Extra Years Together Meant We Aged Out of a Free Vacation for Families Affected by Cancer

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Extra years with my family meant missing out on a free trip granted to patients with cancer who have children under the age of 18 — and I’m OK with that.

Some years ago, back when my kids were younger, I put in an application to a nonprofit organization that awards trips to parents with breast cancer whose kids are under 18.

There are never enough of these opportunities, which recognize the need for family time and the enormous cost families shoulder in their efforts to spend time together and build memories. This is especially true when the cancer is stage 4, which starts off with bad news and remains difficult to live with in a multitude of ways.

It was not a small decision to submit that application. It meant writing about my family and my diagnosis to make myself stand out. It meant revealing what life is really like when you live with a cancer that is likely to kill you before your kids have started on their own paths, with no idea who would be reading it and what might happen.

I haven’t applied for many such adventures. I have been on one wonderful weekend in Utah — with no family — through Image Reborn, a nonprofit that offers getaways for patients with breast cancer, and I apply annually to a river trip for which I am never selected but I plan to keep right on applying.

I no longer remember what I was hoping for when I returned that form, except that it had to do with traveling somewhere with my husband and three kids and not worrying about money. Everything would be arranged for us. It sounded heavenly for a mom in the midst of cancer treatment while parenting three teenagers.

I no longer remember what I was hoping for, because by the time my turn for the travel award arrived, I didn’t have a child under 18. My youngest had turned 19. I told them right away that I didn’t fit their specifications anymore.

Was I disappointed? You bet.

Yet in the very moment I realized I couldn’t accept the award, I thought about why I had to turn it down: instead of the all-expenses-paid trip for five that I had been hoping for, I got more than seven years with my family.

When I was diagnosed, the prognosis for metastatic breast cancer was 36 months, and I am currently at 93 months. I am not the norm, even for people with a good response to HER2-positive therapies; the average for someone like me hovers around five years survival. In other words, better but not enough.

I am not responsible for my extra months, but I am grateful to have them as the reason for turning down the offer of a trip.

With years between application and award, I imagine the generous people behind the gift have reached out to a grantee only to find he or she has since died of cancer. That’s a lot to carry, and a reminder that many people who try to improve the lives of others living with cancer regularly put themselves into a world they could avoid.

So, no trip for me. Any extravagant vacation with my kids will need to be self-funded, which is unlikely while two are in college.

That is OK! I like to think that all of us living with cancer would choose unexpected years with our kids (or any loved one) over a one-time trip.

Plus, there’s always that river trip for adults only. It’ll happen someday, right?

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