Smoking Passports

Hola and Happy Spring! Over the last month or so I’ve gotten some really sweet emails and calls checking in and asking how things are going. I often err on the side of not doing updates as frequently because I know everyone is busy living their own lives. But when I get emails like these I am both humbled and inspired to share…

“Your words, your journey, and your honest revelation of your “person” has led and inspired many of us who have followed your path. Your strength has given us courage and a different perspective as we dealt with the slings and arrows of our own lives, and helped us to see the blessings around us daily. I personally know that your sharing has made a very huge difference in my life — and has touched my soul. Thank you for sharing your journey, for your honesty of spirit and joy of life!! I hope (very selfishly) that you will continue to share your joy and your path with your many followers and loyal devotees.“

or

“I’ve enjoyed reading your amazing “letters” and “updates” and in many ways I miss the more frequent postings (it’s like a book, where I’m left hanging waiting for the next chapter)”

So here is the latest, the next “chapter”…let’s call it “Smoking Passports”. Here goes…

If there was any doubt, the pendulum has certainly swung to the other side and we have been doused in a shower of one of our most favorite things…traveling! In January I flew up to D.C. to meet my new nephew for the first time and was so proud to see my big sis with a little one of her own. Monique is a natural and makes it look easy. She was always the calmer, more patient one of us and that quality lends itself well to motherhood. It is an indescribable feeling to see your grown sister, very much a woman and mother now and at the same time see the little girl of my childhood who I thought hung the moon and held out her small hand to show me the way.

In Barcelona, Spain in front of Antoni Gaudi's famous Casa Batilo

In February I was off to Spain, having been graciously invited to meet a friend after a travel conference she was attending there. We met up in Barcelona where we spent several days before heading off to Seville and then Madrid. Needless to say, it was a wonderful trip and we had a great time visiting, exploring, shopping and eating!

So what did March hold? Well, Costa Rica, of course! Our friends “tied the knot” in a sunset ceremony overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Neil was honored to be a Groomsman in the wedding. We were both grateful to attend their special day along with many of our closest friends. We decided to go a couple days early and explore another region and get a different flavor of what the country has to offer and to have a little leisure/adventure time of our own. So we first headed off to the rainforest where we hiked up a volcano, soaked in the natural hot springs, repelled down some waterfalls and zip-lined over the beautiful rainforest canopy before heading off to meet up with the wedding party at the beach. Neil got to try out surfing for the first time and fell in love with it. I think we may have to plan all future vacations based on where the best surf locations are!

Overlooking the jungle in Costa Rica

So is that it? Amazingly, no…in May we are headed to Greece! I know, Holy Guacamole!! It makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Laugh because of the Divine mark all over it and cry with overwhelming gratitude. This whole travel bonanza actually all started with a conversation about 18 months ago. During my transplants Neil asked me if I could go anywhere in the world, where would it be? I answered Greece, specifically Santorini, and a trip was put out as something to look forward to when my treatments were over–a carrot of sorts. Well word got out to my friend mentioned above, and I was soon forwarded a link to a hotel she thought we would like in Santorini when we went. So on nights when I was by myself, alone in the Bone Marrow Unit and in the thick of things, I would pull up the website and think to myself “OK, you can do this…eye on the prize!” As I looked at the white-washed buildings against the sunny blue skies perched up on the rocky cliffs overlooking the Agean Sea imagining myself there, things would shift and a space would open up where I could “turn it around”. I would dig my heels in and say (sometimes out loud), “OK, I’m on my way!” And if we’re going to have full disclosure here, I should also tell you that during my period of confinement, aka “House Arrest”, on days when I was a bit stir crazy or a little down, I was also known to periodically blast the latest hip hop song through the house and break it down. Oh who am I kidding, I still do that. Point is, sometimes the best thing you can do when you feel yourself slipping or heading in the wrong direction is to do something, anything, to turn it around. Anyway, back to the trips. No sooner had we booked our celebratory Greece trip did we get a call from Stuart and Karyn saying they were getting married in Costa Rica…”We’re there!” Then, no sooner did we book that trip did Sue call and ask if I wanted to join her in Spain…”I’m there!” Ahhhh, God is so good! I find myself saying “thank you, thank you, thank you…” a lot.

Repelling down a waterfall in Costa Rica

Upon hearing the above itinerary most people say “Wow!”, followed by a pause and then, “You know what? Good for you guys, you deserve it.” Neil and I are always grateful for such kind and supportive words and at the same time we are both careful to keep the “deserving” part in check. There is, after all, a fine line between seeing the gift in life’s challenges and having a sense of entitlement, in using it to motivate you to live the life of your dreams and feeling that something is owed to you for a price paid. I believe everything that happens to us is for a reason and that hidden within each experience is a lesson, a call to look at something. Through this experience I have learned things about myself and about life that I never could have known otherwise. And what I’ve come to realize is that there is always a choice and that ultimately it is the choice that changes everything. Neil and I chose to focus on the blessings of this experience, the miracle of it and let the rest go, leaving it where it belongs, in the past. The gifts that it has given us, the miracle we have both lived and witnessed, leaves no room for feeling like anything is owed.
I knew this experience would change me, I think everyone knew that, but what has surprised me lately is exactly how much. I find this hard to fully explain, to adequately capture the essence and magnitude of it in words, but I will say this, in it’s own way, each hurdle broke through a new ceiling, smoothed out an edge or chipped away something that needed to be shed, pushing and allowing us to really know ourselves and each other. For me, the cumulative effect has resulted in a deep internal shift and I am learning how to exist in the world in a completely different way. I feel like I have new eyes, as though I acquired some type of 3D glasses along the way, that see through the veil that obscured things before, revealing the layer underneath everything. This has been a clear and profound call to “jump tracks” in life and God has certainly succeeded in getting our complete and undivided attention. I trust that this is for a reason and it seems that we have been given this experience and it’s message to share with others. So I don’t know what that looks like exactly but I have learned to befriend uncertainty, after all, change is a guarantee and security is an illusion. By embracing these, even running towards them, there is great freedom and peace. They say that faith isn’t faith until it’s all you’re holding on to. This experience has taught us to do just that and that when you do, miracles happen. So we keep stepping out on this new path loving where we are, where we’ve been and where we are going, trusting that all is well. And as we look forward to enjoying this beautiful spring weather and watching as the world wakes up from it’s winter nap we also pause to remember my sister Lauren and celebrate her life. This Saturday will mark the 13th Anniversary of the day she died and we miss her sweet presence still.

I will have my next scan at the end of June and look forward to sharing the good news and checking one more off the list. I have posted some pictures of our latest adventures on the website for those who want to take a peek.

As always, we send our love and many blessings to you,
Alyssa and Neil

“And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom.”
-Anais Nin

” We grow stronger in the broken places.”
– Earnest Hemingway

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