The old man and the kayak

As I love to be on the water, I jumped at the chance to go kayaking curtesy of K’s dad, who owns a kayak. I thought it was just going to be Younes and I on his kayak. But when we got to the lake (a different one from the previous day’s swim; Poznan has many lakes), K’s dad hauled out his kayak and rented a second. He had K’s wife go along with him and Younes and I went into the second.

Now, despite living on water, I haven’t had many opportunities to kayak, as we don’t own one and rental is expensive. Younes is even less experienced than I, only having kayaked once before. By the time we had figured out our rhythm, K’s dad and wife were a third of the way across the expansive lake. They let us catch up around the middle of the lake and then took off again, leaving us in their wake. When we arrived at the small beach across the lake, K’s dad was standing on the pier with a wide smirk on his face. K’s wife later told us that he enjoyed kicking the butts of the young ones.

I dipped in the lake to cool off and we had a quick snack before we headed out again. Younes and I geared up for another round of having our asses handed  to us and K’s dad certainly did not disappoint. Once again, he was halfway across the lake before we could get into a rhythm. And once again, he was quite gleeful about being so far ahead of us. The man definitely has a competitive streak.

In the end though, our somewhat dismal performance at kayaking could not put a damper on a beautiful day on a beautiful lake, with great company and a chance to kayak off some excessive energy and return home that night sun-soaked, tired and happy.

(These pictures were taken by K’s wife.

kayak close

kayak distance

kayak or paddleboard

kayak thumbs up

kayak way back

The old man and the kayak

Four friends, four continents

I was in Poznan, Poland for the first time in December 2011. I recall it as one of the happiest times of my life. My relationship with Younes was new and we spent many hours together getting to know each other and falling in love. Braving the snow and cold, we would leave his friend K’s house and make our way to the city centre. There, we would sit for hours in a cozy bar, drinking hot honey beer (a Polish specialty) and looking out on the glittering lights of the Christmas market and the well-preserved old buildings. Then we would go back to Krystian’s house, drink red wine, and talk about all different subjects of religion, politics, culture and everything in between.

Fast-forward three and a half years. Younes and I are married and just as in love as that first trip. Younes’ friend K is also married, to a lovely woman. Younes and I are very happy for him and for them. K’s marriage is also an international one (which is why I am not mentioning them by name on the blog; discretion is needed because of cultural norms). But it is always wonderful to see friends happy and it is even more so to see another international marriage thriving.

I don’t know if it was K or his wife, but at some point, someone pointed that we are four people from four different continents!

I was lucky that K, like me, is an avid swimmer. We headed to a local lake in early evening, the sun bouncing off the trees. Families were packing up and getting ready to leave after a day of fun, but there were still a few children running onto the pier and jumping in the water. Joined by a friend of K, we frolicked in the lake and K and I swam to the other side and back.

Off to the house of K’s parents we went, to enjoy bread, Polish cheese and meats and good company. Even though much translation was needed, we had a fabulous time and headed back home for Younes’ and my first good night sleep since we left the US.My new swimming hole

My new swimming hole

swan poznan

Polish swan

peaceful lake

Beautiful and peaceful

red poznan

Beautiful shadows

dusk poznan

Dusk falls on our first day

after swim

Happy after a swim across the lake

Red sunset

beautiful shadows

Four friends, four continents

We need to talk about Metastatic Breast Cancer

While this is first and foremost a travel blog, I need to talk about breast cancer today. Specifically metastatic, or Stage IV, breast cancer.

When I was diagnosed nearly two years ago, I knew a little about metastatic breast cancer. I knew that it was breast cancer that had spread to the bones or vital organs. I knew that it killed. But I also assumed that those who had metastatic breast cancer (or mets, as it’s called) were diagnosed with it from the beginning. I breathed a sigh of relief when my full body scans came back showing no sign of mets and figured that all I had ahead of me was a tough year and then I’d be done with this cancer thing – forever. Of my family and friends who had fought cancer, none of them had ever had to face it more than once.

As I delved deeper into my research as to the beast I was facing, I kept reading about “metastatic recurrence.” There, I learned that even after aggressive treatment, breast cancer cells could still resurface in the bones and organs. I learned that this could happen 5, 10, 15, even 25 or 30 years after initial treatment. I learned that being initially diagnosed at Stage I or with clear lymph nodes did not guarantee a life free from mets – cancer cells could still slip by through the bloodstream. And I learned that those diagnosed with mets at first diagnosis are actually in the minority. 10% of mets patients were diagnosed from the start. 90% were diagnosed through a recurrence. And since metastatic breast cancer is what kills, that meant that 90% of those who die of breast cancer once stood where I stand – diagnosed early stage.

