Brain cancer: Planning the big trip

In a little less than a month, Richard and I will head out of town in our little Subaru Forester, laden with anti-cancer food, camping gear, laptops and books, embarking on the honeymoon we didn’t take after our wedding 28 years ago. Last fall, generous friends collected a travel fund for us, so we planned a trip for March. Then my mother died, after which the hematoma in Richard’s right brain caused several brain-swelling crises, necessitating three emergency hospitalizations and two craniotomies.

As he was recovering, the glioblastoma (Grade IV cancerous brain tumor) in his right hemisphere grew aggressively, causing further havoc. His oncologist started him on the current every-two-week chemo-infusion routine in hopes of slowing that tumor’s growth so that his much-tortured right brain can heal.

I’d be lying (or seriously deluded) if I said we were planning this road trip now because he has recovered. It takes a year or two to recover from a single brain surgery; Richard’s survived four in the last 22 months. He’s stable enough though that we’ve decided to plan our belated honeymoon, albeit with a less ambitious itinerary than we imagined last fall when he could still drive. Now that we’re down to one driver, we go slower and cover less ground.

That’s okay. Slower means we see more; covering less ground means we have more time to stop and poke around.


Where are we going? The Pacific Coast, via a circuit of the Western US, heading up to northwestern Colorado for a stop at Carpenter Ranch first, then across southern Wyoming and into southeastern Idaho to soak at Lava Hot Springs and then on across Idaho’s sagebrush-clothed Snake River Plains, through northeastern Oregon and up the Columbia River Gorge and north to Olympia, Washington, at the southern end of Puget Sound, to visit my brother and his wife Lucy, and their girls and families.

After three days in Olympia, we’ll meander south down the Oregon Coast and into northern California, where–still on the coast and following Highway 101, we’ll camp in Redwood National Park, and then continue on south, stopping at Fort Bragg (there’s a microbrewery there with beer Richard loves) and Point Reyes. We’ll hit San Francisco on a Friday afternoon and spend the weekend with Molly and her honey Mark, and see the spectacular view of the bay from their apartment on Telagraph Hill.

From the city, we’ll head south again, aiming for Big Sur for a night in a favorite lodge tucked into a hook on that long, wild coast with a splendid view of miles of cliffs and a quiet bay right below the cabins After that, we’ll head inland and around the south end of the Sierras and across Nevada and Utah, aiming for home. What our exact route will be, I have no idea–it’ll depend on how we’re feeling by then: how my energy is holding out and how well Richard is doing.

We may be crazy to even think of this trip. Richard’s only five months out from his most recent brain surgery, and the combination of recovery, brain tumor growth, and chemo infusions has sapped his energy levels to the point that napping takes up almost as much of his day as being active. But we’ve talked to his oncologist and she gave us her blessing, and even suggested he skip one chemo infusion to make it easier.

And honestly, why wait? If we’ve learned anything from this wild, grueling, and painful trip with Richard’s brain cancer, it’s that the only moment we have is now. Richard’s prognosis isn’t great, something we don’t loose sight of–ever–but we don’t agonize over either. We just do our best to live each day with grace and love, cherishing the time we have.

So off we’ll go in a month, aiming to balance the busyness of family visits with a lot of quiet time on the road, just the two of us, hand-in-hand, eyes and ears open to whatever is along the way.

And when we make it home again, we’ll be glad to be here, too.