Traveling Alone — A Wildfire Story
August 24, 2023
“Do you have your ID? Your wallet? Did you make sure to pack your phone charger?” my husband says to me as he hovers over my shoulder. “Yes,” I respond. “I made a checklist and crossed it off as I went along.” I’m about to get on a plane and fly to Florida, alone, to go on a retreat with women I’ve met through For the Breast of Us. I’ve been a nervous wreck for days, knowing that I’ll be flying alone, and navigating places I’m unfamiliar with without my husband. I can’t sleep, my stomach is in knots from anxiety, and it doesn’t help that he’s repeatedly reminding me to be careful. Can I do this? Alone? I thought. One of the things I promised myself after treatment was that I wasn’t ever going to pass up an opportunity to do something that could enrich my life, which usually means it’s out of my comfort zone.
My husband drops me off at the airport, and I can feel the anxious tension coming off him in waves. He knows this trip is important to me, so he isn’t trying to dissuade me from going, but I know he’s worried. Which makes me worry more. He has always been protective of me, but after my diagnosis and treatment it was more intense. Being in a caregiver and patient role for so long, it was hard to return to being husband and wife. I knew that I had to do this to remind him (and myself) of who I was before cancer came into our lives – someone who was independent and capable. We kiss and say our goodbyes, and he reminds me to call him as soon as I land in Florida. I grab my suitcase and enter the airport.
What I see in front of me is mind-boggling – there’s small kiosks everywhere, and people are putting their tags on their own luggage. Did I mention I haven’t flown since 2006? Instantly, I feel my breath quicken and the sweat starts to form on the back of my neck. Calm down, I tell myself. As long as I can read, I can figure out what to do. My mantra is: if I can get through chemo, I can get through anything. I steady myself and walk towards the nearest kiosk. I fumble a bit, check-in, and grab my luggage tag. Even though I can see others easily putting the tags on their suitcases, I look over it, turning it over and over in my hands. An agent sees me and asks, “Can I help you?” “Yes, please,” I reply. In my head I shout saved! I drop my bag off, and walk (dare I say confidently?), over to the TSA section. I see the throngs of people, one behind the other, the lines snaking throughout the area. Again, my heart and breath start to quicken. I remember my husband reminding me that I’ll have to take my shoes off, and I think how proud I am of myself for wearing slip-on tennis shoes. I make sure to watch what everyone does in front of me, so that I can begin to do the same. I make it through and breathe a little sign of relief, the first of the hard parts are over. Now just to deal with the flight and the landing.
As I’m sitting, ready to board my flight, I remember that there is another woman from the retreat flying from Houston to Orlando as well — Cynthia. I message her, and lo-and-behold, we’re on the same flight! I breathe a sigh of relief, because now I know I won’t have to figure out getting around the airport alone. I save her a seat, and we chitchat throughout the flight. Cynthia and I end up becoming travel buddies, taking quite a few trips together over the next year to visit friends. It is exhilarating and fun, and a very special time in my life where I learned the gift that is a girls’ trip.
It’s been two years since that first post-chemo trip, and I haven’t looked back. I’ve flown to Orlando; Atlanta; San Diego; Washington, D.C.; and New York – sometimes with a friend, but mostly alone. With every new airport I land at, I am confidently maneuvering myself to baggage claim and a Lyft. I never in a million years thought I could or would ever be able to travel on my own for work or fun, and yet, here I am. And with each trip, I make memories with people I care about – it could be jumping into a pool topless at a breast cancer retreat, sitting around drinking homemade margaritas, eating pizza in a ball gown on a busy New York sidewalk, or connecting with other advocates and coworkers in real life. I treat every trip as an adventure, no matter how long or short my stay is. I’m up late at night and early in the morning, wanting to make the most of the time I have with friends, exploring places that are new to me.
It may seem like a small thing, but traveling alone is a huge deal for someone who has experienced extreme anxiety for most of their life. Being able to conquer this fear has led me to conquering other fears as well – the biggest being public speaking. I’m more open to trying new things now because I can see the benefits of doing things out of my comfort zone. And with each little victory, my confidence in myself grows bigger and bigger. Traveling alone has shown me that I am capable enough, mentally and physically, to be independent. I can trust myself. I remind myself to keep an open mind. And I’m always ready to do the hard things because those end up being the most memorable and enjoyable.
“Life is a great adventure … accept it in such spirit.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Miranda Gonzales • Program Assistant, Our MBC Life podcast. Diagnosed at 40. IDC, Stage III, ER+, PR+. At age 39, Miranda found a lump in her breast and was told it was nothing, which led to a new lump six months later, and a diagnosis of Stage III hormone positive IDC. What followed was a year that included chemotherapy, a double mastectomy with immediate DIEP flap reconstruction, and radiation. Once the bustle of active treatment ended, she slowly began to venture out into the breast cancer community, finding support and camaraderie with women who helped her navigate the world of survivorship. She then began to do the same for others, volunteering and building her advocacy portfolio to include such organizations as Young Survival Coalition, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, and the National Breast Cancer Coalition. She now is a volunteer turned staff member with the Our MBC Life podcast, part of SHARE Cancer Support. • @MirLorDehGon
This piece has been republished with permission from WILDFIRE Magazine, the “Travel & Adventure” issue, published originally August 19, 2023. More information available at wildfirecommunity.org
WILDFIRE Magazine is the only magazine for young women survivors and fighters of breast cancer under 45 years old. Headquartered in Santa Cruz, California, WILDFIRE is a beautiful, story-based bi-monthly magazine published on different themes relevant to young women survivors, from stage 0 to stage IV. Beautiful and ad-free! Visit wildfirecommunity.org for more info.