Rising from Ashes: How I Overcame Breast Cancer, Domestic Violence, and Childhood Trauma
In early October 2018, I received news that caused the very air in my lungs to vanish. I wanted the earth to split open and swallow me. From that day on, my life would be turned upside down. There would always be a “before this moment” and an “after this moment.”
Two weeks after I returned home from a trip to Italy, the travel bug seriously bit me. I spent the previous four years paying down my debts and saving for a trip around the world for my 40th birthday. I would be two years early, but I was so fed up with my situation that I decided to leave everything behind and start a new life.
I have been a remote worker since 2014 but had yet to take advantage of the possibility of traveling while working (workcations). My lease was scheduled to renew in December, and it was the perfect time to travel the world with my laptop and work from anywhere instead of signing on for another year on my apartment. I wanted to buy a one-way ticket and see how long I could travel before returning home. I was excited and looking forward to go on this new adventure.
The decision that saved my life
Since I was planning to travel indefinitely, I didn’t know how long it would be before I saw a Doctor. I needed a prescription refill, so I scheduled myself for a yearly checkup on October 8. The day started as the most normal Monday of Mondays ever, until it wasn’t. By the end of the appointment, I had a prescription for a breast ultrasound and dread in the pit of my stomach that I quickly tried to dismiss… my Doctor found a suspicious lump in my left breast.
I was in denial that anything serious would come of it, so logically, I decided to go grocery shopping at Costco and make an appointment later in the month. On my way to Costco, I texted my sister, who works at a hospital, a picture of the prescription. She called me back in two seconds. When she said, “Come to the hospital NOW. We don’t play around with this,” I started to feel nervous.
I had a mammogram and then an ultrasound. About an hour later, the Doctor called me back into the office. I needed a biopsy. At this point, things became very real.
A Fear That Can Paralyze
Do you know what trypanophobia is? I have it, and it has affected me my entire life. If you don’t know what it is, it is an extreme fear of needles, injections, blood draws, and medical procedures requiring needles. This fear is dangerous because someone suffering from it will delay or refuse to seek medical treatment.
When I found out I needed a biopsy, I was ready to run out of that hospital and never look back. I spent hours crying, hoping that maybe I would get a break. I was sure somehow someone had made a mistake, and I would be able to cancel the whole thing. I felt trapped in a never-ending bad dream, unable to wake up.
Then came the moment of truth – biopsy time. With my sister by my side, I mustered up all my courage, plus some. She handed me a cotton ball soaked in soothing lavender oil, which I held close to my nose. I wore headphones and cranked up some Bob Marley and Cultura Profectica tunes. The medical team was so compassionate about my fear they even covered my face with a towel so I wouldn’t see anything. And after what felt like a painful eternity, the biopsy was finally over.
Testing my patience
Then, the torture of waiting began. I could not stop thinking about it. I had never before faced a biopsy (remember that with trypanophobia, I tend to avoid medical treatment). I expected an answer to take weeks. But I wanted to know in seconds. I was experiencing the worst anxiety of my life.
That Tuesday spent waiting for results was eternal. I put on a brave face even though deep down; I felt something was off. This gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach whispered, “Maybe it is cancer.” Looking back, I realize that I might have sensed it while sitting in the parking lot of my Doctor’s office, even before I talked to my sister. But I tried to ignore that feeling, to push it away. I wanted to believe that cancer wasn’t even a possibility for me. I kept thinking that surely life would not be that unfair. So I went about my day, sitting at my desk, typing my stupid little work emails, pretending everything was normal. I was holding the pieces of my world together with shaky hands.
The revelation no one wants to hear
Around 3:30 p.m., my ex-boyfriend unexpectedly arrived home early from work. A few moments later, my sister walked through the door, and in her eyes, I saw it – the confirmation of my fear. Without saying a word, I just knew. I HAD CANCER.
The days that followed were a whirlwind – my worst fear ever became reality. I went through a storm of multiple doctors, more biopsies, blood tests, fear, trauma, and that relentless phobia of needles that has been with me forever induced anxiety that was a lot to handle. Medical discussions felt like a blur, like the grown-ups in the Peanuts cartoons – all those words, treatment plans, and advice mixed in a jumble.
The Aftermath of Cancer
So, what is the result of having cancer? Well, let me tell you. After battling through eight rounds of chemo, I faced a double mastectomy with reconstruction. Skipping radiation was a blessing, thanks to my body responding well to chemo and my decision to go for surgery. During the process, I became medically menopausal. I endured immunotherapy infusions for a whole extra year after chemo, followed by a ten-year plan of hormone blocker medication. I am currently in year 4.
A couple of years later, as I thought I was done with cancer, another complication came my way – I had to undergo a complete hysterectomy. After experiencing a few days of pain, doctors found additional tumors that could not be biopsied because of their size. One, in particular, was so large that the oncologist feared that if he biopsied and it was cancer, it could rupture and spread all over my body. Luckily, it was benign. It was another chapter in this wild story of my health journey. The final count, I underwent seven surgeries in just two years. Crazy, right?
How much more can one person take?
Surviving cancer was just one part of challenging life experiences that could have swallowed me completely. It turned out that battling cancer wouldn’t be the only challenge life threw my way. I also endured the pain of childhood sexual abuse, carrying the haunting secret with me for years, and managed to escape the nightmare of domestic violence against all odds. These painful experiences have left lasting marks on my mind, body, and soul.
