Many months before I got my diagnosis I had planned a romantic getaway for my husband and I to Costa Rica. We are not really resort kind of people so we chose to go to the less developed part of the country on the Caribbean coast, staying at a treehouse that I found through Airbnb.
I have been so excited about this trip but the day after I got my diagnosis I started to question whether or not we should go. In my heart I really wanted to go and escape reality but I was winding up my own anxieties about what could potentially happen, being in a foreign country and needing surgery, developing hydrocephalus, you know the kinds of things that your mind does when it’s a runaway train. Everyone I talked to said don’t cancel your trip, just go, enjoy yourself. We heeded friends and family’s advice, along with the doctors and didn’t cancel.
The trip started out a bit rocky as we didn’t know the area and we had to figure everything out on our own. I didn’t say anything to my husband on the first day but I was having doubts about whether I had chosen wisely and perhaps we should have just gone to a resort. We don’t speak any Spanish and many people there didn’t speak English. We didn’t completely understand the money system. We didn’t have a vehicle, we thought we would just be able to taxi everywhere (which wasn’t the case). We didn’t have someone preparing food for us which meant we had to figure out all of our meals, with no car. Our Airbnb was on a dirt road, at the top of a hill 1.4 km from the main road.
We had some challenges! So many people have said to me since returning home “Amy, this does not sound like a vacation, relaxing or fun”, but honestly it really was.
The first day we were there we walked, a lot, we didn’t really have a choice. We got to know and understand the landscape of the area we were staying. It was a pretty interesting ecosystem, to be in the jungle but also right on the coast of the ocean.
We got a feel for the nearest town, Puerto Viejo, about 3km away and did a grocery shop of what we could carry. Mainly fruit for breakfast, snacks and drinks. The day next we tried to rent a car but realized that no cars were available and the nearest big city was 5 hours away and the likelihood of them bringing a car down for us was slim, so we rented a motor scooter to tool around the coast. I have never been a big fan of motorcycles but I have to tell you that zipping along the Caribbean coast on that thing was quite exhilarating!
On the third day there I remember saying to Patrick “Today was the first day I have woke up and my first thought was NOT, you have a brain tumor”. Hurray for vacations! Honestly we were so busy trying to figure out what to do, how to get money, where to eat, enjoying the walks in the beach that there wasn’t much time for anything else, my brain was adequately occupied.
As we relaxed and enjoyed the sounds of the jungle, namingly the howler monkeys, I began to ponder the concept of creating a life that you do not need a vacation from. This is a common philosophy that is rampant in our culture right now, it’s all over Facebook and Pinterest.
I started to romanticize the concept of moving somewhere else, anywhere but my real home and living a life with no constraints, somewhere that didn’t feel like groundhogs day. Wake up, work, laundry, dishes, bills, grocery shop, take care of animals and other small people, sign permission slips, drive small people around so they can live their best lives, go to sleep and repeat and repeat and repeat…
Being on vacation in a beautiful foreign land allows your mind to travel (pun intended) to this space easily. It’s easy to get carried away into the vacation mindset of no worries, no cares, relaxation (except when you are trying to use Google translate or wondering if you should be wearing a mask in the mist of the Covid19 breakout). Given what I have been dealing with the last few months it’s a no wonder that I want a break from that, a break from the decisions, the worry, the unknown. As my mind wandered and I started to envision a life of constant travel, or maybe a life of being settled somewhere else, I realized that no matter where I go this will eventually follow me, the reality of having to pay bills, make money, carry health insurance, school our children, live with a brain tumor, it will all still be there.
At one point in our lives my husband was very motivated to sail around the world. We talked about homeschooling our kids on the boat, the exciting adventures we would have, the ports we would enter and the sights we would see. But we would have also encountered groundhogs day on the boat, who’s cleaning the bathroom, who is making dinner? I don’t see a way out of the daily life, the daily stressors, obligations, responsibilities. I actually love my daily life, my job, my kids, my partner, but sometimes it’s a lot. Thank goodness for vacations and real escapes if only for a temporary time to allow our mind and body to hit reset and begin again.
In the end I was super happy to have made the plans I did. We had a terrific experience, felt totally immersed in the culture, learned a lot about international travel and most importantly got to spend time together without talking about brain tumors!
We had not made any plans ahead of time but once we arrived and were settled for a few days we decided to partake in the traditional Costa Rican activities such as zip lining and whitewater rafting. I may seem like a very adventurous gal, and I am , but not without mass amounts of fear attached. I am actually petrified of heights. Zip lining was a real reach for me. The site we went to was 260 feet in the air, we were in the canopy of the jungle. It was beautiful, but terrifying. There was another mom there and she got up on the platform, freaked out and decided not to go. I had a lot of reservations, but I kept thinking about brain surgery and how I would have to face my fears surrounding that if I needed to have it done, that I would need to trust the process and that in the end I would hopefully be better off for having had the experience. With that, I let go and rode the zip line, not without a lot of screaming from me and laughing from the spectators.
Our last stop was a 15 hour layover in Mexico City. What I really wanted to do was to go see where the monarch butterflies migrate to in the winter. The mountains were about 2 hours away and then a 1.5 hour horseback ride up to where the butterflies congregate. A week before we left a butterfly activist who ran one of the sanctuaries was killed by the cartel because they want the land for palm oil. So the long of the short of it was that we decided not to go there.
So I randomly chose a location to go sightsee and we hailed an Uber and got dropped off at a beautiful cathedral which happened to be the center of a cultural festival (unbeknownst to us).
Awesome doesn’t begin to explain what we encountered. Amazing architecture, mass amounts of street food,handmade fares, dance demonstrations and my favorite, the prayers to Our Lady of Guadeloupe. We stumbled upon these older woman swatting people with leaves and swinging incense around them and I said to my husband “I don’t know what is happening, but I want in on it”. I sat down in the chair and waited for the magic to happen. An older Mexican woman hit me with leaves over and over while saying prayers, I think I heard the word protection somewhere in there. Then came the neck massage and the crack to my neck, I was not expecting that! All I kept thinking through the whole thing was “please make my brain tumor disappear”. I paid her some pesos and went on my way. We turned the corner and discovered a huge group of people dressed in traditional Aztec garb. Many of them were also performing these prayers and rituals of protection, sooooo I did it again. I mean if it works then it was worth it right? So if my next MRI scan comes back clear I will know it was the blowing of the conch shell in my ear and the prayers to Guadeloupe!
We finally arrived home and life got back to normal quickly. One week later I went for another MRI. This time of my neck, spine and lumbar spine. It was 2 hours in the machine, aka coffin. I had no idea it would be that long, but I managed to get through it by meditating the entire time. Surprisingly I actually put myself to sleep at one point. This scan was looking for drop metastasis, thankfully my results came back and it was clear. I won’t know until June if the witch doctors voodoo worked to make the brain tumor disappear, here’s to hoping.