In January 2019, keeping in mind the projected 15% survival rate, we decided to check things off the list. Unfortunately, several cancer caused broken bones nixed tennis, golf, and bowling for me. Although I had somewhat recovered from the broken bones caused by my cancer (left humerus and right clavicle), I still could not get about without a walker. Regardless, first on the list was a road trip to and from Hot Spring Arkansas as a prelude to our 50th wedding anniversary.
As 2019 was also the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, as we began our trip west we first stopped in Huntsville, Alabama and the Space Center there. I still recall stopping on 19 July 1969 at my cousin Michael Collins' family home. We were enroute to my first military duty assignment 29 July at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi at the time. The next day we watched the other Michael Collins command the Apollo 11 that orbited the moon while Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed.
Anyway, back to our bucket list road trip, we next stopped overnight at Graceland in Memphis to visit Elvis Pressley. The King wasn't at home, but we did enjoy touring his home. Next, we were off to Little Rock to see my sister. She is married to the artistic Mr. Pollock, no, not Paul Jackson Pollock, but a Pollck nevertheless. They had moved the year before from New Jersey just across the state line from Philadelphia. We got to see the latest Pollock artwork before we sped onward to Hot Springs, and I must say it was like viewing lightning at work.
After a week touring and gambling in Hot Springs, Arkansas (races were deferred while we were there), we left for Nashville enroute to home in the hills of North Georgia. We had a great visit, including a brief spot I had singing at the Grand Olde Opry in Ryman Auditorium. We left for home the next day.
Next on our list was a Road Not Taken. First a return to Texas via Dallas-Fort Worth to visit my niece the talented Mrs. DeVega, then on to Houston to visit friends, thence to San Antonio and on to the West to visit my friend Joseph Smith. (Oh, did I mention Betty's Grandmother was Mormon? Of course, no matter how extraordinary my Joseph Smith is, he was not the founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints). Thence to Roswell, New Mexico for a classic tourist Alien visitation treat. Next stop was to be Colorado Springs and a possible visit with my Space Command nephew Ross and longtime friends from Germany. Our next stop was to be Las Vegas enroute to LA to visit Jimmy my high school friend and renowned lawyer (it was his firm about which the movie "Erin Brockovich" was made, but he doesn't really resemble Albert Finney). Finally, on this Road Not Taken, we planned to head home for a respite.
I was exhausted already from our earlier road trip, not to mention my depression when on return home we found that my tumors had not shrunk any more in spite of extensive radiation and immunotherapy. We still maintained a measure of optimism about the future, so we decided to defer that Western excursion until 2020. So, instead we planned to take a month long paddle-wheel riverboat cruise from New Orleans to Red Wing, Minnesota, headwaters of the Mississippi River to mark our 50 year marriage miletone.
We began this anniversary trip taking AMTRAK from our home near Gainesville, Georgia to New Orleans and spent a few days there. We started with a canned tour of New Orleans to get our bearings. I had not been back since 1968 and Betty last visited in 1973. Having visited the WWII exhibition, the Mardi Gras exhibition and several walking tours to Bourbon Street, open air market, and pierside attractions. As might be expected, after walking many miles using my walker, I was exhausted. I'm sure Betty was ready, willing, and able to pfress right along, but to assuage my feelings shge claimed she too was worn out. Fortunately, our cruise was set to begin.
The cruise was initially great, however, the Mississippi was so flooded that we could go no further north than the confluence of the Ohio river with the Mississippi. As an alternative the Mississippi Queen detoured up the Ohio. We went as far as West Virginia, stopping at Marshall University, famous for rising above the ashes of death. We then reversed course to Cincinnati and thence home. A truly bittersweet trip, but at least a half bucket full. Mind you, we did enjoy the Ohio leg.
On our return we found that the tumor in my left arm had grown and I was still stuck with a walker to get around. Nevertheless, we took our bi-annual birthday (Betty's is October 29, but she is no witch) visit to Westgate Smokey Mountain Resort in Gatlinburg; and we hosted both Betty's and my family at our home for Thanksgiving. The two of us just stayed home for Christmas. While I stayed in a sorry for myself funk, Betty encouraged getting out again to dispel my fears. Her solution was to take a trip to Africa. Note that at this time there was little fan fare about COVID-19.
I had my tri-monthly PET/CT scan to see how the cancer had progressed on February 17. Fortunately the tumors had changed very little so on Feb 19 we left for Johannesburg South Africa. We spent 11 days touring the country culminating in a three day safari. We then flew to Dubai and caught the cruise ship Norwegian Spirit for a 20 day sail back to Cape Town to visit friends there. I'll share details of the adventure in another post, but suffice it to say our ship was persona non gratis at every planned port and only the lack of any illness on the ship allowed us to get home on the last plane to the US.
So there we were with half our bucket list plans, and a part of our children's inheritance, thwarted and diminished. In addition the Pandemic was in full swing and threatening the health and life of senior citizens who have a dimished immune system. At that point I came to the conclusion that ENOUGH is ENOUGH. I have resolved that I shall not be overcome. And I'm winning! I no longer need a walker and I look forward to each day. All it takes is a change in attitude.