Back to Spain

Spain will always hold a special place in my heart from my treasured days on the Camino de Santiago in 2012 and 2016. Having spent weeks in the country, it’s unusual that I’m more comfortable following a yellow arrow through the mountains than navigating the streets of Madrid or Barcelona. While the primary purpose of my visit was attending the European Neuroendocrine Tumor Society’s (ENETs) annual conference, this trip wasn’t without fun and yellow arrows.

In December, the Carcinoid Cancer Foundation and the International Neuroendocrine Cancer Alliance invited me to the ENETs meeting in Barcelona. It was quite an honor given the few number of patients invited to this meeting attended by 1,500 medical professionals.

As I was sharing this with one of my best friends, Lara, she told me by pure coincidence she would also be in Spain at the same time for a wedding. So, we coordinated our travel plans to spend some time together.

Lara has been a mainstay in life since she moved across the street from me in 3rd grade. Initially bonding over our love of New Kids on the Block and Beverly Hills 90210, I’m happy to say that our tastes have improved and our friendship has grown into more of a sisterhood. In fact, we were born two days a part. We have seen each other through so many bookmarks and chapters. It’s wonderful to have not just a friend and sister, but someone who has bore witness to your life as we have for each other. Lara is now living in London and while we talk often, it had been over a year since we’ve seen one another.

Her college friend who was getting married, graciously invited me to her wedding.  It  was, hands down, the nicest wedding I’ll ever attend. The Spanish women resembled royalty with their stylish dresses and elaborate hats. The bride was stunning and pulled off a dress that was both modern and timeless. The reception was at the Casino of Madrid, a gorgeous venue containing art, sparkly chandeliers and dramatic staircases. The festivities began at 1pm, but I was contending with cancer and jet lag, so I happily took a taxi home at 11pm while Lara partied until 4am.

After the wedding festivities, we walked around Madrid talking and snapping pictures, followed by laying in bed and snacking to Frankie and Grace on Netflix. Monday morning, we both flew to Barcelona for more of the same. Our trip highlight was going inside Sagrada Familia. It’s difficult to express, but the interior is a dream – the stained glass, the light, the colors, the simple and intricate angles, curves and coves. I don’t say this lightly, but Gaudi was a genius.

After a couple of days running around the city, it was time for Lara to get back to London and the ENETs conference began.

The first day I attended was interesting. Meeting some of the doctors, patients and organizations I’ve only known through the internet was awesome. The downside to the meeting – perhaps it was a bit too much information. Let me share an example. Walking through the exhibit area containing case posters, I crossed a situation similar to mine. Okay, the 34-year-old male was diagnosed, he had this surgery, this treatment, that treatment, was doing well, oh, and then he died. I did the math and based on his path, I died a couple of years ago. So, I was able to talk myself off the ledge, but it was a little disheartening.

However, the second day and the highlight of the conference was meeting a patient I’ve dubbed, my tumor twin. Being a rare case of NETs (1 in 10 million), I’ve never met another person like me and it took travelling to the european continent for it to finally happen. And, I’m happy to report that not only is he alive, 12 years post diagnosis, but very well. He and I ate lunch together where he shared the stops along his path and the lifestyle activities he’s adopted. It meant the world to me and spotlighted the realization that I should focus on the thriving person in front of me rather than poster guy….may he rest in peace.

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Montseratt

Once ENETs ended, I had one last free day on Saturday before flying home on Sunday. Having fulfilled my Barcelona bucket list, I opted to head out of the city to Montseratt, a monastery in the mountains most famous for its black Madonna statue and children’s choir. Another conference attendee joined me and it was a gorgeous and fun day outside the city. I did the math and thanks to my time on the Camino de Santiago, this was my fourth monastery in Spain. In fact, the grounds were riddled with yellow arrows and Camino signs because this is a stop on the Catalan Camino de Santiago.

After a long day in the mountains and the city that night, I was content, spent and grateful for another adventure in Spain.

 

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Pope Francis Fever

I pride myself on being fairly well traveled, so it is with some embarrassment I confess that I have never been to Italy.  I know, gasp. In my defense, I’ve wanted to go for years, but was always kiboshed by my love and loyalty to my french husband. Let me explain.

It’s 2006, in Berlin, Germany. France versus Italy in the World Cup Finals. Tensions and stakes between the rival teams have never been higher. The score is tied when Italian player, Marco Materazzi, decides to play a psychological game and begins provoking France’s soccer king, Zinedine Zidane. Something about mothers, sisters and sexual atrocities. Zidane reacts as any hot blooded, Latin man would. Click here for a visual. Chaos ensues. Zidane gets a red card and is ejected from the final, most important game of his career. Italy scores, wins the World Cup. Even the statue France erected in Zidane’s honor (seriously) could not erase the decade long grudge my husband has held against the country.

Fortunately, time has started to heal his wounds (and it didn’t hurt that Italy did not qualify for the next World Cup) – I talk him into a few days in Rome in exchange for my pledge that I will cheers all my drinks to Zidane and allow him to vent while in the city (ie, allow him to call Italians dishonorable cheaters a few times a day). Deal.

