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I love taking vacations. It’s been a family joke for a while that my epitaph should be, “NOW can we go on vacation?” As that plaintive request suggests, that’s because while I do enjoy traveling I haven’t had much opportunity to do so, especially in the past ten years. For a while, my work responsibilities increased, and then there was that pesky problem of money to make it all happen. Most recently, of course, cancer has had its way of dominating our lives and absorbing all our resources.

Nevertheless, this summer I managed three wonderful getaways. The first, to NN12, was restorative and invigorating all at once. It was a special treat to go alone, not as anyone’s mother, wife, daughter or employee (though I did consider myself a Kossack delegate of sorts). It’s not often nowadays that I am completely on my own, accountable to no one but myself. The second was to Cincinnati and environs with my daughters. Apart from a family wedding there several years ago, none of us had ever spent any time there at all. We took in the Cincinnati Zoo, the Newport Aquarium, and the Underground Railroad Freedom Center—different kinds of experiences to be sure, but all well worth our time and attention. This was only feasible for us because we spent a couple of nights with my sister and her youngest son, who live near Cinci. It was a spur-of-the-moment trip, but one which was very pleasant indeed. My girls can be pretty silly together, even if part of their silliness includes making fun of me. I also appreciate having an older sister who spoils me when she can. One special treat for me was having Cincinnati’s finest ice cream—Graeter’s—while I was there. Ice cream is definitely not part of my regular diet at this juncture, but it was worth it to go off the wagon just that once.

The third trip, camping with my husband in the Leelanau, was the truest getaway of them all. We toured the area, a region my husband had never visited before, including visits to three lighthouses on our excursions. The best stop we made on our mini-tour of the peninsula was at the annual pow-wow sponsored by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. I hadn’t been to a pow-wow in many years, and my husband had never been to one—but we were both quickly absorbed into the rhythms and songs of the drum circles and the elegance and power of the dancers. Very peaceful and uplifting.

To our surprise and relief, we had astonishingly good weather (not anything I can count on when camping) and a perfect camp site, no more than 30 yards from Lake Michigan.Every night we had a roaring bonfire and enjoyed delicious campstove dinners. Every night, we fell asleep much earlier than usual, lulled by the sound of the waves. One night, we heard loons. The clear night skies along with the new moon and little ambient light meant fantastic star-gazing, so much so that we discovered a few new (to us) constellations. I must say that while I am not glad that drought conditions exist up there this year, I was delighted to have so few mosquito bites after five days in the woods. Both of us have to cope with so much pressure in our daily lives, it was a wonderful opportunity to have even a few days of respite.

The best part of all three trips for me, however, was that for several hours a day I didn’t think about being sick or about recovery. A cancer vacation! Exactly what I needed.

But the time for holidays, however brief and however idyllic, is over for now. We’re back home facing all the challenges that awaited us when we left plus perhaps a couple more. (Including a $500 repair bill for one car, and the news that the other car is done for. Blown head gasket on a 15-year-old car with 250,000 miles = game over.) My husband already started back to teaching last week, and he will be in full swing with his work schedule as of tomorrow. It’s a demanding schedule he follows from September to May, especially in December with the holidays/exams/concerts, and I always hope he has enough rest stored away from the brief summer to make it through. My younger daughter starts 11th grade tomorrow, a crucial year for high schoolers in terms of college prep—or whatever it is that she will be able to undertake post-diploma. We are all anxious for her to have a more successful and less stressful year this year than last year was. My oldest daughter will be a third year law student looking for her first permanent job even as she strives to do well with her current academic obligations. She has a lot riding on the success of this year too.

Besides all their work, I will be attempting to earn some money as a dissertation editor and coach for the first time. Oh, and there is an election coming up in 62 days for which I need to do some canvassing. Holy crap! We have a ton to do!

And today marks one year exactly since I received the news my cancer had metastasized to my lungs. It’s been a helluva year for all of us, and promises to be one with its own share of challenges even with the dramatic improvement in my health.

Now, I am deeply interested in building mini-vacations into my everyday life. It’s not simply a matter of good self-care, which I hope also to maintain with consistency (the occasional corn chip indulgence notwithstanding). It’s also a matter of taking time away from my worries about being ill and even about recovery. It’s about visiting at least for a few moments a space where cancer does not dominate my life.

I think my favorite “escape” is hanging out with friends. What we do is of little significance, as long as we can talk. Online friends are good for lovely conversation too, I hasten to add! Next I would put walking in the woods. I’m not consistent about it, but whenever I do it lifts my spirits greatly, and I always ask myself what took me so long to get there. Our camping outings last month reinforced that pleasure. I also read pretty extensively off line, astonishingly enough, probably 2-3 books/week on average. Beyond that, I’m not sure. Well, I do look forward to getting back to a routine of singing. I’ve had the good fortune to take part in some informal sing-alongs several times this summer, but it isn’t the same as working on pieces for performance. Knitting may help, if I can get back into the groove. I made 4 jaunty little hats last year with pleasure, but my last project hasn’t captured my interest in the same way. Of course, I have many, many household projects to address as well, yet somehow getting into the “flow” of filing or photo sorting isn’t the kind of uplifting activity I have in mind ;)

I’m deliberately excluding “therapeutic” activities from my list, so that’s why you don’t see meditation, or yoga, or qi gong here. I enjoy all of them, but I still do them primarily because they’re good for me. At some point I might decide to do them because I’ve decided they’re utterly fun, or because I can’t imagine not doing them, but I haven’t reached that watershed with any of them.

Hence my two principal themes for you this week. First, if you had a chance to get away this summer, what did you do and where did you go? Second, when you are at home, what do you do to forget about having cancer (if you can at all, that is)? For caregivers, what do you do to set aside your concerns, again if you can? If it has been some time since you have felt so preoccupied that way, do you remember when you stopped thinking about cancer 24/7? Was it a gradual process, or was there a moment of breakthrough?

As always, if there are other issues or concerns on your list this week, please feel free to bring them up for the group. Peace and blessings to all.

Monday Night Cancer Club is a Daily Kos group focused on dealing with cancer, primarily for cancer survivors and caregivers, though clinicians, researchers, and others with a special interest are also welcome. Volunteer diarists post Monday evenings between 7-8 PM ET on topics related to living with cancer, which is very broadly defined to include physical, spiritual, emotional and cognitive aspects. Mindful of the controversies endemic to cancer prevention and treatment, we ask that both diarists and commenters keep an open mind regarding strategies for surviving cancer, whether based in traditional, Eastern, Western, allopathic or other medical practices. This is a club no one wants to join, in truth, and compassion will help us make it through the challenge together.
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