I recently celebrated five years cancer free – WOOO!!! This is a HUGE milestone because this magical five year mark means that I AM CURED!!! The disease has not come back and it better never come back! I have too much life to live! It means a lot to me, and means more than some other birthdays I have had. This milestone seemed so far away and difficult to get to but I made it.
This post is dedicated to my time spent during cancer and my thoughts and memories. I also thank a whole heck of a lot of people in this blog post. So if you really want to read this, you might want to grab some coffee or a snack because this is a long post! This isn’t all happy either! (Thank you in advance for reading!!)
I remember crying alone in my car when I got the news from my new primary care doctor and how I needed to try to hold it together when I needed to call off work because I was being sent to an oncologist immediately when my first results came back.
I remember coming home to tell my brother, who had to drive me to the oncologist (my brother was 19 at the time) and my sister (22 at the time) meeting us there straight after work. I remember their faces and I remember how I felt. I remember trying to relax and be calm because they were so worried.
I remember getting a bone marrow biopsy which still makes me cringe to this day. It was painful.
I remember shutting everyone out and having my brother and my boyfriend at the time call my family members to tell them the news. I couldn’t bare to talk to anyone and only hung out with a few people that weekend (Memorial Day weekend – so long weekend thank God!)
I remember going for my first PET scan and so many other procedures that I never had to do ever in my life.
I remember my first chemo and how I can’t stand the taste of honey nut cheerios anymore. My first chemo was seven hours and my aunt brought me and then my sister sat with me all of those hours after she worked beforehand.
I remember the taste of those bitter steroid pills that instantly dissolved in your mouth – I would eat them with sour patch kids!
I remember the day my hair starting falling out – I barely could brush it and by the next day, my brother was shaving my head because I couldn’t stand it anymore.
I remember all of my chemo sessions afterwards – my grandma came with me to each one and my grandpa drove us. We sat and talked for four hours every time about everything and anything.
I remember getting the call that I didn’t need chemo anymore and my excitement was short lived because I called you and you couldn’t talk to me to celebrate. We then had a fight and I had to celebrate without you. I remember thinking this wasn’t that big of a deal.
I remember my brother in law and sister taking me out to celebrate I didn’t need chemo anymore because my cancer was gone. I remember some of my friends coming out also since it was so last minute. They made me feel this was a big deal.
I remember my first radiation treatment and how all of the nurses were so nice. My radiologist was so awesome too and I learned so much from him as he too was a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Cancer survivor. I learned so much more from him that I ever did from my oncologist.
I remember the nurses at St. Margaret’s gave me a head wrap because I wore head wraps to radiation all the time.
I remember celebrating two times with my groups of friends because I was done with radiation and I was cancer free.
I remember getting back to my life somewhat normally – and getting a haircut for the first time and how scary it was to not need a wig anymore.
I remember going in for my 6 month check-up after being declared cancer free. My treatment had worked – 6 months of chemo and three weeks of radiation. I also went for my first mammogram. I had no reason to believe I was going to be a cancer patient again in a week’s time. I was so focused on my life outside of my health and focused on boy drama that it never crossed my mind that I would end up having cancer again.
I remember about a week later I was talking to my oncologist that I had cancer again and then being referred to a fertility specialist all within an hour on the same day because I was also told that my eggs would basically be gone after this round of chemo after a second time. Within an hour, everything came crashing down and I was alone to receive this news.
I remember depending on a person to help me find solace – I remember wanting that person to make me feel better and be there to support me. I felt so broken and lost and lonely and again, it was about how this person was treating me and not how the news of having cancer again affected me. I remember that was my dead on focus and unfortunately I hadn’t let this news sink in of having cancer again. I was a mess and very down.
I remember seeing a therapist for the first time – it is a requirement of someone who is “under duress” needing to freeze eggs caused by a medical condition. We had an hour together and it was on a day where I found out a relationship was no longer going to happen because it was solidified that the other person had moved on. I was devastated all around. I also had to make up my mind in who I would gift my eggs to if something were to happen to me. This is the moment where everything sank in.
I remember going to Northwestern every day for three weeks – driving myself early in the morning going to a fertility clinic where there were couples and pregnant woman and me, being single and nowhere near having babies in my life, was waiting among them. I felt so odd and out of place. I had to go for daily ultrasounds because they were speeding up the “freezing of my eggs” process so I could start chemo ASAP.
