If 2015 was the year of travel, I hereby declare 2016 as the year of transitions.
Finding peace in the chaos
Back in July, my mother went out for her annual executive checkup and was later hospitalised for severe anemia. What we thought would be a maximum two day hospital stay turned out to be a lengthy ten day ordeal. The doctors couldn’t pinpoint the cause of her severe anemia, until my mom underwent endoscopy and colonoscopy as per their suggestion. After the procedure, my mom’s gastroenterologist delivered what would be the first blow: there’s a massive tumor blocking my mother’s colon and he needs to refer us to an oncologist and an oncology surgeon asap.
The next couple of days were a rollercoaster of emotions: they successfully took out the tumor, but upon further assessment and tests, they also discovered that my mother is very ill with stage IV colon cancer. It metastasised to her liver, and they also found some in her stomach. She needed to undergo chemo, stat – but first, she had to recover from the colon surgery.
We went home once they deemed my mom normal in her post-recovery state, but now we had to keep up with the challenges of her post-surgery recovery at home. My mother, who enjoyed long walks, leisure strolls, and fourteen flights of stairs, can now barely stand up from her own bed without crying in pain.
It was a crazy, terrible month, to say the least; and I initially found it difficult to cope up with our new normal. That month was just the tip of the iceberg – we still had to deal with the actual chemo in the next six months. I felt sad, angry and overwhelmed for awhile, but I needed to keep myself together for the sake of my family. I am the eldest after all, and there are certain physical and emotional responsibilities that come with it. I had to step up while learning to let my other self step back – the selfish, indulgent one who wants to travel and to explore.
It’s been tough but we’re blessed with people who keep us strong, supporting us through prayers and generosity. As I’m writing this, my mom is doing well halfway through her chemo treatment and we’re feeling positive and hopeful that we will overcome this challenge. In the past couple of months, my family and I have learned to share space, share stories and share strength – because it’s the only way we’ll find peace in the chaos.
Dealing with the punches
Before life went topsy-turvy, my mother signed up for a work seminar in the USA for November and she planned on taking me with her. We had a running list of things we wanted to do, see and eat, and we were so excited to make them all a reality. I was so psyched, I already built my year around dreams of wandering NYC, DC and SFO.
But life had other plans for us.
Instead of planning the mother-daughter trip, we’re mapping out chemo sessions and doctor appointments. Instead of ticking an item from our travel must-do’s, we’re keeping an eye out for chemo’s side effects. Instead of shopping for a winter wardrobe, we’re shopping for clothes that will fit her new, thinner frame.
I feel sad for the opportunity we lost, but I know we also gained something back. The world works in strange ways, noh? My mom, who has been working hard since she was a college student, was suddenly forced to stay at home in an extended sick leave for six months. And then there’s me, who planned on doing long-term travel and working on the road, but I was forced to grow my roots instead.
We’re both perpetual planners and adventurers, and cancer has taught us to pause, reflect and take things as they come. When the going gets tough, we’ve learned that we surprisingly have the zeal and the capacity to deal with it – but if it’s one of those rare, dark days and we find that we can’t, we know we have each other to lean on.
Losing my sense of self
I’ve defined myself in so many terms: I was the writer in high school, I was the fashion-obsessed one in college, I was the level-headed PR girl in my first job. When I quit from the PR agency last year, I wanted to define myself as a digital nomad: someone who constantly traveled while working online. In my head, I had at least the next three years mapped out that way… And then bam!, life punched me in the face.
For one thing, it’s a lifestyle difficult to keep. After last year’s backpacking trip, I don’t think I’m cut out for sharing dorm rooms with strangers and staying in questionable accommodations. I don’t like the partying, drinking crowd I’m bound to meet because I never really enjoyed that scene and I don’t think I ever will. Hopping from one country to another tires me out and I’d rather stay in a new place for a longer time than explore a new city every three days.
On a professional level, I’m still trying to keep more than one client. I’m thankful for being on retainer with a client that I love, but I know I can work with at least two more projects. I got a couple of leads earlier this year, unfortunately they didn’t push forward or pan out in the way that I wanted to. To be honest, it’s been frustrating and demotivating for my creative self. Maybe I haven’t connected with the right people yet, maybe I haven’t pushed myself harder than I should. The reality is I’m not somewhere I want to be and I’m not someone who I want to be, and I’m still working on that.
Relishing the quiet
In all the chaos and confusion, I’m trying to ground myself with two truths that I’ve always subscribed to: reading and writing.
