I just returned from the 2015 International Beachcombing Conference (IBC) held on the Olympic Peninsula, and am still flying high. Five days of joy, exhilaration, camaraderie, HAPPINESS, learning, fun, laughs, and ENERGY! Times like these are what make life worth living for me. They also give me something to look forward to again, and again, and again.
Last year, during chemo, I kept thinking I should make a bucket list to help me focus on the future, but for a while I had a hard time coming up with things I wanted to do.
I’d done a lot already in life but surely there were still other goals? Skydiving, bungee jumping, zip lining? (Nope. Don’t like heights.) Visiting places like India or China? (Nope. No matter how exotic, the crush of too much humanity was not appealing.) In fact, nothing much appealed to me. Spending time with family and friends was a no brainer. Tying up loose-ends – revising my will, tossing old letters, finishing a second book – was dutiful.
But then what? I loved watching big wave surfing. I loved riding bikes down hills with my feet off the peddles. And thinking back to moments and places where I felt true joy, I returned to sailing to secluded or uninhabited islands in the Mediterranean, Chesapeake Bay or South Pacific where I snorkeled and beachcombed. Or spending time with beachcomb buddies sharing treasures and swapping stories long into the night.
Slowly, my bucket list evolved. New travel adventures and beachcombing figured heavily in it.
The first big planning decision I made a year ago when I learned I was tumor free was to set a date for IBC ’15. Even though there were no guarantees I would be healthy enough to pull it off, people kept emailing me about it. Besides, setting a date gave me a goal to wake up to everyday. For instance, because I situated the 2015 conference on the remote, wide stretches of driftwood-strewn Olympic Peninsula beaches instead of the Mid-Atlantic’s easy flat shorelines, I knew I needed to get fit enough to traverse them.
But the 24 consecutive weeks of chemo had ravaged my body in many ways, including my thigh muscles, which had atrophied to the point where I couldn’t stand up very easily, even from a sitting position. The chemo-induced neuropathy left my feet numb with toes that couldn’t bend or grip. I was unsteady on my feet and oftentimes, tripped when I walked. Sometimes I even fell, and then I couldn’t get up, rocking like a turtle on its back trying to get some leverage. I couldn’t even walk down my driveway, much less on a rocky beach.
Some Dr. Beachcomb.
So each day, I went for a walk, no matter how short. In the beginning, my sons or my husband accompanied me, just in case I fell. As I walked, I pictured myself striding down the hillside to magnificent Ruby Beach or strolling along windswept Damon Point.
Soon, I added leg lifts to build my core and did push-ups off the bathroom counter so I would be able to hoist my suitcase into the plane’s overhead compartment. Slowly, day-by-day, month-by-month, I grew stronger until I could go on short solo hikes up steep hills that left me winded but also made me feel like Rocky on the top step of the Philly Museum of Art. Ta-da-daaaa, Ta-da-daaaa!
Using the upcoming beachcomb conference as my inspiration – with each walk, with each milestone met – I moved further and further away from cancer and illness, and closer and closer to health and vigor.
I took a gamble and booked a beach party in a quirky, out-of-the-way spot, and still, a group of adventurous people heard the call of the wild and flew in from across the country to beachcomb with me. It was a leap of faith on their part as much as it was on mine. And last week at IBC ‘15, I walked down the hillside to Ruby Beach like nothing had ever been wrong with my body.
As a spirit lifter, never underestimate the power of planning something to which you can look forward. By scheduling IBC ’15, I invented my future and then spent months getting healthy enough to meet up with it.
It was wonderful to spend time with all these curious, happy people. I hope may of us meet up again for more adventures at IBC ’16 on Hawai’i’s Big Island. I’ll be ready.