This road of life

A few days after we got the van back from Buenos Aires, our family was hit with some very bad news. A cancer that my mother fought ten years ago had metastasized, and she would have to undergo intensive treatment immediately. My mom and I are really close, and she is definitely the pillar of our family, so the news hit us all very hard. Still, I didn’t really understand the gravity of the situation until she said that she wanted us to move our wedding date forward. Who wants to think about wedding planning when one of your VIPs is battling cancer? Not me. I had to lay down some very strict mental parameters to get through the past few weeks.

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Toughness requires lots of calories.

Fortunately, my whole family went into combat-mode, gathering information and preparing to help her—and each other—through this. My younger brother and his wife already live in the same house as our parents—a house that our folks occupied only part-time until this happened. Now there are six of us living under one roof with our two dogs, with our older brother and his wife also live just a short distance away. As difficult as this time has been, it has turned out to be a fortunate sequence of events in a lot of ways. My parents were still in the process of moving here to be near us; Juan and I returned from our trip a few weeks early, and now we can all do this together, with as much support as possible. My heart goes out to anyone going through this alone. It’s not easy.

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My wonderful family in Quintana Roo

For a few weeks, I was incredibly stressed out and my body showed it. I felt short of breath, exhausted, headachy, and I developed sores in my mouth. It was overwhelming to go from just being me, Juan, and Milo bumbling around in the van to shouldering the entire emotional weight of my family and their daily lives and expectations. My mother—a physician who has dealt with death and dying her entire life—has been completely stoic about the whole thing, and told us all in plain terms that she is at peace with her life and the idea of her death, revelations that were meant to be comforting to us, but which had the effect of making me feel completely insane with the inability to come to equal peace with my own anticipated grief. Fortunately, I had already put some normal-life measures into place before this all happened, meaning that I had signed up for a class and picked up a part-time job to try and get back into the pace of things around here or I probably would have really driven myself crazy with anxiety.

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Anxious like Milo watching a tarantula approach

Sometimes when I get really stressed out, I find myself thinking about South America, and wishing we were back in a time and place where we had few grave concerns beyond the confines of the van. Somehow, nothing ever seemed very serious when we were traveling. Life was so simple: What shall we do? What will we eat? Where should we sleep? Sure, we had some rough times, but no matter how hot or buggy or noisy or otherwise unpleasant something was, we always managed by reminding ourselves that everything was temporary. In a matter of miles or minutes, we could pass through a bad period and suddenly find something incredible and beautiful.

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Lunchtime after a tedious drive in Patagonia

In the end, that same mental toughness I employed while traveling has been critically important to me in order to stay present and grateful. As overwhelming as it may seem at times, I am so happy to be here. We met overlanders during our trip who had loved ones pass away or fall ill while they were away, and it was always a fear that I carried in the back of my mind. I would much rather be here and dealing with these hard things in person, than be thousands of miles away, worrying to no effect. Supporting my mother through chemo has been a very difficult experience, but I am grateful to be here for her and for the rest of my family. Some days are good, some days are bad, and we are just doing our best to soldier through the bad days, knowing there will be better ones ahead.

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And so life continues with shed-building…

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…and gardening…

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…tons of summer birthdays…

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…and beautiful sunny hikes.

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Van en Van gets married

And this! Yesterday Juan and I married at San Francisco’s City Hall with my parents as our witnesses. It was a great day. And—no surprises here—Milo looks great in a bow tie!

15 comments for “This road of life

  1. August 29, 2014 at 8:27 am

    We are so sorry to hear about the hardships facing your family. I hope you find love and light in this difficult time. Congrats on your marriage! Richie and I eloped at SF city hall too. Be Well! <3

  2. Diana Lem Chung
    August 29, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    Congratulations to you and Juan! We’ll have to take you out to a celebratory dinner when we visit in October.

    Your mom has always meant so much to us. She has been my role model in almost every aspect of my life. I tell everyone she is a superwoman. I know that she will fight through this and having everyone she loves the most so near is a godsend. Fingers crossed! Simon and I are here for you all too, 24/7. Hugs!

  3. cecilia noguer (casada con Daniel, Bocha, Calvo calvo
    August 29, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    Felicitaciones chicos !!!! Me da pena lo que pude entender que le pasa a tu mamá , te mandamos un abrazo grande !!! Siempre recordamos los días que compartimos aquí en Roca. Felicitaciones otra vez !!! Un beso grande !!!!

  4. Amanda
    August 29, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    How wonderful about you and Juan, congrats!! Marc and I married there 8/26/2010… it was SUCH a lovely and low key but beautiful experience, surrounded by 6 family members and all their love. Glad to read your experience was similar- I’m sorry to hear about the medical challenges your family is facing but please know that reading about your journey from the onset has made me realize that you most likey had a strong and amazing female in your life to model that grace after. Know that you and yours are in my thoughts. Hope to see you soon, bella. Felicidades y abrazos de apoyo. xoxo

    • September 2, 2014 at 10:27 am

      Thanks Amanda for those beautiful sentiments! big hugs

  5. Jon
    August 29, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    Steph – so sorry to hear about your mother…cancer sucks but it’s so wonderful that you and the entire clan are there to support her.

    On the flip side – Congrats on your wedding! Welcome to the married life :). It’s a grand journey. Take care, hope to reconnect down the road.

    Jon

  6. meejin
    August 29, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    Love to your family new and old

  7. Ricky
    August 29, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    Sending you all my love and support. And congratulations. <3

  8. Sergio
    August 29, 2014 at 11:06 pm

    All the best to your mom and to the new official couple!

    We hope everything goes ok regarding the treatment and we hope to see you soon.

    from Vancouver, S&S

  9. Wendy Chu
    August 30, 2014 at 4:20 am

    Congrats to both Juan and you on your marriage! I know your Mom and you were happy she could be present at such an important event!
    I am sad to hear about your Mom’s latest challenge. I always picture her as the smiling, laughing easygoing optimist. I can not imagine how difficult these days have been for all of you. When something like this happens, it is a reminder to enjoy each day and not take life for granted. You are all in my prayers! I’m am hoping for a good outcome with the chemo, please keep us posted! Xxxooo !

  10. Giannella
    August 30, 2014 at 6:05 am

    Congratulations, Stephanie!

    I’m getting all tingly and teary reading your story and seeing your photos. You look absolutely stunning and your entire family is so beautiful and strong. I know what it’s like having a parent battle a life threatening illness. And you are doing all the right things to turn this time into warmth and tenderness, something you’ll remember for the rest of your life with sweetness. Keep strong. Stay positive. Use all those fabulous road/life lessons to overcome the rough days. Experiences like this are what deepen and prepare us for the best and worst that life offers. I remember you so fondly in our writing class. And I’m so in awe of the miles you have conquered since.

    Lots of love, many hugs,

    Giannella
    xox

    • September 2, 2014 at 10:28 am

      Thanks Giannella, it’s great to hear from you and to see your wonderful travels as well!

  11. LeAnn Shea
    August 30, 2014 at 10:45 am

    Beautifully said Stephanie. Congrats to you and Juan! Sendings many thoughts and much love to you and your family.

  12. Tia Susy deCabildo
    September 2, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Hola chicos, felicitaciones por el casamieto, que sean muy felices, y lamento mucho lo de tu mamá, stefi, Dios la protegerá, y no la hará sufrir, y para ustedes un abrazo inmenso, acompañandolos en este trance.Espero verlos pronto, besos!!!!!!

  13. September 2, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    All the love to you and your family!!! Anything you need just give a shout! Congrats on the wedding everyone looks ahhhmazing! Sending your mom healthy vibes!

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