Join tens of thousands of cancer fighters, survivors, and supporters who understand. Why Join?

Completing The Kokoda Trail Gave Me Back My Sense of Adventure Before Cancer

June 19th, 2019 |
Young Adult Cancer, Survivorship

by jessvanzeil | Survivor: Ocular Melanoma    Connect


A world traveller.

An adventurous soul.

A scuba diver.

A hiker.

A backpacker.

A bungee jumper.

That was me, pre-cancer Jess, an independent, feisty woman with a bucket list filled with exciting adventures. BUT 3 separate diagnoses, 2 major surgeries, and 1 course of immunotherapy later I was left as a dependent woman who had to learn to walk again and had so many restrictions on her life, it was unbelievable. I felt unsafe being alone, terrified that I would have another seizure, that I would fall over, that I would be stuck and no one would help me. I felt trapped, and while I was grateful to be here, to be alive, I was worried that this is what the rest of my life would look like. That I would be confined to my tiny little box of a comfort zone because any step outside would risk my precious life.

Slowly but surely that comfort zone grew and within 6 months I embarked on my first “big” adventure, a solo trip to Sydney. Something that a year prior would have been simple now required so much planning: knowing where the hospitals were, where to stay, who to contact in case of an emergency. I put more effort into planning this trip than I had my entire year living abroad! At the end I felt accomplished but also felt a deep dread, wondering “Is this it? Is this my new level of adventure?”

My body seemed to get stronger and my life kept moving in an exciting direction, but still I felt that my true sense of adventure was missing. It was a part of me, a part of my identity, and without it I still didn’t feel whole. So I set myself a goal, a massive one at that, The Kokoda track! After clearing it with my oncologist, endocrinologist and every other doctor that I needed a go ahead from, the path to Kokoda became an open road. I felt like I was finally living the life I once loved, with an overseas adventure in sight that included lots of physical training and mini goals to meet along the way. I felt invigorated, I felt like my life was back on track, and I was excited and actually planning for a future.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t road blocks and unexpected challenges. Managing my steroids was tough; knowing that I had to decide how much to increase them and how to alter the times I took them as I trained was scary. I learned that my depth perception was challenged on the tracks depending on shadows and gradient. I had a plan for every potential thing that could go wrong, from gastro to low cortisol, to seizures, and everything in between. I had to understand that getting medevaced out (helicopter) was a high possibility and although I had travel insurance, if the reason I needed a helicopter out was cancer related, I would be liable.

The risks scared me but we did everything to prepare. I had a plan for the 1000’s of potential outcomes and risks and soldiered on, making sure I was in the best condition to do it. I also had lots of extra protein bars, snacks, hydralite, walking poles and a medical kit with everything I could ever need or want. I trained with all of these things, making sure my training replicated what I would be doing on the track.

The day I left, there was no fear. I was prepared and excited for the hike, but more than that I was excited to reclaim my life! With one trip and 10 months of training I welcomed back so much of myself. This hike was about me, for me to take back the thing I felt I had lost and show cancer that just 2 years after a stage 4 diagnosis I could be all that, and so much more. I am stronger than ever before.

Lots of love,

Jess AKA

A world traveller.

An adventurous soul.

A scuba diver.

A hiker.

A backpacker.

A bungee jumper.


Sign up to join our community here to continue the conversation.

Want to blog with us ? Learn more here.

jessvanzeil's picture
Top
Blogger
jessvanzeil   

Jess is an eyepatch wearing 23 year old from the Mornington Peninsula. At the age of 21, she was diagnosed with a very rare eye cancer, Conjunctival Melanoma (this is on the white part of your eye). Her treatment for the first eight months was localised surgeries and observation. Unfortunately, just after her 22nd birthday, she was told that it had spread into her  lower eyelid and the only option she had was drastic surgery to remove her eye and eyelid and close over her eye socket for good.  Last September Jess received news last that she is now fighting brain metastases. Despite experiencing some nasty side effects from her treatment, Jess is remaining positive, especially so as recent scans revealed no significant growth or change in the tumours. 


Comments

Top