Independence Day

I write my latest blog post for America on July 4th, celebrating Independence Day with one of my oldest and closest friends. Unsurprisingly I’ve felt really happy and content during our trip so far, as I’m removed from the realities of my daily life. It’s exactly two years since I started taking Pembrolizumb after my second bowel surgery to remove a tumour from my small bowel.

Thanks to Pembrolizumab I’m celebrating another kind of Independence Day; one that is free from cancer and all the worries that come alongside it. I’m in full on vacation mode right now and it feels lovely to have a long break from work and get some headspace.

Ten years ago at the age of 21 I studied in America as part of my university degree and I made some incredible friends from all over the world along the way. I was lucky enough to be a bridesmaid for one of my closest friends in Maryland over the weekend. America and the people I met remain very special to me, and I feel very fortunate I’ve been able to return to the states over the last decade, even though there have been times when I felt it would never be possible again.

Looking back, I wish I’d gone travelling on my gap year, however nowadays I feel even more grateful that I was able to experience living in another country as a young 20 something.

Health insurance can mean the America ends up being one of the no-go places for cancer patients, particularly those who haven’t been given the all clear or are classed as in remission, however I managed to get a reasonable insurance cover policy through a company called Insurance With. They recognise Immunotherapy treatments alongside chemotherapy which has made the insurance process much easier.

I’ve been caught up with everything at home over the last few months; a new job, moving house, a charity trek and the never ending cycle of hospital appointments. So much so that I hadn’t realised I need to take some time out. Walking through a stunning National Park yesterday made me feel like I hadn’t a care in the world, I’ve been so relaxed in the beautiful setting in Maine I’d even forgotten what day it was. I’ve been spending time with my oldest friend who I only see around once a year, so it’s even more special. If you follow my social media you’ll see my various holiday photos.

Often I feel as though I’m living in the shadows of the life I had before, but not today. Despite tiredness and aches and pains from hiking up a beautiful mountain yesterday I’m ready for a new day. It seems crazy to think just over a week ago I was having Chemotherapy back home, my 34th cycle of Pembrolizumab. What a difference a few days can make! I have vivid memories of having this drug for the first time; I remember the smell of medicine and cleaning products on the ward and the long wait for treatment whilst sitting in a side room. I thought the wait was a one off before I understood how the drug is made at the hospital pharmacy.

Two years is a long time to constantly receive treatment, especially as I’d been on other treatments before, but I’ve been given another two years of a good life, so no complaints there.

Happy Independence Day!

The Travel Bug 

Over the past 12 months I have been abroad numerous times,  and have certainly been bitten by the travel bug. My 2016 trips have included a holiday to the USA to visit Austin, San Francisco and Minneapolis last January, and various weekends away to European cities, including Lisbon, Gothenburg, Berlin and Venice. I have been trying to visit as many cities as possible whilst I feel able, and I’ve enjoyed some wonderful adventures with amazing friends.

Sadly, I didn’t go travelling during my ill planned gap year. In retrospect, I wish that I had, but I can’t change the decisions that I made, or didn’t make, at 18. I could not imagine the path which lay ahead of me then. I assumed that I would have many more opportunities to go away and see the World. Nowadays there are numerous obstacles which prevent me from going on trips which are more adventurous than the Eurostar to Bruges, but just being able to escape for the weekend is good enough for me. It would seem that the World may no longer be my oyster, but hopefully Europe will be for a good while longer.

I am keen to make good memories whilst my health is not completely against me. It probably appears to others as though I do too much, which is often the case, but I am trying to squeeze as much as I can before I’m unable. I know some places are now no go zones, where I’d be likely to pick up a bug of some sort even if I was a 100% healthy person. I think Egypt is out of the question as well as a fair few others, but you never know what the future may hold. Being faced with my own mortality had certainly made me look at things in a very different way.

I have spent far too much time in bed recovering from operations, or just being generally too exhausted to move to last me a life time. I need rest but do not want to look back and wish that I had done so much more. There have been times over the years when I have been unable to get out of bed, or been in too much pain to to put on a t-shirt, or even brush my hair.  Of course, working part time has certainly had an impact on my travel wish list, but budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet make it possible, even if for just one night in Copenhagen with school friends. Who is going to turn down £16.99 flights each way?

If anyone knows of any good travel insurance companies who don’t run a mile when they hear the words ‘Cancer’ and ‘Stage 4’, then I would love to receive some tips or pointers. I cannot take out insurance without declaring anything as this would be void should I actually have an issue which needed addressing. I am now in a position I cannot risk anything, I could fall ill at any time, and I need reassurance and peace of mind that I’m covered for any eventuality.

From what I can gather from online research it seems to be impossible to get travel insurance for America, so I doubt if  I will be going there again anytime soon. I have travelled to a fair few states, so it is a shame that I feel that I am unable to return. It wouldn’t be a great place to be if my health took a bad turn. I just need to remember that I was lucky enough to be able to go in the first place.

Here’s to more adventures in 2017! I’ve planned trips to Lille, Warsaw and Rome so far, but new suggestions are always welcome.