I remember having my egg procedure done and the nurse in the room holding my hand, both of her hands gripped my hand tight and how sweet she was. Whoever she was, she brought me so much comfort that day. At this point in the process, I was going through the motions and I always expected the unexpected and was ready for whatever was coming because no matter what, the next few months were very unknown to me.
I remember the day before I started my first chemo I had the day off. I ran errands and made myself up and worked out and ate like a queen that day. It was also the first time I could put my hair in a ponytail for over a year.
I remember starting my first chemo – this time around I would be admitted for 48 hours (over the course of 3 days) and spent most of this time alone.
I remember my best friend spending the night on a hard hospital bed next to me and it was the best thing ever. Anything I could to distract my mind from what was happening would be a good thing for me. Social media was my friend where I lived on it to communicate with the outside world. I was administered chemo straight for 12 hours.
I remember having a positive outlook on moving on from my ended relationship and started up a new one – a distraction really. I remember also when this quickly ended as being bald was not ideal for this person.
I remember again focusing on things that should not have mattered. I needed to focus on my health and my mindset and these distractions needed to go away. I was going to put myself first and focus on getting through these next unknown months.
I remember losing my hair and this time I was able to simply pull it out from my head – I didn’t use clippers or anything. It was like pulling string and it was painless to pull out. I lost it all within a day (this would be my second time losing hair).
I remember going on a date and it was when I was bald and thinking how in the world am I pulling this off? I felt so self-conscious about this and was so nervous. I never expected anything from it but it took my mindset to a whole new direction.
I remember actually having FUN during my chemo visits and in between my chemo rounds. I would have 2.5 weeks off in between treatments and I made sure to get out and do stuff when I was feeling fine. I celebrated every little milestone – I had so many things to be grateful for and I was actually happy for a change. It was an odd feeling because the first time I went through chemo was a very stressful and difficult time and the people around me then did not fully support me how I needed to be supported.
I remember going out with all of my friends and celebrating the fact I had a chest x-ray that showed no signs of my cancer! This was after my 2nd round and I would still have to go through a 3rd round and then a stem-cell transplant. I felt great and it was awesome to be around with a group of people who were all fully supporting you.
I remember then becoming obsessed with Seagram’s ginger ale with some cranberry juice! My nurse that made that for me was the best nurse ever and my obsession with ginger ale is still thriving five years later!
I remember being in the hospital in the dead of winter. I remember for the most time being alone and not having communication with any of the outside world. I remember not WANTING to speak to anyone except for a select few. My sister was really the only person I truly wanted to talk to.
I remember the nurses having me meet another patient who was on my floor and had a similar story as mine. We met in the computer room and she was going through the same treatment as me. Her mom and her would check in on me all the time. We still communicate to this day.
I remember when walking around once on the hospital floor was a long journey. I needed to wear a mask and gloves and I couldn’t walk fast or without losing my breath.
I remember only consuming diet coke and Reese’s pieces and maybe some ginger ale as that was the only thing that I wanted. Some days I even sprung for some popcorn. I was the weakest I had ever been and with my busy mind and my “go go go” attitude that I can’t even imagine how I was able to lay in a bed for 12 hours a day. I didn’t want to get up and walk around. I felt that crummy.
This was right around the time I was having horrible fevers and had an infection in my system that the doctors didn’t know the cause for. I was cleared to go home with all other stats but I remember being so upset and frustrated that this reinforced the idea that sometimes you might do the right things with your body and be healthy and active your whole life, that you can’t do anything about it. You have to play the mental game and mentally get through these times.
I remember my sister would come and visit and take dirty clothes away and by the time I left the hospital, my suitcases were packed full with snacks and no clothes!
I remember sitting in my hospital room every night living on Facebook (Facebook memories also reminds me of this!) and planning out my next year of things I wanted to do. I remember signing up for races WHILE going through chemotherapy.
I remember coming home and not being able to walk a flight of stairs without being out of breath. I can’t believe how fast your body gets weak with being bed ridden for so long.
I remember coming home to my puppy, who from what I heard was acting really strange because I was gone. My sister had made me a cake and decorated the house for me to come home!
