Monday, September 25, 2006


Vacationing With Cancer

My friend Dawn battles stage four kidney cancer. She fights it every day that she gets up and goes to work. She fights it when she comes home and cooks for her son. She fights it when she insists the doctors give her a second opinion.

She fights her cancer with dignity and determination.

(In the photo at left, we see Dawn with a hat made from a cloth napkin.)

Some time ago, Jane and I laid plans to travel up to Canada in July. A nice vacation to get away from the heat of what we thought might be an unusually hot summer. Our children wanted to visit Chicago on the way; I have never seen Niagra Falls. But when we learned of Dawn's diagnosis, we reconsidered.

Dawn had never been to the Carribean; never been in waters so clear you can see fifty feet; never had a vacation that didn't require at least a few chores each day; never been snorkling; and never had done many things we thought she would enjoy. So Jane and I invited her and her son to accompany us to a beach resort in Mexico, south of Cancun. At the resort, literally everything would be done for her and provided for her; all meals were included, full maid service, room service, entertainment, beach activities, etc., etc.

She could hardly contain her excitement.

Though I worried about whether her health would hold, it gave Jane and me a lot of satisfaction. As Jane said, this trip gave Dawn something else to live for.

We cancelled our Canadian reservations and made arrangements to travel to Playa del Carmen.

When our closest friends learned of our plans, they wanted to come, too. One of our friends stepped up and paid a share of the cost of taking Dawn and her son.

Nine of us flew to Cancun at the end of July. Our flights went well. Dawn, in a wheelchair, moved our party to the head of various lines. We received extra help from the airlines and at the airports. We got a chuckle out of the helpers in the Cancun airport who assumed that Dawn and our single gay friend were married.

Funny how things work out. Dawn gets comfort and relief from an herbal tea she brews at home. Since the rooms at the resort lacked any kind of cooking facility but did have mini-fridges, she brewed up some in advance. The tea, packed in a cloth cooler and surrounded by frozen water bottles, survived as a carry-on quite well. Of course, only a week after our return home all carry-on liquids were banished.

We went to the beach or the swimming pool or both every day. The weather remained perfect for us all week long, never raining and never getting as hot as it was back home. The ocean waves helped with Dawn's arthritis, and she was getting around better when we left than when we arrived.

We went to the ruins and the world-class beach at Tulum; we toured the fabulous eco-park at Xcaret; in short, we had a wonderful vacation.

What does it mean, to vacation with cancer? What is it like, to think the time left might be only months and not years? Of course, what cancer brings with it is immediate awareness of mortality. But are we not all mortal? Do we not all choose how to ration our days? Dawn's example teaches us to make these choices carefully; to spend time with friends and loved ones; to do that which matters and forsake that which doesn't.

Her example teaches us to rely on God for sustaining strength.

Dawn gets around with a walker now, and continues to fight for her life. She works every day, and does what she can for charity and to help others. She also continues to plan for the future; she knows who she wants to conduct her funeral services.

In her quiet, determined way, Dawn shows us how to be worthy.

Hi, Mike.
I'm praying for Dawn and you!
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