October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The women who have faced and continue to fight their battle with breast cancer are an inspiration to us all. And despite the odds and the challenges that this disease poses, there are women who are traveling the world and not letting “the big ‘c’” stop them. This is a compilation of their stories. Stories of life, love, passion, and the unwillingness to give up their dreams of seeing the world.
I am a truly blessed six-year breast cancer. survivor! I was diagnosed at age 26 with triple negative breast cancer, and had to be strong to endure, lumpectomy surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation as treatment and preventative therapy. I am not in remission… I am healed! I published a book in 2014 called Surviving In Stilettos: Inspiration to the Divas who are Young, Fabulous, and dealing with the effects of Breast Cancer. I am currently 33 and a happily married newlywed. I’m grateful for my blessings every single day.
My inspirations and motivations include my faith in God and healer Christ Jesus. And my mother, being by my side, my song, and strength in times when I was weak. Knowing and understanding that this was a learning and growing phase for me to find my purpose in life which is to help others, and be a testimony of God’s goodness and grace. There was a lot more to live for and experience in life, and I had to fight through the bad days to get back to the good ones.
I love to travel! My mother made sure as I grew up I was cultivated and exposed to many different food, ethnicities, and travel experiences whether domestic or international. My first international trip was to Mexico with my 8th grade Spanish class. We explored Taxco, Acapulco, and Mexico City. I have since then been to numerous places in the western and southern Caribbean, and also experienced two cruises. Travel is a luxury, but I believe the world is so big beautiful with so much to see it would be awful to leave this earth only knowing the one city a person grew up in. Now that I am married my husband and I want to explore abroad and visit other continents taking in the food, culture, and scenery!
The desire for travel since my during or after my diagnosis did not change at all. It honestly wasn’t even a thought. My focus was on saving the little energy I had, maintaining my normalcy within my “new normal” and getting my health and happiness back 110%. Traveling is a life want, not a need. My life focus was more so about appreciating God waking me up in the morning to see another day. My life is now being able to enjoy the simplicities of a good laugh, and quality time with those that I love. That means both in my own zip code, or miles away on an island.
As to why it was so important for me to trael throughout my illness: Well first, I changed the phrase “your illness” to “an illness” because you have to be careful what you claim on yourself or over your life. That situation for every survivor is temporary, and most learn to not let that time in their life define them, because we are still so much more than what we were able to overcome. However, depending on each individual person dealing with a medical diagnosis of any kind, it’s important to listen to your body. Personally, I did not travel during my first year of treatment and doctor appointments. Most people are unable to because the reality of breast cancer is that it takes up a bulk of your time and energy. I traveled two places after I completed my last radiation cycle January 2011. I went to LA with some friends, and then in April my Mom and I went to Playa de Carmen, Mexico in celebration of my survivorship. If a person had a different treatment plan in place, and their appointments were not weekly or bi-weekly and they had minimal symptoms, I definitely would encourage them to travel especially if that was their passion before life got interrupted. Tomorrow is not guaranteed and every survivor gains their own outlook and new appreciation for life, which may include traveling more due to them feeling time is running out. People have to do what’s best for them since we only get one life to live.
My story is actually a rather long one. I’ve been down this road twice and each time was challenging in its own ways. I was first diagnosed in 2012. I was diagnosed with stage 0 DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) with a microscopic mass of LCIS (lobular carcinoma in situ) that was too small to determine a stage. I was 38 years old when I was diagnosed. Because I had a history of breast lumps (all benign) that started when I was in high school, I have always had regular breast checks, which was definitely a lucky break for me as my cancer was detected very early. DCIS is often treated with surgery and perhaps with radiation and hormone therapy. My initial decision for treatment was lumpectomy and radiation. At the time, I was at the point in my life where I had become comfortable with my body, including my DDD breasts. The last thing I wanted was to lose them. I couldn’t imagine my life without a body part – any body part. Unfortunately, after three lumpectomy surgeries and two surgeons, it was clear that what seemed to be a small mass of DCIS was actually much bigger. I ultimately needed a mastectomy. In October 2012, I had a mastectomy and in April 2013, I received a brand new breast.
After my reconstruction, I started the process of putting my life back together. I started hormone therapy, which consisted of taking a daily dose of the pill Tamoxifen. I started a new job – did I mention that I was laid off during all of this? I started exercising and eventually stared yoga. Four months after my reconstruction, I went to Barcelona with a good friend and enjoyed every moment. At the start of the following year, I started taking dance classes and started feeling the best I had in years.
My life continued to be a roller coaster. While I was becoming physically and mentally stronger, my family’s health was going downward. Within a year and a half of my reconstruction surgery, my father passed away, my brother developed a heart condition that put him in ICU twice and my mother’s breast cancer returned. By December 2015, things were just begin to calm down for everyone.