I remember getting another huge blow as someone important to my recovery and my happiness was once again leaving my life and I would need to pick up more pieces. I remember also not dwelling over this too much as I was going back to work and finally going to get my normal routine back. I was determined to get my strength back and walking on a treadmill for 8 minutes straight was a big accomplishment.
I remember a month after my auto transplant I ran a 5 mile race (yes one that I signed up for while getting treatment).
I remember after my first x-ray that I had signs of possible cancer growth again and had to have another surgery. This was a huge blow to my recovery. I went through this surgery and it ended up being dead cells. It was a scary moment but it was another speed bump in recovery.
I remember celebrating every milestone this time around and the people around me made it a big deal with every test, every procedure, every declaration of clear scans. I remember having a better support system this time around.
I remember finally being declared cancer free and I held a huge part at my house that involved a keg. It was one of the best parties our house had ever seen!
I remember that summer was one of the best summers I had with my friends. I got so close with so many people and developed relationships that would last the rest of my life. Those people are still my family today.
I came out of this stronger than before. I think that my first time with cancer really didn’t change me for the better because I was more of the same person – I depended on others for happiness and I wasn’t the independent person I was supposed to be. I lost myself in a relationship and during my first cancer battle, all I wanted to do was “get back to normal”. No one was there to tell me that I will have a new normal and through my 2nd battle and all the other side heartaches that happened, I love the person I have developed into today. Now being 30 years old, I think about how I was 23 years old being diagnosed, alone in a car on my way to work and needing to go see an oncologist right away. I was roped into this whirlwind and unfamiliar territory where I didn’t have my mom or dad to call or take me to my appointments. There was so much stress put on this life of a young adult that it makes me tear up thinking of my young self and how much she had to deal with. Thinking of 23 year olds today, my goodness! I can’t tell you how I got through it, I can just tell you that I did get through it. I don’t know how I did it. You just get through. I didn’t get through this alone though.
My Thank You’s
Thank you to my best friend, where I remember going out to dinner to a local Chili’s to catch up and as she was going through nursing school I decided to tell her about a painless lump in my neck that wouldn’t go away. I could tell by the way she looked at me when I told her that she was immediately concerned. I didn’t have a primary care doctor established (never needed one as I was relatively healthy) and she referred me to her local family doctor.
Thank you to that family doctor who sent me straight to get tests done because she had some major concerns. Also, thank you to her when she immediately had arranged for me to see an oncologist after I was read my cancer results.
Thank you to my assistant manager at the time, who was very caring and understanding when I had to call off work that day because I got this news and couldn’t come in because I was seeing the oncologist.
Thank you to my brother and my sister that day – my brother (who is 4 years younger than me) drove me to the oncologist because I was so upset. My sister left work and met me there as well.
Thank you to my uncle who was there for me every single step of the way and for all of the major appointments.
Thank you to my boyfriend at the time who took me to my very first PET scan and made sure I ate well and took me out for chicken wings. He calmed my fears that day.
Thank you to my aunt, uncle and boyfriend who came with me for my surgery and my boyfriend and his family buying us food all weekend.
Thank you to my sister, who sat with me for seven hours straight during my first chemo session (after she had worked all morning).
Thank you to my aunt who also came with me to my first chemo session and made sure to bring a bunch of snacks for me. (who was also caring for her sick mom at the time)
Thank you to my grandma who sat with me at every other chemo session after that. We would talk and talk and talk about life and everything else. Thank you to my grandpa for driving my grandma and me there and back every time.
Thank you to my boyfriend’s family at the time, because they took care of me and thank you for the golf outing that was put on to support me. Thank you to all of the wonderful people who donated and sponsored golf holes and thank you to my friends who made shirts, designed shirts, made jello shots and did just about everything for me that day.
Thank you to all of my friends who celebrated with me for each milestone of being done with chemo and being done with radiation and being cancer free.
Thank you to my brother in law for always driving me around and taking care of me when my sister needed a break.
Thank you to my sister who made dinner every night for me and kept the household running when I couldn’t even walk around because I was so sore and sick.
Thank you to my brother who used his clippers to shave my head when I couldn’t stand it anymore.
Thank you to so many wonderful friends, co-workers and acquaintances who sent me gift cards to myself and my family. So many random acts of kindness that it was overwhelming.
Thank you to my oncologist at Northwestern, because now I actually miss seeing you as much as I did before. I was always nervous to go to my doctor here locally, but all of the doctors and nurses at Northwestern eased my worries and actually cared about me.
