After being diagnosed with cancer and overcoming it, Lisa found her peace in travel and educating others about this type of cancer. Read her amazing story below!
First of all, can you tell us what medical condition you were diagnosed with, and how you dealt with it at the time?
I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma about eight years ago. This is a cancer of the lymphatic system which means I got sick with the flu a lot the year I was diagnosed. I had a summer of chemotherapy in New York within a pediatric wing of a private medical office. Two weeks after chemotherapy I left to go to university for a major in psychology. I wasn’t in remission yet so in the fall I had to get radiation. Being in school kept me feeling normal and pushed me to go forward. I dealt with it by going into survival mode. Your body does weird things when it is in this state. My emotions elevated into a constant high of positivity. I was always happy during treatment which was a big surprise. It was as if this positive thinking gave me a better chance at survival and let me believe I would be okay. I really think my optimistic way of thinking at that time allowed me to respond to treatment as well as I did.
You mentioned to me that you became very depressed when you went into remission. What helped you escape the grips of depression?
Once I went into remission I crashed. I became depressed and did not recognize who I was anymore. I wondered who I was now. I was not the person I was before treatment. I felt different physically and mentally. I gained some weight from the steroids doctors had me taking, developed some new scars where the biopsy was performed on my collarbone and was bald as a baby. What helped me escape depression was the many pep talks from my loved ones and time. Time really is the most important factor in healing. I started working with Leukemia & Lymphoma Society as their Patient Hero which helped me educate others on young adult cancers. This made me feel like getting sick had its purpose, which was to advocate for others that were experiencing similar things.
When was it that you realized you had the travel bug, and what did you do about it?
In my discovery of finding myself I jumped into my deep love for traveling. While getting my Masters in psychology I studied abroad. This was my first time going abroad. Every moment was exhilarating and I felt so alive. I stayed in Orvieto, Itay (a small town between Rome and Florence). This place seemed to defy time. Many of the locals had been living there for generations and it seemed untouched from the world I was used to with stunning churches, locals and food. I would watch the sun rise and set over that magical town and it healed me in a way I did not understand at first. As I gained more stamps on my passport I fell in love. I fell in love with life and all the people in between. When I travel I feel like I am making every day really count.
How has travel helped with overcoming your depression?
Travel helped me overcome feelings of depression because it transformed my new identity. I finally found something I really cared for after being sick. Psychology felt like a topic the old Lisa wanted to pursue. The me before all the struggle that came with cancer. Travel was my new passion. I could identify myself as adventurous now. Before cancer I was shy and nervous about risk. Now I was the girl who jumped on stage with a flamenco dancer in Spain or went on a solo trip to Iceland to ride small horses around snowy lava fields. Travel was the perfect fit to my new want of exploring all that I hadn’t. I wanted to live my life like I was living a million other lives at the same time.
What do you need to do differently than a traveller who does not battle cancer? Do you have to carry certain meds, etc.?
I do not have to do anything differently than a traveler who did not battle cancer since I am eight years in remission, but I would love to give some tips for those newly in remission who would like to travel. Personally I think it best you get a checkup at your oncologist before you go away for a long period of time. Listen to your body when traveling. Do not push past your energy level. It is okay to not see everything if you aren’t feeling up to it that day. I would have a more relaxed itinerary for this very reason. Sometimes it is just as fun to take it easy and people watch than jump on every guided tour. Make sure to purchase travel insurance (World Nomads is a great pick) and be aware of the closest urgent care. More importantly do not overthink and just do this stuff to be prepared! Be in the moment!
How have your illnesses helped to push you to travel the world?
My diagnosis has helped push me to travel the world by reminding me that there is so much left to be experienced out in the world that I have not done yet. I have not gone to a Full Moon Party in Thailand yet, played with a sloth in Costa Rica or walked the vibrant streets of Tokyo. Traveling reminds me I have a lot more living to do.
Do you still participate in activities having to do with raising awareness about cancer, and if so, what types of things do you do on the road?
I have a global platform called World is My Cure for young adults and cancer. I collect stories from survivors around the world to educate others about people’s experiences. I want to eliminate any type of stigma with this disease and unite people. In 2017 I will be hitting the road (i.e the skies) to collect information from organizations abroad about how cancer in young adults is dealt with in different cultures. I will continue to collect stories from cancer survivors but I hope to meet all of them in person on my trips!
What would you say is the single most important thing that travel has done for you?
The single most important thing travel has done for me is bring me pure joy. Do what you love could not ring truer.
What advice would you give to someone else battling cancer, depression, or any other illness, who wants to hit the road but is afraid their illness will hold them back?
Advice I would give someone who is afraid their illness will hold them back is listen to your gut on timing. If you do not feel prepared mentally or physically to travel that is okay. Find some additional resources in your local community that could help, such as a counselor or specialist to give you the tools to achieve your goals in travel. I believe yoga is a wonderful tool that you can use anywhere… in your hotel or outside, or meditate in the airport, or even on the plane, and this can make you feel more relaxed in a moment of fear or doubt. Trust in yourself and know you’re a bad ass who can do anything they set their mind to.
Thanks so much to Lisa for sharing her story. You can catch her on her site, World is My Cure, or on Facebook.
If you’d like to be my next interviewee, contact me for more details!
And be sure to check out more interviews with people who don’t let anything hold them back – click here!