But you know what? Despite the moments of sorrow and hopelessness I encountered, I discovered a strength deep within me, a power that refused to let me stay defeated. I am not here to push religion on you at all because I am not a religious person. But I believe in God, and I feel that my faith gave me strength I never knew I had.
Triumph Over Abuse
Well before cancer, I’ve experienced moments that tested my strength and resilience.
There was a period of my life when I wanted to “meet the one and settle down.” Society (friends, family, acquaintances) kept telling me I would be a bitter old woman if I did not have a significant other. You know the little snide remarks: “So when will you find someone?”; “Aren’t you getting old?”; “Aren’t you afraid of being alone”?; “Women age like milk, not like wine.”; “Are you planning on having kids?”.
I encountered someone who presented themselves as the person I had been searching for. He mirrored qualities I had longed for in a partner. I fell in love with the fake persona he presented himself to be. Initially, we seemed aligned in goals, desires, and lifestyles. But as time passed, it became apparent that he was only a facade. The relationship became a living hell characterized by manipulation and control as he showed who he was. I never ever thought that I would ever find myself in this situation. I was a strong, confident, self-assured woman.
Why didn’t I leave sooner?
To an outsider looking in, I can see how it is hard to understand why someone wouldn’t just leave a situation like this. I tried for many years but there are layers of manipulation and control and it isn’t as easy as it sounds.
I am not making excuses, however, I will say that it is difficult to convey how quickly things can escalate and how an abuser can seize power and exert influence over their partner. The shame and guilt of being in that situation keeps you isolated. Despite its wrongness, the constant, vicious cycle of justifying their behavior adds to the burden.
Only those with similar problems can understand how something escalates to these levels. He sought to dominate every aspect of my life, exploiting my vulnerabilities and trust.
After years of yearning for my freedom, I managed to break free from that toxic dynamic. It was a process that required immense strength and courage. Overcoming this adversity was one of the most challenging journeys I’ve undertaken.
“Healing doesn’t always come in the form of medicine; sometimes it’s a plane ticket.”
Determined to live my best life
Through all of these difficulties, I discovered an unbreakable spirit within myself that refused to surrender. The scars remain, but they remind me of my resilience and the power of transformation. I am now the happiest I have ever been. During my time of healing, I read a phrase that helped me want to feel and do better for myself: “Happiness is the Ultimate Victory.”
I am now comfortable sharing this part of my journey to let others know they are not alone. If you’re facing similar struggles, I want you to understand that there is a way out, and there are people who care and are willing to support you on your path to healing. You deserve a life filled with positivity, love, respect, and the opportunity to thrive. I encourage you to do everything within your power to leave that situation safely.
I will never be grateful for cancer, but I must recognize that it propelled me toward confronting and healing numerous unresolved traumas in my life. As expected, cancer has been a significant life disruptor, the journey no one wants to go on, and the “gift” that keeps giving.
I have yet to go on the long-term trip with no end date that I envisioned taking back in 2018, but I have had the privilege of taking a few month-long trips since then. I now provide emotional support to my mom, who was diagnosed with rare cancer in late 2021 while I was on a solo trip to Italy.
The healing power of travel
In the last few years, I learned something profound about solo travel. It is not about running away from reality; it is about running toward it. In every corner of the world I ventured into, I found solace, clarity, and the space to heal. From the picturesque landscapes of Cinque Terre to the mesmerizing temples of Thailand, I faced the haunting memories of abuse, the trauma of cancer, and lots of complex emotions that arose. Each step was a testament to my strength, a reminder that I was not defined by my past but by the limitless possibilities of my future.
Can travel provide a cure-all solution?
Absolutely not! I strongly advise seeking healing through professional therapy and various other methods. Nevertheless, travel has offered me a unique environment to self-discover, understand my boundaries, and it has empowered me to recognize my capabilities.
Like a badass phoenix rising from the ashes of my past life!
Now, I am driven by a purpose – to uplift, empower, and redefine the narrative for people like me. “The Queen of Trips” is not just a blog or a place to brag about the latest trip; it is a place for travel inspiration, a haven for those who dare to dream beyond their circumstances. It is a space where the scars of the past become the stepping stones to our future, where the lessons learned become empowerment.
In this blog, those who have had to survive these types of traumas can find a resource to heal themselves through the transformative power of travel. Ultimately, the transformative power of travel lies in its ability to inspire personal change, broaden horizons, and create lasting memories that shape an individual’s outlook on life. It’s a journey beyond checking items off the bucket list or taking pics for the ‘gram to encompass emotional, mental, and spiritual growth.
Through practical tips, diverse stories, detailed guides, and the occasional travel hack, I’m here to tell you that the world is yours to explore, conquer, and reshape, no matter your circumstances. From overcoming the challenges of solo travel to silencing the voices of doubt that echo within us, I’m here to walk alongside you each step of the way.
I hope you join me on this journey!
If you made it this far, thank you for getting to know me better. To show my gratitude, I am hosting a giveaway as part of the blog launch. If you would like to enter the giveaway, check out this post.
P.S. It took a lot out of me to share this story. It is the first time that I have been open to share the ugliest parts of my past with the world. This will probably be one of the last times I share it.
Through my healing process, I have learned that in order to grow, I no longer need to revisit the emotions that I have already processed.
I share this story because it is a testimony to myself and others that we can create the marvelous life of our dreams, filled with travel, and I hope you know that so can you. And while life isn’t currently perfect, I sure as hell am making the absolute best of it while I can!