Thank you to my uncle and my aunt who were with me every single step of the way when it came to more surgeries, doctors’ appointments and other procedures. Thank you to my uncle especially for sitting with me for 8 hours in a really boring room while I had my stem cells harvested.
Thank you to my sister who doesn’t like driving on the highway and made it to Northwestern once a week by train to visit me on her own.
Thank you to my brother in law for driving me or picking me up from Northwestern when my uncle couldn’t.
Thank you to my best friends, who came and visited me and most notably one of my friends always spending the night with me.
Thank you to my boyfriend at the time, who provided overwhelming support for me while I endured this, and who was so good to me when I needed him to be. It kept me distracted a lot of the times and you were one of the only people I wanted to talk to or lean on.
Thank you to all of my friends who visited me and brought me snacks and stuffed animals and had dinner with me. I will never forget all of my visitors.
Thank you to one of my nurses at Northwestern – who made a special “cocktail” for me for the Super Bowl and made everything so painless for me. Being a big sports fan, I watched the Super Bowl alone and it was weird for me because I was used to parties. She made a special concoction of ginger ale and cranberry for me and now I am addicted.
Thank you to my friend who visited me on Sundays – those were the best days to look forward to.
Thank you to my wonderful aunt who came with me to my last surgery because it was amazing to get to spend the day with you and get to talk to you like that.
Thank you to my awesome group of friends – where you believed in my ideas and my will power and signed up for many races to run in while I was still in the hospital fully knowing I was going to be okay and run with you.
Thank you to my amazing family who constantly checked in on me, brought me food and cared for me while I needed it.
Thank you to one of my bosses (and my now husband!) for emailing me while I was in the hospital demanding pictures of food and basically just demanding contact. It is amazing how you are a little part of this story and now you are the biggest part.
Thank you to my girls – you know who you are. You are all amazing to me and I just can’t imagine not having you in my life.
Thank you to my sister – because you were my biggest champion through all of this and there were times where I couldn’t take care of myself. I can’t list the millions of things you did for me, but know I will be forever grateful. When I came home from my long stay, I walked into a house that was already decorated.
Thank you to everyone who gave me encouragement, a card, a gift card, monetary donation, said a prayer or anything else – I had an immense amount of support and I’m sure there are people that I don’t even know who supported me also. If you are no longer a part of my life anymore or we have drifted a part, please know that if you were a part of my story you helped in some way and I will be forever grateful. I am the person I am today thanks to everyone who has come into my life.
I don’t feel what I did is extraordinary – the best quote I can share with you is “You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have”. That was my only choice. In my mind, I feel I did what anyone else would have done. It honestly took a lot of nights of self-reflection and days where I sat alone thinking in silence about certain situations or my road to recovery, but it also took a lot of venting sessions with a lot of my friends and a lot of my distractions helped also. It takes a village, and really, there isn’t enough support for the family or friends that go through this with you. Sure, you might be the cancer patient and you can only help yourself but what about the caretakers who feel helpless and try to understand what you are going through? I had so many people in my life who were my caretakers, but my core friends and family, I will never understand what they were thinking, just as they won’t understand my feelings. I was diagnosed at 23, my sister was 22 and my brother was 19. For my sister to go through this as well, we were all so young dealing with so many adult issues. The same goes for my friends and my various significant others throughout this road; they do not understand and everyone reacts differently. Some people aren’t geared to be there for other people or geared to take on such a big responsibility and it doesn’t make them a bad person, it’s just that they aren’t the ones that need to be there for you. The people that can handle these unfortunate events are the ones that are the strongest. I don’t blame the people who I lost along the road, because like I said, everyone reacts differently. I was so young, we were all so young going through this mess and I didn’t have parents that were there to help or be there for me. A lot of young people dealing with a mess of adult issues.
The last five years have been nothing but amazing; and while there has been heartache along the road and ups and downs, I know how to live life now. When I turned 30 last summer, it was very bittersweet because I was saying good-bye to my 20’s, which were truly life changing in every way. I know how to get through tough times and really dig deep and know that certain situations are only temporary. All that matters is your reaction and what you are going to do next. You absolutely cannot control life sometimes, but you can control how you react and your actions towards your outcome. I have amazing people in my life and people that support me in whatever I do and I only hope that I show that back. You can’t waste your life on people who don’t lift you up and on not being happy with yourself. You are missing out on so much if you aren’t doing things you truly love with the people who truly build you up and make you feel great.