Then, I scheduled a visit with a new gynecologist. It was a simple routine checkup. We reviewed my lengthy medical history and she proceeded to give me an exam. We completed our appointment with an obligatory breast exam. With one original breast there was hardly much to expect. But…she noticed a lump. One that I was sure hadn’t been there before. She didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about – just something to get checked out when I was ready. It was probably just scar tissue from the breast reduction I had to match my new reconstructed breast. I left the appointment feeling fine about it. But as the day progressed, the more uneasy I became. I called my oncologist. Her office directed me to contact my surgeon, and I made an appointment a day before she left the country for the holidays in December. After a biopsy it was clear. It was back. Yet another trip to the Big C. I had breast cancer in my remaining breast. My life was turned upside down again. And this time, the trip was to be a lot more difficult.
The mastectomy was the easy part. I knew right away that my remaining breast had to go. Part of me wished that I had removed it with the first one. This body part I had once been so attached to had now become a source of worry and something I no longer wanted. So it was easy to say goodbye. What happened after has been the very hard part. The cancer this time was stage 1. While it was caught early, it developed while I was on hormone therapy, which should have stopped it. Because of the stage, because it was my second occurrence and because it developed so close to my first occurrence, my oncologist recommended chemotherapy and hormone therapy. The chemo would take place before I could have reconstruction, so it meant dealing with preparing my body for reconstruction and with the effects of chemo at the same time. I’d love to say that chemo was simple. I had one cycle of chemo which consisted of four treatments each three weeks apart. I was given Taxotere and Cytoxan – a rather strong chemo cocktail – well strong to me. If you’ve watched daytime TV, you’ve likely seen one of the many lawyer-funded commercials looking for litigants who wish to sue their doctors for not warning them of permanent hair loss as a result of Taxotere. Yep – I was pumped with one of the drugs that has become the subject of actual law commercials!!! It’s a funny and sobering thought!
The side effects of chemo were…well…not awesome. I tried to, prepare myself for them as much as possible. I have a good friend who has been in and out of chemo for 10 years and her help and guidance preparing me was amazing. But no matter how much you prepare, it’s never quite enough. I attempted to keep my hair through a process called cold capping, but it didn’t work all that well for me. I lost most of my very full head of hair. I gained weight, my nails darkened, I had the worst fatigue ever and I developed hot flashes and night sweats and muscle aches that I continue to have.
Once I waded through the chemo swamp, my body was allowed to heal a bit before my reconstruction surgery. July 18, 2016 was my final surgery. And now, I’m once again getting back to life and working towards strengthening my body and my mind.
As to travel, I consider myself to be a traveler. I’m not a super hardcore traveler, but I have my fair share of passport stamps, frequent traveler program numbers – and the unnatural need to collect and hoard points, and an unusual familiarity with ATL airport. I think I’ve always loved travel, even when airplane rides made me sick because of the cigarette smoking, engine smells and take offs and landings. That early introduction to motion sickness is definitely what kept me from pursuing a career as a flight attendant. If not for that, I would surely be writing this from a hotel room in Vienna or Buenos Aires or Hong Kong while waiting for my next long haul flight. But that’s not what happened. Instead, I went to college, graduated and moved to New York City, building a career in the world of educational non-profits. But I’ve managed to make travel a priority in my life.
When I was first diagnosed, my job consisted of a lot of travel. I would often be away from two weeks out of each month. Once I recovered from each of my surgeries and was able to go back to work, I continued my travel as much as possible. It really helped to keep me sane and provide a sense of normalcy and something to look forward to. I was able to do some travel for fun as well, but much of that came once I completed my initial treatment.
During treatment, travel was definitely difficult. It was difficult physically and mentally and the financial aspect is also a challenge. When your money is going towards medical bills or you know you might need to spend a little more on a trip to ensure you have comforts for your ailing body and spirit, you have to carefully decide if travel is an affordable option. Now that treatment is winding down – or I’m going into a new phase of my treatment – I can better predict my finances and I’m better navigating my physical needs.
With my most recent diagnosis, travel has been more of a challenge. My current position doesn’t involve much travel, and I’ve been thankful for that. The effects of surgery and chemo made travel extremely difficult. My first trip after starting treatment was to Vegas for work one month after completing chemo and a few weeks before my final surgery. I was so nervous to travel, but it went really well. I made sure to get nonstop flights, take full advantage of my gold Delta status, and took it easy when I needed to. I also booked a massage during my trip, which I felt was a must for my spirit.
Now that I’m out of the woods, I’m excited to get back out there. I just returned from a trip to Costa Rica for my birthday – a trip I was determined to take. It was a full circle moment for me – going back to the country where I ran away to in avoidance of dealing with cancer the first time. My trip was everything I needed it to be. I relaxed, pampered myself, pushed myself and enjoyed everything. And now, I’m already thinking about where I’d like to go within the next year. If I have my way, I’ll be flat broke and have several more passport stamps!
Overall, I’ve continued to have the desire to travel in spite of my diagnosis. That has never changed. While I was in treatment, I wasn’t physically able to deal with the rigors of travel, but if there had been some way to suspend the horrible way I felt for a period of time in order to go somewhere, I would have done that in a heartbeat. And I definitely envied those around me who were traveling.
I think it’s so important to know and understand the world beyond your field of vision. And I think it’s crazy not to take time to appreciate the beauty that this world has and to appreciate it firsthand. Travel also helps you to better understand yourself not just those around you. I don’t think I could have made it through all of this like I have if I didn’t have a perspective colored by my travels and my need to understand and know about others.