We did all the things one does, when in Rome, however, my favorite was Vatican City. I booked a “Highlights” tour weeks in advance, which was three hours containing an overwhelming amount of interesting history and information. I was most touched by the story of Michelangelo, who was called on by Pope Julius II to bring the story of Genesis to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. See, Michelangelo wanted nothing to do with painting. He was a sculptor, but after several refusals, he eventually submitted, agreed and created one of the most important works of art in the world. His story was another testament to the Hero’s Journey and how we are often called to do things we don’t want to do.  And it is in those answers of the call that we find our greatest life’s work and purpose.

No photos were allowed of the ceiling and if there were, I wouldn’t have taken any. It is just one of those things you have to see with your own eyes and not through a screen or crappy smart phone photo.

We did return to the Vatican on Sunday to take part in Pope Francis’s weekly angelus (blessing) which resulted in me contracting Pope Francis fever. As a striving minimalist, I threw my values out the window and bought way too many trinkets dedicated to his Holiness. Basically, if you need a statue, rosary, pin and/or postcard with the Pope’s face on it for the next decade – I am your gal.

IMG_5337The rest of the time in Rome was spent walking around, watching fireworks over the Colosseum on New Year’s Eve, leaving no carb behind, dodging crowds and coughing at the clouds of cigarette smoke they must be pumping out of the sewers. Haven’t you gotten the memo Romans?

On January 3rd, it was time to return to reality, the United States and specifically Houston for my last Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy on January 11th…to give cancer another head-butt.

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Long live the King

Another Crazy Christmas in France

I love going to my in-laws in the French Loire Valley for Christmas, which is a sacred familial time for them.

This year getting out of Nashville was a bit exhausting due to all the normal get-out-of-town craziness and preparations for my last Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy (PRRT) which is scheduled for this week (January 9-12). I’ve been feeling good, but I was definitely burning the candle at both ends. Even so, I was a little surprised that my therapy clearance blood work showed my red blood cells and platelets plummeted. Sure, it’s not unusual for this to happen and there’s a good chance I even sabotaged myself.

I’d been hearing so much hoopla around the ketogenic diet, including that it is good for cancer patients since it starves cancer cells of the glucose they need to grow.  BUT, as it turns out, guess what red blood cells need to reproduce? If you guessed glucose, then you are correct. Oopsy!

Fortunately, the counts were still well above the therapy minimums and gave me a self signed permission slip to reinstated carbs, which would’ve been an epic failure (and just all together wrong) in France and Italy anyways.

Enough cancer.

Flying to Paris and arriving was a shit show but no more than usual. Travel in Europe is a physical work out, but I was happy to arrive to my beloved village of St. Cyr en Val to be greeted by droves of family. Also, it was extra fun this year since my friend from Nashville joined to experience a French Christmas.

We spent the first few days getting adjusted to the time, visiting Chateau de Chambord and locating a few Camino shells throughout Orleans, a potential stop for those walking to Santiago from Paris.

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In the hot seat!

Christmas Eve was the big event! This is when 50 of my crazy french in-laws drink oodles of champagne, sing, dance and eat platters of oysters.  This year the chaos was amplified by a photo booth, introducing them to white elephant/dirty santa and CLR….until 4am. It was really fun and I can officially say that I am completely acclimated (it only took nine years). We even ventured off to midnight mass where Father Jean-Baptiste called me to the pew for a little interview. I was throughly embarrassed, but also touched since I know he prays for my health often. Last year he blessed me and this year he expressed excitement about my trip to Rome to see his boss, Pope Francis.

The following days after Christmas Eve shenanigans were filled with gifts and visits and food and drinks and naps. I was tired and my brain hurt from french but I think it was my favorite Christmas in a long time.

On the 27th, we were off to Paris for a couple of days. Day one was spent walking around Galerie Lafayette, seeing the sights on a Bateaux Mouche, a comedy show and a long, late dinner at a tapas restaurant. My Nashville friend also had a great time with the exception of the last night where she was hit with food poisoning and spent the whole night sick. With her night reminding me of the months I spent laying on the bathroom floor I felt so bad for her having to travel all day feeling like that. Fortunately, I don’t leave home without  a couple Zofran, which helped her make it home after a looooooong hard day.

img_5268As she soldiered through, my husband and I got to experience something really special at the Paris Zoo. His cousin is the giraffe keeper and invited us for a private visit with her 15 giraffes. We got to feed and pet them and take pictures. It was incredible and it took everything I had not to steal one. With the day spent fawning over giraffes, we walked around the Champs Elysées and met an old friend for dinner. We haven’t seen him in seven years and wow a lot has happened and changed. Satisfied with a wonderful time in France, we went back to our friends tiny apartment for a long sleep before jetting off to Italy in the morning.

Cheers to many more Christmas celebrations in the Loire Valley!

See…they cray!