Thank you for reading my longest post ever – this was an ode to the young girl who didn’t know what she was getting in to and how proud I am of that girl for getting through the hardest trials of her young life.
Until next time,
If you are a cancer survivor or cancer warrior right now and have some questions or need to talk, I am here. I am a part of several groups on Facebook where I give advice and share my story and experiences to other cancer survivors or current cancer patients now. If you need to talk to someone, I am here for you to vent <3
You can connect with me on any social media outlet or email me at email@example.com or go to the contact tab at the top of this page.
It has been a little bit since we featured a story on the Laugh Always Spotlight Edition! I had the pleasure of meeting Sara and she explained that she has Graves Disease. I have never even heard of this! She wanted to share her story and experience in hopes to inspire others out there with the same disease. Read on for her inspirational journey!
“Dare to be what you are, and learn to resign with a good grace all that you are not and to believe in your own individuality.”
“You have Graves Disease.” These are the four words that changed my life. Of course having an incurable illness changes everything. So maybe that isn’t so surprising. But, shockingly, Graves Disease changed my life in the most incredibly amazing ways. Ways I am unbelievably thankful for.
This experience has, at times, been difficult and agonizing and has cracked me open and left me vulnerable in ways I never thought possible. But it’s also taught me to love myself fiercely. And that love is the reason I feed myself with kindness, talk to myself with respect and adulation and live in a way that brings me incredible joy. It’s even changed my career path, expanded my interests and fueled my passions. Sounds kind of bonkers right? Let’s back this story up a little.
I was 22 when things started to go wrong, slowly at first and then suddenly, as if everything was falling apart all at once. It started with unexplained weight loss and within a year it weaved its way into what felt like a never-ending nightmare… complete with anxiety, insomnia, hot flashes, insatiable hunger, excruciating muscle spasms, a racing heart that may or may not have been trying to escape from my body and more. My vitality was slipping away from me at such a young age. I was horrified and so angry. I mean, we’re supposed to be strong and healthy until we’ve grown old, right? I learned the hard way that that isn’t always the case.
A year and a half after the first symptom hit I was a mess. And it still took months of doctors’ appointments and tests for those 4 life changing words to find me. And even longer for me to truly absorb and understand what that sentence really meant for my future.
So what exactly is Graves Disease?
This illness is an autoimmune disease that causes Hyperthyroidism. For some unknown reason your body decides that your thyroid is the enemy and attacks it with antibodies. Thyroid hormones affect almost every cell in the body, so the symptoms are wide ranging and have a huge impact on your well-being. Medical treatment is an absolute must and I urge anyone experiencing Graves to get medical help. If left untreated, Graves Disease can have severe consequences (including a potentially fatal thyroid storm).
In some cases (like mine) the same autoantibodies that attack the thyroid can also go after the eyes causing Graves Ophthalmopathy… say that one 5 times fast, I dare you! That tongue twister is a super complicated way of saying Graves Eye Disease. This time the immune system attacks the muscles around the eyes, causing swelling that makes your eyes bulge. This often leads to irritation, grittiness, light sensitivity, tearing, and blurred vision. It’s as fun as it sounds.
And while all that sounds pretty grim, it’s the autoimmune part that’s the biggest problem.
Autoimmune diseases, at this time, are incurable. Your body is pretty freaking smart and can sometimes store and remember antibodies, protecting you from experiencing certain illnesses more than once. Which is pretty amazing, right? But when your own immune system starts attacking you this awesome ability kind of backfires. My body will never forget Graves Disease antibodies. And so even in remission (something I am thankfully experiencing right now) they’re still there. They always will be. If their levels get too high and they decide to attack I will get sick again.
And at this point you may be wondering “Hey Sara… where’s that life changing goodness you were talking about?” It really does sound pretty grim so far, doesn’t it? And it was. It really was. For the better part of a year I wallowed in misery.