I also learned that despite catchphrases like “for the cure,” a paltry amount of money is put towards research, compared to what is put towards awareness. (I realize that it’s still much more research funding than other types of cancers get.) That infuriates a lot of people, myself included, because research is how we will a) learn how to prevent breast cancer from happening in the first place, b) learn how to prevent it from spreading and c) find treatments that will prolong and hopefully save women’s lives.

I am alive and healthy nearly two years after my initial diagnosis. I do not owe that to awareness. I do not owe that to giant bra sculptures and pink coffee cups. I owe that to chemotherapy, targeted therapy, surgery, radiation and hormone therapy. All developed through research.

Still, it is extremely frightening to not know whether I will remain healthy and cancer-free. A headache, a back ache, a stomach ache can all send me into panic mode as I imagine the cancer spreading through my body. The possibility of dying young from this disease casts a dark shadow on everything in my life. As Younes and I talk about building our family, I worry about leaving future children motherless. Younes is currently pursuing a career in trucking, even though he’d much rather work in a different field, because it has great benefits and he doesn’t want me to have to carry the burden of maintaining health insurance. Every birthday, every holiday, every vacation, I wonder if I will be healthy enough to enjoy the next – or if I will even still be here.

The only thing worse than fearing mets is living with mets.

Through FB groups, message boards and blogs, I have come into contact with some amazing women who are living with mets. Some are doing well – and they live in a constant state of limbo, caught in the gray area between chronic and terminal. Some are not doing well – and they live with the pain, fatigue and other complications of the both the cancer and the never-ending treatment. Some have already been lost to this disease.

Why do I bring this up today? Unless you have been living in a cave, you know this is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Today specifically, October 13th, is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. It’s a day to educate about MBC and to push for funding for MBC. It’s also a day that has been hijacked by a super sensitive, well-thought out campaign (sarcasm dripping here) called No Bra Day. I didn’t know “facilitating masturbation” counted as a good cause. I’m pretty Zen about the whole losing a breast thing – hey I’m alive, right? – and even I get twinges of envy seeing stuff like that. It’s the exact opposite of supportive, in more ways than one.

So, if you want to support those affected by breast cancer today, keep your bra on and donate to research. My two favorite organizations are The Breast Cancer Research Foundation and Metavivor.

A few more links:

Three minutes. No speaking. So much education.

Voices of MBC

Another great resource

We need to talk about Metastatic Breast Cancer

Sleeping in parks and other hobo behavior

Ahhhh, cramped transatlantic flights. How I have missed you. No, not really. Thank heavens for free booze. Is the fact that these flights are much more uncomfortable than they used to be a sign that I’m…getting old? Nah, it’s probably because I just finished a year and a half of treatments. Gonna swipe my cancer card here.

Dusseldorf Airport was a shining beacon of cramped benches and fast-food joints, both after the long flight and also after the long time away from traveling for me. In fact, Dusseldorf was my last taste of life abroad the last time I was out of the country back in 2012. I slept on a hard airport bench the night before my flight and went through passport control with pangs of sadness stabbing at me. I already missed the joy of the open road, the people I had come to know, and of course, my new boyfriend. As much as I was looking forward to seeing my family, having a bit more bathroom privacy, and thoroughly washing my grimy clothes that left swirling black clouds in the washwater, if I had the funds to travels for another six months, I would’ve jumped at it in a heartbeat.

Money and job issues kept me from traveling for the next year and a half, and this pesky little cancer thing kept me from traveling after that. In fact, during the darkest days, I wondered if I would ever make it overseas again.

Returning from that tangent, I wish I could tell you enthralling stories of Dusseldorf. Alas, Dusseldorf is a blob in the middle of Germany. Nothing to see here.

One thing I will give Dusseldolf is it’s aubudence of public green spaces. We walked along the promenade on the Rhine, beautiful old building beckoning in the background. But as lovely as it was, I was more focused on taking my exhausted self to one of the many city parks – where we could sprawl out on the grass and sleep off our uncomfortable plane journey, passing off as lazy summer park goers.

I will write more about my love of city parks and how they reflect the local culture in upcoming posts, but Nord Park served its purpose of letting us have a nice nap, although we did not have a chance to drink in the local culture (aside from a friendly dog coming up to greet us!)

After a sound sleep, we woke up, ate some Turkish kebab and started our journey to Poland.

Younes snapped this pic from the plane on our descent into Dusseldorf
Younes snapped this pic from the plane on our descent into Dusseldorf

along the rhine

Along the Rhine

clock church


sleepy traveler

Sleepy traveler

y dusseldorf

Marginally more awake

nap place

Nap time!

Sleeping in parks and other hobo behavior