I am a nine-year breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed in 2007 after a routine mammogram revealed a small malignant mass. The tumor was the size of a very small pearl so trust me when I say that mammograms save lives. Had I waited until I felt the lump in my dense breast, it would have been the size of a golf ball, and my story would have been different. After the initial diagnosis, I went into survival/denial mode. Survival because I refused to a accept anything other than full recovery. And denial because I refused to accept anything more than a minimal intrusion into my busy life. As a women used to being in control, it was very hard for me to accept that I actually had cancer and the mortality check of a cancer diagnosis stopped me in my tracks. I only told my inner circle of friends and swore them to secrecy. My first surgery was a lumpectomy and preparation for insertion of a radiation tube. Fortunately, my lymph nodes were malignant and I was a candidate for a reduced, yet concentrated, radiation treatment called Mammosite. My plan was to have only six sessions of radiation, and then I would be as good as new and back to work and my life. I had a second minor surgery to implant my tube and a few weeks later I began radiation. Well, reality set in when the treatment regimen had to be changed to traditional radiation because the Mammosite failed. I gradually accepted that I would have to endure a long radiation process, and I also needed my support system that I had mostly excluded up to this point. I started to let my guard down and admitted that I was scared but stubborn. I took the entire summer off from work because of my cancer treatments. Before, I started the radiation, I traveled to Florida for a vacation as my other vacation plans for Santorini had to be cancelled. I went to radiation treatment every day for eight weeks, prayed and cried a lot. The treatment is not painful but it proved to be a very emotional process as my skin went through serious changes, the most alarming of which was severe burning as the radiation progressed. I developed lymphedema and deep scar tissue in my breast, which has caused me to be self-conscious when I wear a bathing suit, but I wear it anyway and proudly.
Finally, I have been cancer free for nine years. I still dread every time I have a mammogram and I still see my oncologist regularly but I know I am blessed. I refuse to waste time on mundane living or feeling sorry for myself. I can finally share my story with others because I know I am a beacon of light and strength.
I have always loved to travel but my cancer diagnosis created a sense of urgency to travel more often, farther, and solo if necessary. Since my cancer diagnosis I have been to stepped up my travel and crossed many countries off my list including India, Peru, Iceland, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Croatia, Barcelona, Panama, and Guadeloupe.
Fortunately, my diagnosis has not affected by ability to travel. The only change in my travel habits is that I am more conscious of the sun when I am at the beach. I love the sun but I make sure to lather on the sunscreen and I cover my breast with a towel whenever I sunbathe.
Traveling the world is so important to me because the earth is so amazing and there is so much to see. I love the diversity of different regions, cities and cultures and wish to immerse myself in as many different experiences as possible.
My advice is to do your research to make sure that you know your treatment options and get the best treatment possible. Don’t be rushed into make any medical decisions. Follow your doctor’s advice and lean on your support systems. Life is unpredictable and should be lived to the fullest.
If travel is truly your passion, there is nothing you can’t do and nowhere that you can’t go with proper planning. I used to think that certain events or countries were out of my reach but not anymore. I have become a student of travel knowledge and travel deals. I have learned that with proper research and preparation, I can do anything and go anywhere on the plant. Since my diagnosis, I have been able to attend the U.S. Open Tennis tournament every year. I attended the Super Bowl festivities in New Orleans. I have also participated in the Holi celebration of colors in India and Yacht Week in Croatia. I have climbed Machu Picchu in Peru and visited the magnificent Blue lagoon in Iceland. I have visited the majestic Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi as well as the awesome Taj Mahal. My short list of travel in the next 24 months is Thailand, Cuba, South Africa, Italy and Greece.
Be well. Be free. Follows the desires of your heart and travel the world.
I first found out I had cancer in 1998 after the birth of my second son. I was told I got cancer cause I was breastfeeding. I was like how is that possible?
Breast cancer runs in my family. I went through chemo and radiation but it wasn’t helping, so I had to have surgery to have it removed. I love traveling, so I would never let this keep me from my dreams. Years later, the cancer came back and I had to go thru the same procedure. Chemo and radiation were the first courses of treatment, but the tumor didn’t shrink in my breast, so I had surgery a second time. This time, I got an infection. I thank God I made it through all of that and I went into remission. Now here we are in 2016, and I have it again but this time, it has spread more. I am in Korea currently receiving treatment. I pray this will be my last.
I receive treatment in the countries I travel to. I love to travel so much. I make sure I travel when I’m not too weak from treatment. It’s never affected my travel. You don’t let something affect something that you love to do. I want to see the world, and that’s why I travel.
Life is not over for me yet. I’m a 35-year-old mother of five children, three boys and two girls.
So there you have it. Warriors that are taking the world by storm. And in honor of these lovely ladies, and all of the women fighting breast cancer, BarrisTourista Travel Store has created Breast Cancer Awareness month shirts (like the design in the main photo and others), and we will be donating a portion of the proceeds to breast cancer research.