“Laura are you sure that you trust your body to go on holiday?” asked Cyril.
“Yes!” exclaimed Laura.
“But what if we need the Royal Marsden?” replied Cyril.
Laura went quiet. Cyril’s words sent a shiver down her spine and left her questioning her decision. It also left her questioning her body, only after recently having started to slowly trust it again.
Cyril and I had many of these conversations in the lead up to the holiday that I booked with my siblings. We had booked a short break in Italy for April 2017. We timed it so that it fit with my treatment and chose a place that would be warm (not hot), easy to get to and close to the sights so I could easily rest at the hotel if I needed. We had considered everything but Cyril tried his utmost to convince me that I couldn’t go away. And at times he very nearly won. However, I couldn’t give into him; I couldn’t let him win because I knew that would have made me feel worse.
I spent a lot of time talking about the holiday with my counsellor to help me feel as confident as I could about being away from home and far from hospital for the first time since I was diagnosed. Talking about it helped me to make sure I had a ‘toolkit’ packed with me. This included: my colouring pencils and mindfulness colouring book, my reading book, headphones, enough diazepam (15 tablets) should I need it and many more clothes than I could have ever needed but in case my hot flushes and sweats were particularly bad. My brother and sister did all of the planning for this trip, which really helped me because it meant that all I had to focus on was mentally preparing myself. They did an incredible job and thought of everything. For example, they chose a hotel which had an outdoor pool and an indoor spa so that I had the option to relax during the day if I needed it because I get tired out quite quickly.
I had great support and reassurance from my medical team about going away; they all assured me that it was fine to go away while on Avastin and gave helpful advice about things like travel insurance, which becomes much more of a bother once you tell the insurance companies you’ve had cancer, that it spread and that you’re still on treatment. There are some companies that deal specifically with people with health conditions and especially cancer so it was good to have done our research beforehand. My team took time with to ensure that I felt as confident as I could, reassuring me but also reminding me that if I had any problems all I had to do was call… Initially it was like I had forgotten that being abroad did not affect my ability to contact the hospital.
For me, my main fear was that something bad would happen with regards to my health when I was away and it was that thought which would leave me feeling panicked. I was so desperate for this trip to go perfectly to prove to myself that I could do it; I think at times I got so caught up with this that I lost sight of the fact that we are all taking a leap of faith when we go on holiday. We can never be sure that it will go completely to plan and I had to try to remember that, otherwise I knew that Cyril and I would be having far too many conversations in my head while I was away. Reminding myself of this made me think more logically and remember my experiences of holidays when not everything has gone to plan. For example, I thought back to all the times I would get colds from air conditioning so I reminded myself that if that happened I couldn’t immediately blame it on Cyril.
I was nervous and excited in the lead up to going away. It was a very strange experience being in an airport around so many people. When our plane touched down in Naples, I initially felt elated but that was quickly followed by Cyril starting a conversation with me:
“You know Laura there’s no Royal Marsden here.” Cyril said.
“I’m well aware and I’m going to be fine” I replied.
And honestly I was. I’d be lying if I said it was always easy but from the moment I stepped off the plane, everything seemed to go to how I wanted. I felt able to enjoy everything we did. I’ve become quite good at knowing my limits and when I need to stop so I never got overtired or rundown. I didn’t want to risk that happening because there were too many things do and enjoy (ice-cream mainly).
My brother had done a great thing and booked some things from London which helped me have a plan in mind for what the days would be like and when I would need to be up early. He had booked a brilliant cookery class with Chef Carmen Mazzola at ‘La Cucina del Gusto cooking school’ (I’ve put the link at the bottom of this page). If you are ever in Sorrento, I would really recommend this experience. Carmen is wonderful and knows so much about Italian cooking. Thanks to her I can now make tasty gnocchi and pizza. I also know the best way to store mozzarella cheese and the best way to make fresh pasta sauce. I won’t tell you though; I’ll leave that to Carmen when you visit her!
