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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!