These days I’m growing quite a book collection. I went crazy in this year’s Manila International Book Fair, and I also have a not-so-healthy obsession over Book Depository. I guess I’m overcompensating with books, so that even if I’m not physically traveling, my mind still goes places and I’m vicariously traveling through other people’s stories. I grew up with books, long before I grew into traveling, so reading is more than just a form of entertainment for me. It’s also a way to keep me sane and healthy.
I may have deliberately stopped blogging the past few months, but I’ve gone back to writing on paper. I splurged on a Moleskine and my favorite brand of pen, picking them up whenever I feel the need to process something. In many ways, it feels like going back to a younger, simpler version of myself, the one who recycled old notebooks and dreamed of other worlds. I wanted to hone my writing voice through this blog, but scribbling words and seeing my thoughts flow on paper sometimes feels more cathartic to me than typing words on my laptop.
When I’m not reading, writing, working from home or taking care of my mom, I’m filling my empty hours with Food Network and Asian Food Channel. I didn’t grow up with cable tv (surprise!) so I still find novelty in having cable tv at home. Watching all these cooking and baking shows piqued my curiosity and I’m craving to learn more and see where this curiosity will take me. My mother is encouraging me to take classes and maybe later turn a casual hobby into something profitable. I haven’t given it much thought, but I like the idea of creating something from scratch and producing something worthy of buying and eating.
In terms of traveling, I’m out of commission til early next year as I’ve chosen to be with my family until we wrap up all my mom’s prescribed chemo sessions in February. I’m planning on using my airline miles to book a roundtrip ticket to somewhere near since I can’t be bothered to apply for a visa yet.
But… If I can scrap together enough projects and funds, maybe a trip to Europe is in the cards later next year. I’ve always wanted to experience autumn in Paris and lately I’ve had this inexplicable, compelling urge that I have to be there. Maybe something life-changing is about to happen and it’s the Universe telling me to go and make it happen. So I’m listening, and I’m sharing my intentions. I’m hoping the Universe is listening back.
Let’s try this again…
During the last couple of weeks of my hiatus, I found myself almost quitting blogging. I liked what I’ve done here so far, but I lost the motivation to keep writing about my travels.
Maybe it was because my life turned upside down and it suddenly changed my perspective. Or I wasn’t producing as much content as I “should”, hitting the SEOs for huge traffic. Or that it felt dishonest to be writing about my backpacking trip when I won’t be doing that again anytime soon. There’s also the painful reality that keeping this space is high maintainance for someone who rarely uses it – I have to pay almost 10USD per month just to keep this afloat.
I felt like I needed to let it go, so I can move on and do other things. So I spent a couple of hours crafting my swan song, a lengthy post that contains the points above, but wrapped up with a different ending. I thought I was finally ready to hit Publish three weeks ago, but I decided to pull back and put it off at the last minute. Rather than being emotional about it, I decided to give it another chance before I sign off. I began listing pros and cons, asked family and friends what I should do, read up about other bloggers’ experiences.
I found this nugget of wisdom at The Write Life:
There are so many of blogs in the world; more than 74 million, in fact. And yes, little content is original. Many of the same subjects have been covered over and over again.
But that doesn’t matter.
It’s all been said before, but it hasn’t been said by you.
That last part spoke to me.
Maybe nobody will read this except my biggest, supportive fan (hi momma bear!), a bunch of my loving best friends, and a random acquaintance or two on Facebook.
Maybe they’ll read through the whole thing or give up after the first few paragraphs.
Maybe one of them will see herself in my words, or at the very least, be inspired/entertained/curious by my truths.
I need to learn how not to give a
fck about who’s reading and whether it will speak to them or if it will move them. I need to stop hesitating and second guessing whether my words will be good enough.
Because this is mine, the one thing where I get to write what I want to write.
I initially planned this to be a travel blog but now that I’ve thought through it, I also want this to reflect my growth as a person. Isn’t that one of the good things about growing older? We change without us realizing it, until we see some sort of proof of how we got from Point A to Point B and you give yourself a pat on the back for pushing through.
I feel my life is expanding and unfolding in ways I don’t understand yet, but maybe this blog will help me figure it out along the way. Because while I will always love travel and I will always find an excuse to be elsewhere when I can, I know it’s not the only thing my life should revolve on.
So! Expect this to be a better blog – a space where I will most definitely talk about travel but this time around, I’m throwing just a few extra things I also care about: like finding my place in the world of freelance, the books that are keeping me up at night, how I’m caring for a parent with cancer, my messy journey of learning to cook and bake.
Life is an exciting, multidimensional adventure and yes, I’m en route.