My doctor’s placed me on strong, long term dose of medication to balance out my hormones and advised me to simply rest and wait. I wasn’t expected to get much better. The plan of action was to get my body to a place where surgery or radiation would be safe options and to go from there. You see – since we can’t cure Graves Disease we usually go at it like an army would go after an impenetrable wall. We blow up that thyroid or remove it from the picture surgically. It’s much easier to replace hormones medically for the rest of your life (and hopefully find some sort of comfortable balance that feels natural) than it is to supress them.
Does that fix the autoimmune problem? Heck no! That problem can’t be fixed. And there are potential consequences that exist because of that regardless of which treatment plan you take. But it does make things easier to treat if you can’t achieve remission.
And so I wallowed and I waited. But after months on medication I didn’t feel any better and I was so incredibly tired of being sick and tired. I decided to take a little action and see if I could somehow play a bigger role in my healing.
I started a food and symptoms journal and brought it to a doctor’s appointment to talk to them about how my diet was potentially affecting my illness. And we noticed that gluten was a huge issue for me. It was time to break up with a food group I had been subsisting on for my entire life.
But instead of viewing this as a huge loss, I went home feeling renewed. I felt like I may finally have a small piece of power in my corner. I could change my diet and potentially help make things a little better. This was a pretty exciting change of pace after feeling powerless for so long.
This was going to be my golden opportunity. But I found myself thinking that if I had to make such a huge change, why not take it one step further? Instead of simply cutting out gluten, why not radicalize my diet and embrace healthy eating in a way I had never consider? This decision changed everything.
I began eating with thought and devotion, embracing health supporting foods that would fuel my well-being. And after 30 days I felt AMAZING. And I found myself excited to discover new vegetables and create new recipes.
You see, I was never what you might call a healthy foodie. A huge part of my diet was prepackaged junk and I hated most vegetables. But learning to eat in a way that supported my biological functions and ultimately my health changed my prognosis. Not only because it made me feel better, but because I started to care deeply about how my every day choices were affecting my health.
Changing my diet taught me to listen to the messages my body was trying so hard to tell me. It inspired me to treat my body with unconditional love and forgiveness. It led me to work on self-love and revamp my lifestyle so that it supported my well-being. This entire journey allowed me to create a respectful and loving relationship with myself that I never envisioned.
Ultimately, changing my diet helped me realize that I can still be healthy. I may have an incurable illness, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t find a way to thrive with it. Changing my diet gave me my life back.
And you know what? It gave me my health back too. Thanks to my lifestyle revamp I am currently in remission and I still have my thyroid. I will always have Graves Disease and may experience flare ups, but I’ve learned to accept this as part of my journey.
I may someday need to resort to surgery or radiation and I’m glad those options exist for me if needed. But I’m also very thankful that I’ve create a lifestyle that allows me to thrive with Graves Disease. One radical choice changed everything.
So why exactly would I tell you I’m grateful for Graves Disease itself?
While I certainly would never call it a gift, because I wouldn’t give it to you, Graves Disease was the catalyst for so many positive changes in my life. Without it I never would have discovered the joy of feeding myself with kindness and sharing healthy, nutritious meals with those I love. I wouldn’t have become my own greatest ally or realized how incredibly important it is to love yourself fiercely and make your own well-being a top priority. Before Graves Disease my own self care was pretty low on my list of priorities.
In the excitement of all of those changes, Graves Disease inspired me to create mshealthesteem.com to share my experiences and recipes and inspire others to love and care for themselves just as fiercely. Because you deserve it.
If I can take those 4 life altering words and use them to propel me forward in such a positive direction, imagine what YOU can do.
Wishing you health and love,
Sara is a wellness writer, Graves Disease Thriver and the creator of www.mshealthesteem.com. At 24, Sara was diagnosed with Graves Disease, an incurable autoimmune disease. While learning to live with a chronic illness she realized that she needed to make a commitment to her wellbeing and treat her body with kindness. She empowered herself to do everything she can to thrive in spite of her diagnosis. Sara writes articles on self-care, acceptance, wellness and nutrition – as well as simple, delicious, healthy recipes anyone can enjoy (dessert’s her favourite). Start your own wellness journey today with her Free Self-Care Planner and Healthy Dessert Recipe E-Book.
Thank you for reading Sara’s story! If you want to read other stories like this one, head on over to the Laugh Always Spotlight or you can read the most recent article here —>
Lost in Northern Vietnam – Laugh Always Spotlight Edition
Welcome to the latest edition of the Laugh Always Spotlight! Thanks for being here! This is a first story like this that we have done; something different!
