A Request From a Trapped Traveller
“Carpe diem!” “YOLO!” “Sleep when you’re dead!”
These are all phrases I’ve regretfully used in the past, for the most part in a sarcastic sense, to convince myself to do dumb things. For example, “Shit, it’s 4am and I’m really tired of being at this club. But you can sleep when you’re dead, Jess – stay out until 5!” or, “Jess, you have a final exam tomorrow morning – you shouldn’t go partying with your friends tonight. But YOLO – just bring your flashcards and study at the bar!
But these obnoxiously over-used phrases took on an entirely new meaning on February 3rd, 2017, when I was diagnosed with leukaemia.
The interesting thing about leukaemia is that there aren’t really stages as there are with other cancers. Instead, there are different factors that can improve or discourage the prognosis (I want to vomit every time I use that word), such as age, how well the patient responds to treatment and chromosomal factors.
I will never understand the chromosomal part of it, so I just keep it simple when I say that my chances are pretty decent. I’m young, I’ve responded relatively well to treatment so far and my chromosomal mutations are what the doctors have deemed as “intermediate” – meaning I’m at an intermediate risk for a relapse in the future. Not the best, not the worst.
Honestly though, none of these factors have really mattered to me. What having leukaemia feels like for me personally is suddenly being given a 50/50 shot at life. Heads you survive, tails you don’t. Some people make it out of this battle alive, some do not. That’s just the nature of the beast.
But the purpose of writing this isn’t to make anyone feel sorry for me, because bad stuff happens to people all the time. This is more of segue to what I am going to request from you later on.
Besides this shitty speed bump in the road, my “thing” in life is travelling. I feel the most alive when I’m on an aeroplane, whether it be to fly to South Carolina to visit my college friends, or to zip over to Bali for a month-long travel writing internship. Whenever I’m soaring through the clouds, I just get this rush of adrenaline and tingle of life. So far, my travels have brought me to Spain, Malawi, New Zealand, Samoa and Indonesia, and I feel like I truly immersed myself in each one of these places and really got to know my surroundings. I was also supposed to move to Australia on February 22nd, but then a little bitch named Cancer came along and stole my thunder.
Although I appeared fearless in all of my past overseas endeavours, the little tidbit that no one knows is that I almost backed out of a couple of these trips. It took lots of convincing to get me to study abroad in New Zealand, and my trip to Bali was booked the very last second. But each time I decided to take the plunge to travel, that little you-only-live-once voice in the back of my head pushed me, and in the end, I never once regretted a decision to travel.
So while I’m scared completely shitless about what I’m going through right now (and that’s something I will never lie about), what I can say with complete sincerity is that I have lived 22 epic, kick-ass years of life. At such a young age, I’ve learned to flamenco in Spain; I’ve danced under the stars with a group of children from a small village in Malawi; I’ve jumped out of a plane and done a lot of other downright crazy shit in New Zealand; I’ve snorkelled in Samoa; I’ve swum with sea turtles and done yoga (and again, a lot of other downright crazy shit) in Bali.
But for right now, I am trapped. Because of my treatment, I won’t be able to travel anywhere far for a long time. I’m a trapped traveller with only the fond, magical memories of my adventures to give me the motivation to keep fighting. And so with this perspective, I have a request.
I want you to do something bold. Whether it is today, tomorrow or weeks from now, think of something that makes you feel the most alive you could possibly feel and just go and do it. Me telling you this probably sounds just as cliché and cringe-worthy as someone actually saying “YOLO” out loud, but if I could convey with the purest clarity what it feels like to know that your life could be cut short, I don’t think these phrases would be met with as much disdain.
Your bold move doesn’t have to be something huge. It could be pursuing a new hobby, telling someone how you feel or making a job change. Personally, while I’ve succeeded in the travelling category, one thing I could improve upon is opening up to people and telling them how I feel. I’ve missed opportunities for relationships with people I’ve truly cared about because I’ve been too proud to tell them my feelings, and I’ve sometimes pushed friends and family away because I don’t like to be vulnerable. So maybe I’ll take my own advice and be more forward with my feelings and expressing myself.
If I could inspire just one person reading this to actually follow by my request and to take a risk, then the purpose of me writing this will be fulfilled. Quit that job you hate and chase one you actually care for; kiss the person you love and forget about your insecurities; take that trip to Europe you’ve always dreamed of; treat yourself to a spa day just because you feel like it. Whatever your idea of bold is, give it a try. Make your life one that is worth living.
And in the meantime, I’m going to keep living my life with boldness too, because fuck cancer. I’m not going anywhere.
Cover by Erik Dungan