2016 Trip to Iowa
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve written, “I’m hoping to get back to blogging.” Well, here I go again. I’m just going to start writing and see what happens. No promises.
I recently took my first trip alone since my bout with cancer. I finally felt confident that my brain dysfunctions from cancer/chemo had improved enough so that I could manage on my own and I headed to Iowa for a family reunion. Here’s how my first day played out on Facebook:
8:30 am: Yes I can
2:30 pm: Well I’ve already weirdly hurt my leg by simply standing up to get off a plane. Something popped mid calf. Hope the breakfast I just ordered for lunch turns my frown upside down!
8:30 pm: You have no idea how much it means to me today to have this right outside my door. Hot tea any time of day or night. And I found the perfect mug for my tea.
9:32 pm: Yes, I can. With limits. … I have wondered over the past 2 years if I have become guilty of using chemo brain as an excuse, or if I have become lazy, or if I over protect myself. While I may be guilty of any of those on a given day, I think today has answered the question for me. I have improved so much and manage in my comfortable little habitat pretty well these days. But take me out of that familiar routine and subject me to a variety of situations that I have to navigate and throw in a minor injury (which made feel fragile) – well, let’s just say that I nearly blubbered all over the car rental guy, have had several headaches, and found myself hugging a complete stranger as she opened the door and welcomed me into the B&B. So grateful to have this lovely, quiet space to give my brain a rest. And for the lessons I am learning.
And this: I can’t even tell you how many times I apologized to the car rental guy for not being able to choose a car, for changing my mind about the car he gave me, for not being able to figure out something so simple about the car, for asking him to help me with my bags because I hurt my leg, for him getting wet because he had to go outside with me and it started raining. Poor Kenny!!!
It wasn’t my best day.
But it sure wasn’t my worst.
Yes, I Could. And Yes, I Did. Even though it didn’t go off without a hitch. Even though I sat in my rental car and had a moment that included an ugly cry face while it was pouring down rain.
I said I was learning lessons in that Facebook post. I added that line to convince myself that something positive was happening. And there are a few lessons I hope to remember the next time I try traveling solo with chemo brain.
Make as many decisions ahead of time as possible.
Thank goodness I did this – even the kind of car I preferred. Yeah … that didn’t work out. I couldn’t get gate information for my plane change, but I already knew where I could eat lunch close to the Des Moines airport and even where I could get a Starbucks chai latte if I felt the need before heading off on my 90 minute drive to Ottumwa. Yay Me! Do this. Always.
Ask for help. Tell people exactly what you need and why you need it.
I wish I had been more clear with the car rental guy as soon as he told me they didn’t have the car I had preselected. I don’t know cars, so when he started flinging makes and models at me it was like a foreign language. It would have been better to say, “I’m dealing with chemo brain, I’ve hurt my leg, and I’m feeling overwhelmed. I need something small and simple. Four doors. I need to be able to see out of the back window.”
Give yourself time.
Things feel so rushed in an airport. Verbal directions don’t stick in my brain these days. If something doesn’t look familiar, I may not know how to use it at first glance. Sometimes I forget where something is that I need. Often the problem is that my brain simply processes some kinds of information more slowly than it used to. This causes me to panic. So take a minute to breathe and take that extra few seconds for your brain to process.
If something doesn’t work for you, make a change.
The GPS with the rental car died before I got to my destination, so I had to go the the rental company the next day to replace it. I wasn’t pleased with the two-door hatchback I drove away from the airport, so my husband told me to ask if I could exchange it. I did, and got a car I felt comfortable with.
Plan for what gives you peace and comfort and time to replenish.
I didn’t have many options for lodging. I don’t usually think about staying at a B&B, but a little angel must have whispered the idea in my ear. Oh my gosh! This saved my sanity! What a relief after my stressful day of travel. What a joy to go down stairs to this every morning!
This place was perfection for me. Having a quiet place to retreat to and rest was essential. Also a place that was clean and where I felt very safe. And access to things that comfort me – like hot tea, wifi, and television. A grocery store nearby where I could get chocolate in an emergency. I’m pretty sure I would have been a wreck by the end of my trip if I had stayed somewhere else. And it was cheaper than the cheap hotels!
You may not always find such a perfect haven, but look anyway. If you can’t find the perfect setting, do the best you can and then provide yourself with what will help you feel comfortable. It’s ok to spend a few bucks to have hot tea all day if that’s what you need.
And separate yourself from the crowd if you need to. Go back to your room. Go for a drive by yourself. Find a quiet place to sit.
Accept your emotions.
If you need a cleansing cry, go for it. If you feel that wave of panic, accept it, breathe, think for a moment about what is making you anxious and what might help. If that means finding a friendly face and saying out loud that you are falling apart, do it. Embarrassment be damned.
Acknowledge how well you have done so far. Remind yourself that you will handle it – whatever the next “it” is.
Hurting my leg before even getting off my first plane really started to throw me for a loop. After that, each step of the way I had to tell myself, “you did ____, now you can do the next thing.”
Keep it simple.
Once I started planning my trip, I kept adding more days and more people to see and more things to do. I started to feel anxious. Bless my dear friend who set me straight and told me to keep it short and simple.
If you don’t want to, then don’t.
Don’t pack so much stuff!
I’m pretty sure one of the reasons I hurt my leg as I stood up to get off the plane is because I was also swinging my too-heavy backpack onto my shoulder as I stood. I am always guilty of over packing and I made things harder on myself because of it. On my return trip, my checked bag was heavier, but my backpack was lighter and easier on my body.
Use your support group.
Daily (or more) phone calls to my husband, as well as texts, helped keep me grounded. And my fabulous Facebook friends encouraged me throughout the day.
Accept yourself as you are today. Trust your self-knowledge and your instinct. It’s okay to protect yourself while also taking on a challenge.