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Posted on March 29th, 2023 in Our Stories
When I was growing up, my parents always said, “When you kids are grown, we’re going to travel.” It never occurred to my sister and me, who’d been out of the house for years to say, “When are you going to do all that traveling you talked about?” By that time, they were in their 60s, illness had set in, they were afraid to go, and had no idea how to plan a big trip.
I’d always sworn I wouldn’t take that same path. Yet, here we were – my husband, Mark, and I, in our 60s, hadn’t given any thought to retiring, and had just been smacked upside the head with a liver cancer diagnosis.
While in the hospital after Mark’s first surgery, we were talking with friends about places we’d like to go, and we all agreed we should go to Mount Rushmore. Chemo started well, but things went terribly wrong on the second cycle. I was running him to the hospital daily for fluids and infusions just to keep him from bottoming out. They pulled him off chemo, and we thought we were out of the woods.
As he was recovering, our cousin and her husband who are outdoors people, invited us to visit their campsite. An RV was not on our radar, but something compelled us to look into it and we fell in love. Now, we are not frivolous spenders, so a camper was completely out of left field, but our older son said, “Mom, I’ve never known you to go shopping without a coupon or a discount. You and Dad have saved all your life — go — spend it — have fun.”
We visited many places in our little camper, including Mount Rushmore, and we’re the only ones of the ‘talkers’ who did.
Then we got slammed with the second cancer diagnosis — and Covid.
I wasn’t able to go with my husband of 38 years when he had his second surgery because of Covid. I was alone, at home, when the surgeon called. “It’s not liver cancer, it’s bile-duct cancer. Much rarer, and very volatile.. 7-9 months unless we can get it under control. Then, maybe a year. He won’t make two years.”
As he was recovering from the surgery, a program came on TV about Iceland and the northern lights. “Wow, that looks like a great place to see,” my husband said. But we were recovering from surgery, in the midst of Covid, with pretty much a death sentence on the table.
Our oncologist at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee is amazing. He pointed out that with cancer, attitude is everything. He gave us the go-ahead to continue camping and biking, which helps with Mark’s balance. When he said, “I’ve got a medication,” we jumped on it, and it bought us 18 months.
With a drug controlling Mark’s cancer and Covid beginning to fade in the background, we began losing our minds at home, but we couldn’t be around people with Mark’s compromised immunity. We took the camper and bikes out again, and in 2021, we put 2,021 miles on our bikes – not bad for a couple of old farts in their upper 60s. One day, while out in the middle of nowhere, the Iceland program came on again. Mark looked at me and said, “We should go there.” I told him I’d get right on that, wondering how on earth I plan a trip like that. Where do I even begin?
We are supporters of Wisconsin Public Television (WPT) and watch whenever we can. Somewhere between Agatha Christie and Murder in Paradise, an ad came on from WPT for a trip to Iceland, through Holiday Vacations. My first thought was, ‘Oh that’s going to be ungodly expensive.” But as soon as we got back to reliable Wi-Fi, I searched for WI PBS and Holiday Vacations, without saying anything to Mark because I didn’t want to get his hopes up.
First, I was surprised at how affordable it was. Next, I was taken aback by all the detail and planning. All we needed to do was go to the pick-up spot, and Holiday handled the rest until they dropped us off at the end of our tour. Apart from packing, Holiday had done everything! Finally, the ‘coupon clipper/discount seeker’ in me just about fell over when we got a travel credit for watching the video about this fabulous trip. I tentatively called thinking there’s got to be a catch, maybe all sorts of added fees. Nope. The only addition was the insurance fee, which was my choice to take or not.
I reached out to Mark’s oncologist about the trip. “Iceland,” he said, “I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland. Go, have a great time. All of Mark’s records are online, so if anything happens, any medical facility in the world can check them or call our office. Go!”
