A Survivor Speaks Out About Her Journey with Breast Cancer

One of our guests who joined us on our latest trek in Peru is a survivor of breast cancer. Here is her powerful story about the impact of this disease on her life and the positive inspiration she draws from traveling.

“When I walked into Macchu Pichu with AdventureWomen on October 8th of this year, it was exactly 8 years to the day that I walked out of my last cancer treatment. While the multi-day Salkantay trail trek to get there was often hard (especially when you are treking over 15,00 feet!) I thought about all that I had gone through with the cancer just to be able to still be here. Every step I struggled to climb represented every doctor’s appointment, mammogram, crying spell, lab visit, MRI, blood draw, surgery, radiation treatment, medical bill, scar, radiation burn and those months of having a fight with myself because the enemy was in my cells and I couldn’t run away from it. In the end I finished the trek the same way I finished cancer treatment; exhausted, but stronger and better than when I started.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 my world turned upside down. Fortunately, I caught the cancer early and with treatment I have been in remission since. There have been some bumps in the road in the past 8 years where the fear of recurrence surfaces. Sometimes I get so caught up in what could be or was, I forget to focus on what is. Gilda Radner said “The goal is to live a full, productive life even with all that ambiguity. No matter what happens, whether the cancer never flares up again or whether you die, the important thing is that the days you have had you will have lived”.  I decided that if I was lucky enough to still be here after so many things could have permanently derailed me, then I should probably get busy actually living however many days I still have left.

Leigh at Machu Picchu

Traveling with AdventureWomen has made me braver. Having gone through cancer and having been fortunate enough to come out on the other side of it made me stronger. But to me being brave and being strong are two different things. Having cancer made me face my own mortality for the first time and made me realize that life was a pretty special thing and that I could be doing so much more with the second chance I was given. To me being brave is a choice. I must consciously decide to go do things that scare me. Getting outside my comfort zone scares me. Traveling to places where I don’t know the culture or language scares me. Pushing myself to go past my own limits of what I think I can do scares me. I had always wanted to do these things these but didn’t want to go alone. When I lucked into finding Adventure Women I was so excited to find like minded women that shared my desire to enrich themselves through travel.

Crossing over a river in Peru

Having the ability to take amazing trips with AdventureWomen that challenge me to push myself makes me better. Each trip I take helps me to be more empowered and confident than I was before I left. And how many vacations can give you that? There is something special in the bonds shared between women. I find it in the sisterhood of other breast cancer survivors. I also find it in the women that I meet on my Adventure Women trips. These women that I choose to surround myself with inspire me. They lift me up. They help me be braver and more competent and just all around a more complete person.

I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone. It is an insidious disease that many people are not fortunate enough to get past. For me it was soul crushing, physically draining and changed who I was as a person. But in the end how I came out on the other side made me better. The journey everyone takes with cancer is different and very personal. But for me it was a catalyst to give me the kick in the behind I needed to live a more authentic life.

View on the way up the Salkantay Pass

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. I was only 39 with no history of any type of cancer in my family and assumed it couldn’t happen to me. My advice to anyone going through this disease is that you aren’t alone. There is a whole community of us out here willing to lend an ear, hold your hand or hug you tight. There are amazing organizations that provide services and guidance. If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, please get checked and listen to your gut if you think something is wrong. Your health is your responsibility. We only get one life and one body to live that life. So, take care of yourself. Be kind to yourself. And go do those things that scare you. For what is the point of living if you don’t truly live?”

“Life is too short to wake up with regrets. So love the people who treat you right. Forget about those who don’t. Believe everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it.”  –Harvey Mackay