go with far less emphasis on my space vs your space. Even the gates between the patios of the neighboring rooms at our hotel easily swung open to encourage intermingling. On more than one occasion we found ourselves sharing a bottle of vino with our neighbors and exchanging tales. The word “cancer” was rarely raised and when it was, there stood in front of me a vivacious survivor who completely understood the need for brevity on the subject, because we were in Italy…where life is large and vibrant, not to be conserved, held back or lamented.
It wasn’t too hard to say goodbye because frankly I was stuffed, but it wasn’t just my belly that was full. My heart, my mind, my body all felt soooo contented.
Day 16, I was stepping onto the scale at the cancer center bracing myself for a huge leap from the last weigh in only to be pleasantly surprised by a mere 2 lb increase. I laughed out loud it seemed so incredulous. I sat and waited the 20 minutes for the blood work results…fretting over how low my neutrophils (the stuff that makes the white blood cells) were going to be. They were already low when I left (1.2) nearly too low to travel, but I barely eeked by.
Anita, the nurse hands me the printout. I look down at it and my first reaction is “This is the wrong sheet. This is someone else’s blood work.” She smiles and says “I guess that Italian air did you good because your results are excellent.” They had literally doubled from 1.2 to 2.4~ The most they’ve ever jumped between cycles is up to 1.6. I asked her what could cause that and she shrugged her shoulders and said could just be the lack of stress. I decided it was the “healing waters of Ischia” or looking back, it could’ve just been all the seafood I ate. My normal diet is for 1/10 seafood and rest of the time I’m a carnivore.
Whether it was the reduction in stress, the magic of the Mediterranean or a pure and simple surplus of fresh seafood, the answer remains the same, getting out there and enjoying life between chemo treatment cycles is good for your mental and physical health and strengthens you all the more to face the next round in your battle, so what are you waiting for?
Go on, get out your list of things to look forward to and start planning your next great (white blood cell building) moment~