On Father’s Day, our boys and I surprised Mark with his trip to Iceland. Neither Iceland nor Holiday Vacations disappointed on this trip. Our Tour Director and our Icelandic guide were amazing. We returned home not only thrilled with our visit to Iceland, but with a better knowledge of the land, history, and culture. We weren’t even back home and we were thinking about where our next Holiday Vacations destination would be.
Back home, scrolling through the Holiday Vacations website to plan our next trip, we noticed the other Xanterra travel companies at the bottom of the page. I looked into them more, and in May we traveled with one of Holiday’s sister companies, VBT (Vermont Bike Tours) for an e-bike and barge tour of Holland just as the tulips were coming into full bloom. It was magical, and we couldn’t wait to travel again. September took us to Montreal, Quebec City, and Canadian Maritimes with Holiday Vacations. We love that they take all worry out of planning a trip; but what happens when something goes wrong?
Eastern Canada was stunning and the various sites we visited were thoroughly beautiful and memorable. However, the one thing Holiday Vacations didn’t have in the original itinerary was experiencing a hurricane. Just as we were winding our way toward Halifax, so was Hurricane Fiona. From the minute we all learned that Fiona was heading toward Canada, our Tour Director was in contact with Holiday Vacations.
As soon as it was clear Fiona was going to hit Halifax, Holiday Vacations turned us around and got us out of the eye of the storm.
This may sound simple, but the logistics of what they did still amazes me. Canadian buses are only allowed to drive a certain amount of time/miles in a day. The motor on the bus locks down and won’t run once the max is reached. So now, not only did Holiday have to find accommodations, but it had to be within a certain mileage range. While Canadians were also heading inland to find shelter from the storm, Holiday Vacations found a hotel that could take our entire tour group. That, in and of itself, was nothing less than a miracle. We were all safe. The hotel was brand new and we rode out the storm having fun.
That day, September 24, 2022, we also celebrated Mark’s second cancer anniversary. We’d made it to a time that Mark’s surgeon didn’t think was possible. In the irony of it all, Fiona was ravaging through Prince Edward Island, our surgeon’s childhood province. The next day, Holiday got us to Halifax, through the storm damage, to connect with our flights. We only missed one stop on our itinerary.
When we began Mark’s cancer journey, we never thought we’d be traveling the world. Mark’s cancers are both rare, so there aren’t a lot of drugs available to control them. We’ve been blessed with four years, during which we’ve traveled and lived our lives to the fullest. When our friends couldn’t keep track of us, I started a Facebook page chronicling Mark’s treatments and our travels. People say they look forward to our posts because they’re living vicariously through us. While I’m happy to inspire, it makes me sad to know other people aren’t living their dreams. When people say, “I could never do what you’re doing,” I can only ask, “Why?” Then, I often share the Holiday Vacations website with them and say, “Here’s where you start. Life is too short, come with us.”
For our next trip, as a full-blooded Czech, I’ve always dreamed of seeing where my family came from. We are currently in the process of getting Mark onto a new targeted cancer therapy. Once we get that squared away, we plan to enjoy Holiday Vacations for their Blue Danube River cruise in September.
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Tour days tend to be shorter in length, at a relaxed pace, and include lots of unscheduled time for leisure. Expect standing and walking for extended periods of time on flat surfaces, mostly low altitudes, and consistent temperatures.
Tour days usually move at a leisurely pace. Some days’ scheduled activities last longer than others. Expect standing and walking for long periods of time on occasionally uneven terrain. You may experience changes in altitude or temperature.
Tour days tend to be long, move at a consistent pace, and may include long travel days. Expect standing and walking for long periods of time on uneven surfaces. Some destinations may have changes in altitude and/or temperature.
Tour days tend to be long, move at a brisk pace, and may include lengthy travel days. Expect long periods of walking and standing on uneven surfaces. Scheduled activities may require physical effort or have distinct changes in altitude or temperature.
Tour days tend to be long, move at a vigorous pace, and may include lengthy travel days. Expect long periods of walking and standing on rough surfaces. Scheduled activities may require physical effort or have distinct changes in altitude or temperature.