Thursday, 3 March 2016

An Uneasy Embarkation

I woke up in a small town in Eastern Australia, crying. This was not the start of a trip-of-a-lifetime I’d expected. The past two days were spent moping around my second cousin and his wife’s house in Narrabri, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. Here, in this charming farmland town, I did a whole lot of not much, other than sleeping, weeping, and trying hard not to bum out my tolerant hosts. It was a mere fortnight ago that my family’s tranquil existence has been irreversibly disrupted, destabilising the vibe around the trip I’d been planning for many months as result.

We were sitting in the kitchen – our familial congregating area, its cramped cosiness and proximity to the fridge much preferred to the larger living room, only ever used for watching TV or entertaining guests - my mum, my sister and me. I was on a long visit, sort of an elaborate pit stop prior to commencing my long-planned trip, but in reality an excuse to spend much needed time in the bosom of my family. I’d been living away for so long, this was a singularly precious opportunity to gain some quality time on the family loyalty-points card.
Sitting in the kitchen, as we were, not unlike any other day, my sister casually mentioned she thought, but wasn’t certain, she may have a something lump-like in her breast, but perhaps it’s nothing. ‘I’m not sure’, she added laconically. My mum and I exchanged glances. ‘How long has it been there?’ we asked. ‘A few months, really’, she tentatively offered, fully recognising the implication of what she was saying, and the overwrought histrionics she may be invoking, ‘but honestly, I couldn’t tell if it’s anything. Here, feel it’. I knew, as soon as my fingers touched that Ping-Pong ball sized solid protuberance, that it was cancer. I’d felt it before, oddly, on my dog, years ago. I knew what it was then, and I knew now. ‘Make an appointment to see a doctor’, I said pointedly, whilst trying to maintain my cool. She seemed taken aback at my unequivocal tone, rather than being placated with a dismissive ‘oh it’s nothing to worry about’. But we all knew there was now no time to lose.
I was due to leave for my trip the following week, but was no longer sure I wanted to, or even could bring myself to. We went to see the doctor together, confirming what we’d already suspected, and set the wheels in motion for the next inevitable steps. Ominous words like ‘chemotherapy’, ‘terminal’ and ‘death’ were constantly going through my mind. I agonised over the decision whether to pack it in and stay put. But mulling it over with the family, they repeatedly pointed out that a. we didn’t know how soon, if at all, any treatments were to start, b. there is nothing any of us can do for the moment and c. I’d spent much time and money organising this trip and ought to at least begin, then if necessary I could always return.

I had just recently completed a postgrad diploma, later in life than is conventional, a feat undoubtedly driven by the dissolution of my marriage. The divorce papers have also just come through, the coinciding events both milestones of some epic. Feeling this was as right a time as any for a Sabbatical, I quit my UK based job, having put some funds aside for my adventure, and became a lady of leisure – for the next year or so, anyway. The plan was to travel around the south east of Australia, using Wwoofing as a great way of seeing as many remote parts as possible. Wwoofing consists of volunteering on sustainable and environmentally aware, mainly smallholders’ farms, sometimes organic or biodynamic, being provided with food and accommodation in exchange for 4-6 labour hours per day. My trip was then to take me around the north and south islands of New Zealand; however, here some work permit restrictions meant Wwoofing was not an option, and so I begrudgingly booked a hop-on-hop-off tour bus, with the intention of stopping off for independent hikes in various places. The final leg was to be around the southern states of the US, mainly by Amtrak train. I felt the tingle of freedom and yearned to consummate it by roaming the world, unshackled by concerns and trivialities of routine life. But now, It seemed, reality has sniggered smack dab in my face. Best laid plans and so on… a new perspective heavily wrapped round my escapade like a thick duvet. Still, I resolved to push on with my plan and put a brave face on. The airport goodbyes were not easy.

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