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Cancer Survivor's Vacation Time: Do It While You Can


Time is limited and the time for experiences with loved ones is today, writes breast cancer survivor Barbara Tako.

I am fortunate to be done with active cancer treatment, for now. As I look at my family and enjoy summer activities and trips, I have to admit, yet again, that I am a slow learner. The older I get, and especially since breast cancer and melanoma, the faster time slips away. I want to live my priorities rather than getting pulled down by my stuff. I try to focus on vacation or travel— see new places, have new experiences and make memories rather than acquiring and maintaining stuff.

Our family still gets bogged down with other “stuff.” Past travel plans got pushed back again and again—stuck back behind a furniture purchase or a home improvement project, or a desire to save money for college or retirement. Back, back, back, until “later” or “next year” doesn’t happen. Now I am consciously aware of this danger.

I have learned that vacations float within a very short window of opportunity. I want to travel with my kids when they are old enough to get around and be fairly self-sufficient. The older they get, the more they enjoy the same stuff that Mom and Dad enjoy. I also want to travel with them before they are too busy with jobs and activities and while they are still young enough to enjoy my company, and while I am still around.

I also like to travel as an adult with my husband and our friends. American workers have some of the smallest amount of available vacation days in the world. We work. We work. And, we work. If we take a one-week vacation, we then have a very small seven-day window of opportunity to untie the knots in ourselves that we have spent months creating. Simplify! Take that vacation now!

As a survivor, I ask myself what I would regret if I or someone in my family were to die suddenly. Especially as a two-time cancer survivor, one of my regrets would be not having traveled and vacationed more. I wouldn’t be wishing for furniture or clothes.

There are always tradeoffs. Would you wish you had foregone the 50-inch high definition television for an adventure? Since I can’t take my stuff with me when my number is called, the priority boils down to relationships and life experiences, which include seeing the sights this world has and sharing those experiences with friends and family while I am here to do it.

I am a great one for getting stuck in a rut and bogged down in routine. Travel is sometimes a much-needed break from the routine. Visiting new places and trying new activities is an opportunity to learn and to think outside the box.

It is sad to think that sometimes people move or switch jobs or change marital partners when all they really may have needed was a vacation—a break and a refreshed perspective on life. Some of the self-help books out there specifically advise people take a vacation before making a major life change. Think about that!

I like the anticipation of travel plans, too. My family, including me, was simply excited about a long weekend trip to Duluth, Minnesota. It wasn’t a Caribbean cruise or a European adventure, but we were enthusiastic. During our trip we got to try on some new hats. We considered what we liked and didn’t like as we explored. We tried food and activities we don’t try when we are at home. We laughed more. Finally, we played.

Every trip has an end. It was good to come back home a few days later. It was sad that our little trip was over, but it it was nice that we all looked forward to coming home. Today I am not taking our budding trees, gold finches and nearby picturesque lake for granted. Travel showed us options, yet it also deepened our appreciation for what we already had—things we were quick to take for granted when engaged in the daily grind.

Consider what your priorities are and what the windows of opportunity for them are. I probably wouldn’t take my kids to Disney World now that they are older. They are grown and busy with their own lives. And, as a two-time survivor, it probably won’t be realistic for me to wait until I am eighty to rent a bike in San Francisco or go ocean scuba diving.

My window of opportunity is today. Am I going to think about it and talk about it, or am I going to do it? When are you going to take that vacation? Some memories are better made sooner rather than later. What trips or adventures are on your bucket list?

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