In previous blogs, I have written about the changes that I have made to my diet since cancer. This is a huge thing for me because throughout my treatment so far, I have seen the benefits of these changes. For me it’s also a little about control, I like that I can be in charge of what I put in my body and make sure it gets all the things it needs to stay healthy. This was especially important during chemotherapy but is also something I have continued with since. I feel so much better for it but I know that one of the challenges for me is learning to not always be as strict with myself about it and that it’s ok to be flexible with my diet guidelines. Going to Italy was therefore quite a test for me. I was out of my usual environment and so it meant that I had to practice being less regimented. And I did it REALLY well! I even went as far as to swap my daily bananas for banana ice cream, which I mostly ordered as two scoops in a cone …. And sometimes twice a day! I’m fairly sure that I went into an ice cream induced coma on our last night! Also, I didn’t find myself entering into my usual daily conversation with Cyril about how much I’ve eaten. The conversation usually goes like this:
“Laura, are you sure you have eaten enough?” asked Cyril.
“I think so,” replied Laura
“Hmmmmm, I’m just wondering if you haven’t actually eaten enough but instead you’ve got full too quickly. Like you did just before I was diagnosed….?” answered Cyril.
Cyril and I often enter into this illogical battle about how much I’ve eaten and whether I have eaten enough. It comes from an ovarian cancer symptom that I battled with in the weeks leading up to diagnosis, feeling full too quickly. This is like a little niggle that is always in the back of my mind and it can sometimes lead to a lot of anxiety. I think this sort of thing is really normal and I try to remind myself that it takes time for things to adjust back to a version of ‘normal’ (whatever that is). One of the best things that I took away from my holiday though, was noticing when I might be over thinking my food and fullness worries. This is something that I am really trying to improve on since coming home.
I mentioned earlier that I took 15 Diazepam with me because I can have up to three a day. How many did I take you ask? The answer is NONE! You see I had a few different medicines. I walked from the centre of Sorrento right up to our hotel on a hilltop, I dipped my feet in the sea, I treated myself to foods that I would have not normally eaten and had an afternoon nap on the beach in Positano. This type of medicine was amazing…I can’t wait for my next dose!
When we landed back in London, Cyril and I had one more conversation:
“Cyril, I did it. You didn’t stop me,” I said.
Cyril remained silent, avoiding eye contact with Laura.
“So you do realise that I’ll now be going away on more adventures Cyril,” continued Laura.
Cyril got up and started to slowly walk away.
I am really so proud of myself that I didn’t let Cyril win and stop me from taking the plunge to go on holiday. With the help of my siblings and my medical team I put him in his place and got on with my 1,310.2 mile journey and had the best time ever! I thought I would put down a few of the main things from my experience that helped me. I will be reminding myself of these ahead of my next holiday
Five of my top tips for going away for the first time after cancer
- Pack some snacks for the journey out and any delays – I took lots of nuts and dried fruit because I know this fills me up. It also meant that I had something to keep with me in my bag on day trips. I actually ended up eating very few of them (see above) but it was helpful to know I had them, especially on the journey out there.
- Take extra clothes – going though the menopause means that my body temperature changes constantly during the day so the extra clothes, and especially the layers were crucial!
- Find a hotel that is nearby to some of the paces you want to visit – Although I didn’t need to as much as I thought, it was great having the option of heading back to the hotel for a rest or relaxing for a few hours before dinner.
- Feel confident to be able to say when you can’t do something or you do need a rest – My siblings were great about this and always checking in with me if I wanted to do something (like climb a giant hill… although I think my brother kept checking with me because he was the one who didn’t want to!) But I also had to be responsible for myself and say when I needed to stop or not do something.
- If you want to do something, DO IT! This is the most important one. It seemed to happen naturally because I was so excited to be away, so found myself taking advantage of everything… If I wanted two ice creams in one day, I had them. If I wanted two starters, I ordered them and if I was unsure about whether I needed to buy that extra art print, I just brought it! And I’m so very pleased I did.
Link to Chef Carmen’s cooking school: https://chefcarmensorrento.com/mobile/