Landing in Another Country


The author uses a well-known story about landing in another country to explain cancer journeys.

I recently was decluttering, and came across an article I would ask my students every semester to read when I was a teacher. The title is “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley. This author is well known for her advocacy for people with disabilities, has received several Emmy awards, and is a writer for Sesame Street.

She compares raising a child like her son, who has special needs, to planning a vacation. The parents are excited about going to Italy and visiting the Coliseum, riding the gondolas, seeing Michelangelo’s art and all the other popular tourist spots.

They pack their bags, climb on the plane, and land in Holland. Their dream of going to Italy is shattered, but they are free to stay here. They are not in a filthy, terrible place, but a very different one than they envisioned.

Now they have to get new guide books, learn a new language and meet a whole new group of people. However, Holland has tulips, windmills and even Rembrandt.

Other parents may brag about Italy and that dream is forever gone for the parents, who landed unexpectedly in another country. She encourages the parents instead of wasting their lives mourning, to enjoy Holland.

Cancer is like a trip to Holland. Not one of us has ever chosen this role. We never dreamed we would grow older, and despite all the awful surgeries and treatments that cancer has demanded, be so thankful to be alive. We find other survivors, speak a whole new medical language and are introduced to the best caregivers in the world including oncologists, nurses, and staff.

Do we want to go to Italy? Of course, we do. But we no longer can climb on that plane. We can stay in Holland and mourn forever, or move on to other opportunities in our lives. To quote the author, “If you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things... about Holland."

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