Thursday, April 29, 2010

Travel and Cancer Survival, Part Two

Even though I was slower than usual on the trip to Scotland after my cancer surgery, and needed to take daily naps, I still enjoyed the trip and was able to participate in everything I wanted to do. When we returned to the U.S. I had the radiation implant for three days, followed by a short course of external radiation to catch any cancer cells that might have escaped.

That's when I found out about the real fatigue of radiation treatment. I put aloe vera on my skin after each external treatment, so I didn't get the painful burns many people get, but I could not avoid the exhaustion. I found that if I didn't schedule an hour's nap every day, I couldn't get through my work.

The need for a daily nap was not permanent, but did continue for over a year. I did, though, permanently lose the ability to pull an all-nighter, or to go on 3-4 hours of sleep and still do a full day's work. Those restrictions would probably have crept up on me in the next few years due to age, but the cancer treatment brought them on all at once.

Napping has always been one of the pleasures of vacationing for me, so at least I didn't have to try to add nap time to travel. But what I did find was that more and more I could not go the places I wanted to go.

Now you have to understand that I've never been a mountain climber or even a rock climber--I'm no great athlete and neither are the people I travel with. But we've always climbed reasonable hills, or up onto castle towers and parapets. We hike woodland trails, cross rivers on stepping stones, and scramble over lots of uneven ground.

But even after I was healed from my surgery and recovered from radiation fatigue, I found to my dismay that there were now places I could not go. I could negotiate ordinary stairs, but the high steps or rocky places, where you must pull yourself up two or three feet at once with no railing or tree root to grab onto, started to prove impossible. Or we would be hiking in a nature preserve, and the trail would become steep and narrow. Suddenly I could not trust my balance.

Several times I either fell or was simply unable to go forward--and I was holding my companions back because of my limitations. I felt awful.

Then one summer Lois and Eric and I didn’t go abroad. Instead we went to a lovely area called the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. We drove and walked around, stayed in a secluded cabin where the deer came right into the yard, and even dared rubber rafting down a river (though not through rapids). I enjoyed the trip—but I kept having problems I had never had before.

After we successfully moored our raft, I fell trying to negotiate the uneven path to the parking lot. I wasn’t hurt other than some scratches, because the one value I got out of taking yoga lessons years ago was that I learned how to fall. Still, it’s no fun--despite faithfully going to exercise class twice a week--not to be able to maintain my balance on unstable footing. I keep assuming I can go places that used to be no challenge, and finding myself in trouble.

The next day we hiked one of the nature trails—not a particularly difficult one until we came to an offshoot leading down to a waterfall Lois wanted to see. Lois loves waterfalls, and the fact that there was one was our reason for choosing to hike that particular trail.

The path down to the falls was narrow, steep, and uneven, and after a few steps and a slide into a tree that I hung onto for dear life, I realized that I just could not go down that path, or expect to climb back up if I did get down.

So I went back up to the top of the offshoot trail and found a place to sit and rest while Lois and Eric went down to see the waterfall. Oh, it was a lovely summer day, and I saw birds and squirrels, chipmunks and butterflies—but I wasn’t where I wanted to be.

When Lois and Eric returned, we continued along the main trail, which I was able to negotiate. But then Eric found a stick--not a twig, but a stout and fairly straight stick about five feet long. He gave it to me to use as a walking stick--and suddenly it was much easier to walk.

I had never used a walking stick before, but it's intuitive. The stick provides two advantages over just walking without one: with your feet it provides the third point of a stable triangle, and in those places where you need your arms to help pull yourself up an incline, it gives you something to hold onto.

I used the stick Eric gave me for the rest of our hiking, but didn't try to take it home. Instead, when I got home I bought an expandable/collapsible walking stick that I have used ever since. It's adjustable--it can be a cane for support in most situations, and expand into a walking stick for hiking.

Davis & Sanford TRAILBLAZRV Trailblazer Monopod

A walking stick doesn't make me any faster, but it does make it possible once again for me to go anywhere I want to go. If you've read my blogs about my trips to Japan, India, and Nepal, you have read about how I use my stick.

If you are not handicapped, but if something like cancer or arthritis or plain old age has slowed you down, let me suggest that you try getting a stick for travel. You'll be steadier and feel more secure. Unless your doctor prescribes a certain kind of cane, I recommend an inexpensive collapsible stick rather than a rigid cane. Choose one with a wrist strap so you can let it hang when you need to use two hands for something. You can often find a camera monopod that will do double duty as your walking stick (I think of it as my stick doing occasional double duty steadying my camera).

The important thing I hope you will get from my experience is that there is no escaping some limitations after a serious disease like cancer. However, cancer definitely does not mean that you have to stop traveling. Find out what you need to do and do it! Then continue to go where you please.

You may decide to change your mode of travel, perhaps try a cruise instead of a tour, or a tour instead of individual wandering. You may shift from traveling alone to traveling with friends. Whatever you do, though--don't give up traveling!

Thank you to everyone who filled out the survey on cancer experience. You may have now decided that you would like to do something to support cancer research. If you can't attend a local Relay, then please support a Relay for Life team.

You don't have a team to support? Then please support mine, the 8th Wonders. All of us on the team are breast cancer survivors, and we got our name from the fact that one in every eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime. To support my team, just click on this link, and make a contribution online. Your money goes directly to the American Cancer Society, but our team is credited with your donation.

For a cookbook to complement cancer treatment with nutrition, click here.

Click here for Seven Reasons to Visit India.

The series of posts on my trip to Japan begins here.

The journal of my trip to India and Nepal begins here.

The series of posts on my trip to Italy begins here.

Geezer-Chick's guest blog on York, England is here.

Geezer-Chick's guest blog about a fabulous carousel is here.

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geezer-chick said...

I want to second your comments about walking sticks. (It sounds so much nicer than a cane.) Walking sticks are great for reducing the pain of walking when my hip hurts. They make it possible to climb up high steps. And my PT gave me exercises for my arm and shoulder that use the cane for resistance and stretching.

Anonymous said...

Thx ur share........................................