Have you ever thought about being lost in a foreign land where you don’t know the language? I am sure that is why a lot of people don’t even travel to foreign countries because of this fear. Here is a story from Monique & Dylan, also know as the Honeymoon Backpackers. This is kind of a crazy story and I don’t know what I would have done!
We’ve never really been ones for planning; we like to go with the flow & just hope for the best. So that’s what we did whilst in Vietnam on our journey from Hanoi to Sapa, riding our motorbike ‘Betty’. Possibly not the brightest move on my behalf considering I suffer from anxiety. An unfamiliar environment, no one who speaks English, crazy drivers, potholes all over the road and tons of traffic, what could go wrong?
We already planned the route we wanted to take to Sapa; it’s part of the Northern Loop & has incredible scenery along the way. Except we ended up leaving from the North rather than the south, to bypass the insane peak hour traffic in Hanoi. This was the first of many poor decisions.
After a while, we realized the bike was lagging. Only to find that our petrol tank was empty, I guess that’s one way to realize that our petrol gauge doesn’t work. The freeway began & we saw a big sign saying “NO MOTORBIKES”, therefore we had to change routes.
Our phone battery is horrific and died within the first two hours of driving and our portable charger I swear I had the day before, was nowhere to be found. Things just weren’t going our way at all.
We were stopping every 5 minutes to ask for directions. Somehow we stumbled upon an old ancient complex, believed to have belonged to the Tang Dynasty who used to be the Chinese rulers of Vietnam. The winding roads were picturesque, we were sheltered by a natural canopy of vines blocking the piercing sun. We drove past beautiful lakes, with pathways wrapping around them. Old stone dragon statues protruded out of these perfectly manicured bushes. The entrance was just incredible with a huge main gate and guards. We snapped a quick picture, just before we got caught in a huge storm.
Somehow I was doing okay, despite everything that had gone wrong I tried to be positive. Dylan kept reassuring me that we are on some crazy adventure and that no other traveler who visits would experience what we did.
After the storm passed we got back on the road & somehow managed to make friends with another couple whilst riding our motorbike. It’s quite normal to ride next to each other on motorbikes and have a conversion, thank heavens I wasn’t the one driving.
The Vietnamese girl asked “Where are you going”, “We came from Hanoi & we’re going to Sapa” we said, “follow us” she answered, “we’re going the same way”.
Turns out we were not going the same way, in fact the opposite.. She thought we were going TO Hanoi not coming FROM Hanoi… I definitely should have just answered ‘Sapa’ instead of trying to have a proper English conversation! She said ‘sorry’ and told us to go back the way we came. Yeah now my anxiety and stress was settling in.
So we drove two hours back the way we came as it turned from dusk to complete darkness. We somehow found a cheap hotel, got some food and connected to WiFi. Only to realize that we didn’t have to backtrack two hours, just turn right instead of left. I was trying so hard not to loose it.
Despite everything, we had an awesome adventure on our first day, even though we only actually rode 120km, and were only two hours from Hanoi. Tomorrow we had some major riding to do if we were going to reach Sapa.
We woke up with a bright positive attitude that today was going to be our day. It’s a shame a positive attitude can only get you so far, when everything that could go wrong does go wrong.
We had our phone charged, route sorted and a clear sense of direction, but even that couldn’t help us. Once again we drove on the same road for the third time in a row.
We worked out the route we were going to take, had a pretty clear sense of our direction and this time our phone was fully charged! Off we went to embark upon the same long stretch of road for the 3rd time (thanks to yesterday’s mishap). Thankfully the drive was beautiful as it wrapped around a river alongside rice fields with water buffalo.
Google maps soon directed us towards the road to Sapa, YES. Our hearts dropped once we saw the “No Motorbikes” sign. This is when our killer plan & positive attitudes turned to shit. So we took the alternate route that weaved under and around the freeway we longed to be on. I wouldn’t even call this a road; it was a dirt path full of potholes, rocks and thick sludgy mud. We even had to cross through rivers and almost drowned our motorbike.
When I thought things couldn’t just get any worse, my phone battery died at 25%. My anxiety started to kick in, but Dylan was reassuring me that “it will be fine”. So we decided to kick it old school and follow a map that was missing majority of the roads, including the one we were on. What could go wrong?
We saw a sign that said Sapa at a 3-way intersection, so we had a 1/3 chance that we were going the right way. Every time we stopped and asked for directions, they just kept waving us through along the same road. So we just kept going.
Realistically, we should have turned around when we reached the first hill full of massive rocks and a 45 percent incline. I had to jump off and run up the hill that many times because our bike wasn’t going to make it. We were passing little ethnic villages with people wearing their tribal clothing and jewelry.
Everyone was running to the road waving at us, giving us high fives or just genuinely laughing at us. We were quite the celebrities.
I guess the incredible scenery and our lust for adventure distracted us from the reality that we were in fact going the wrong way. Our bike was struggling, nightfall was approaching, and we were in the middle of bloody nowhere! We were now 22km from the town we thought we had to get to, and then our exhaust fell off attempting to get up a rocky hill!
The whole village has come out to see what bought these two stupid foreigners here. I point the way we were heading and said ‘Sapa?’ and the whole town bursts out in laughter.
So it’s dark, we’re in this tiny little village with not even a Pho place to eat dinner, nowhere to stay, our motorbike is broken, no one speaks English and everyone is laughing at us. It’s no wonder I had an anxiety attack.
I started hyperventilating; my brain wasn’t getting enough oxygen, I couldn’t stand anymore and started to get dizzy. There was Vietnamese people everywhere, laughing, pointing at me and taking photos. My limbs started to tense, I was sobbing and couldn’t move. How could I be in this situation right now, so lost and so far from civilization?
What are we going to do, it’s dark and our motorbike is broken, we have nowhere to stay, nowhere to eat and we’re in the middle of bloody where?
Thank heavens my husband Dylan was there. He helped bring my breathing back to normal and calm me down. A few local guys screwed on our broken exhaust to temporarily fix the problem and invited us for dinner and to stay at their house.
Everything that was running through my head, giving me this serve anxiety was soon resolved. It took a while to feel normal again, I think the rice wine they were feeding me helped, a lot.
The people were actually so beautiful, kind and lovely. They fed us beer, a massive dinner and put a roof over our head for the night. The whole village came to see us, take photos and practice their English. Some people in this village have never actually seen a foreigner before in their life, so it was really cool to be the first western person that they’ve ever seen. We communicated through Google translate and practiced our really limited Vietnamese.
After charging our phone, we realized why they were laughing. We were well and truly nowhere near Sapa, way out in the Yen Bai mountain range! I can see why they got a giggle out of it.
We were so grateful for the hospitality we received and relieved at how the situation turned out. It really restored our faith in humanity that people can just open their hearts and their homes to complete strangers, without asking for or accepting anything in return, even though these local people had so very little.
After another two hours of backtracking the next day, we got to that fork in the road. A local Vietnamese dude, told us to follow him leading us past the ‘No Motorbike’ sign and onto the freeway… So it turns out that we could have just taken the freeway from the beginning, signs in Vietnam are more of a guide than a must.
After running out of petrol, stumbling upon a monastery, getting lost, having tons of bike dramas, driving deep into the Yen Bai Mountain range, having to stay at a local family’s house, visiting villages, trekking through rivers and mud pits, tons of backtracking and time wasting, we had finally made it to Sapa!
We just wish that it had only taken us 7 hours, like it said on Google Maps! Ah well… It was a crazy experience, we overcame many hurdles and learnt so much from the mistakes that we made along the way. This is a travel experience that we will definitely never forget.
Honeymoon Backpackers Monique & Dylan, have been travelling the world for almost two years! It all began in May 2016, in the Philippines, where they got married barefoot on White Beach Boracay. Instead of having one elaborate honeymoon trip, they chose to embark on an endless backpacking honeymoon! In total they’ve explored 18 countries together so far. Their aim is to reach all 7 continents around the world on their endless backpacking honeymoon.
Thank you for reading another edition of the Laugh Always Spotlight! This story was so awesome to read and gives you insight that there is still love in the world when it might be impossible to find it. If you want to tell your story about surviving something, please get in touch with me either through the website or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org !
For more Laugh Always Spotlight Editions, head on over to the section up at the top of the page or read the latest story here —> Overcoming Injury – Laugh Always Spotlight Edition
Thank you for reading!
Until next time,