Thursday, February 10, 2011

Meeting my sisters who have survived breast cancer. A dream tour of USA.

Consolation Prize in the contest.

I may have mentioned this quite often on my blog but for new comers I still mention it again. I am a breast cancer survivor. That makes me something different from other people who haven’t been there and done that. In course of life I had met a lot of wonderful women who had been through this ordeal. They were all brave ladies who had fought and lived to survive cancer. There are women there who have fought it off more than once. I have developed wonderful relationship with them. As someone mentioned -- "We are not sisters of blood but sisters of heart". No one who has not been a part of this group will ever understand what they mean to me. As for emotional support no one can ever equal them because we have walked the same path, stumbled on the same stones, been pricked by the same thorns.
This blog is about the journey of a middle class Indian woman who was driven by the love of her survivor friends to visit them in USA.
Along with meeting the most amazing people in my life, I also realized my all time dream of visiting Disney World. As a child I dreamed of visiting Disney World. Though impossible for a middle class Indian girl, I never threw out my dream … I held on to it. I grew up, got married and had children. I wanted to visit Disney World with my kids. Even then it was near impossible dream for a middle class Indian woman who lived in small house in rural India without running water, washing machine T.V. or any other basic necessities which is more needed than a foreign travel.
I always said the word impossible itself says I- M- Possible. Why should I not hold on to it.
Life goes on… and it goes on a very bumpy road. I had cancer, I survived, lost my mother and sister to cancer, went through depression etc but the thread of the dream was always there in my hand, entangled with my fingers.
When my mom had recurrence of cancer within 1 year of her surgery I got quite nervous and also I felt very lonely. I tried to reach out to people for sharing my pain of dealing with cancer. People reached out to me and for some reason they were from other part of the globe. We got close and one of my sister of heart, Paula Gerding bonded with my kids through webcam. My daughter fell in love with Paula aunty or Hi-Bye aunty as she would call her.
Once when we were discussing our dreams on support board I mentioned my dream of visiting Disney World. Paula told us that if we could travel to Florida then we could stay with her. The dream was just plane tickets, passport and visa away now. Somehow Disney World was not the whole attraction for me. I had good friends to meet in USA who had fought breast cancer like me and we shared a very special bondage. Meeting them meant much more than meeting the cartoons.
MONEY was the biggest problem.. Unfortunately we and our friends had big dreams and big hearts with quite small purses. The first question was from where to arrange the money. Our house needed a renovation but we decided to skip it for the sake of our USA trip. The biggest miracle was my husband agreeing to send us to USA and also arrange the money (off course by skipping the renovation or precisely the much needed repairs).
I had to collect my TC from college after 22 years for the sake of my passport. We had soothsayers everywhere and they were predicting our future for free. All were of the opinion that it was nearly impossible for us to get visa for USA. To add to our woes my kids (both of them) got chicken pox two days before we were supposed to leave for our interview to the US embassy and the interview had to be postponed.
Finally when we arrived in Chennai, we were nervous. The people in the embassy very amazing and put us to ease immediately. The person who interviewed us abruptly cut the interview short and told us we could go. We were shocked and thought we have been refused visa but he assured us he had no problem sanctioning visa to us… He could see the joy on our faces as we did not hide it. My friends had written wonderful letters to the embassy pleading with them to grant us visa and I treasure those jewels even now.. I know I am not going to be praised that highly ever in my life again. At least not by Duffy Mathias in the way she had done in the letter to the embassy.
Paula and me discussed about many things and among them was her pet dogs who she told us would leap on us to greet us. Farheena was terrified of dogs and we had to find a way to deal with this. The brainwashing began with showing Farheena the pictures of dogs and telling her how different they were from the street dogs we have here. We travelled by train to Mumbai and there we had already arranged for a taxi driver from our native village to pick us up. He was waiting for us at the railway station but the VT station was too big for Farheena to cover the distance and get to the Taxi stand. There was no wheel chair available. The coolie came up with the idea of making her sit on top of our luggage. Farheena gave us a strong NO!. We asked her to decide whether she wanted to meet Paula aunty or not. She quietly got on top of the suitcases. I tried to take a picture of her but could not get a clear picture because everyone was hurrying. Me and Rayyan had tough time not laughing at the sight but if we laughed out loud we knew there would be two murders that night.
We went a bit sight seeing in Mumbai. By then we had seen that someone was working miracles for us and everything was being laid down perfectly for us to tread on and reach our destination. Only thing was that we did not actually see the red carpet. At 4 a.m. we were on board of Emirates and were flying towards NYC. Could not believe I was visiting USA with my two kids but I was… I was going to FL, the state where Disney World was but we were not excited about it as we were about meeting our friends there.
I was worried about my children’s reaction to their first flight. They were cool though Farheena suffered nausea. Rayyan in his excitement of taking pictures somehow messed with the mobile phone and the SIM was lost. I was a bit panicky at this because I had no way to get in touch with Paula now after we were to land in USA. I was angry but got control over myself before I said anything. I told myself he was excited and nervous and I should not spoil the memories of his first flight by being angry or scolding him. So I had to calm down and do whatever I had to do when the time would come. We landed in Dubai and had a break of 2 hours there. I had a small chat with Rizwan who had torrents of advice for me. He was just a few miles away working in his factory and being very nervous.
When we got back in the jet a wave of panic struck me. I had seen the pictures of JFK airport and it sort of overwhelmed me with its enormousness. I wondered how we would ever know what terminal to get into for our FL flight.
I knew it would terrify the kids if they knew I was worried, so I had to be the jolly mom on tour of USA and that I was. The invisible help was at hand as we found a very nice person in JFK who guided us and helped us out a lot. At the port of entry I was hit by another wave of nervousness where I recalled the soothsayers words which had warned me about being sent back to India from that point if they felt we should not be visiting USA. But we were asked just a few questions and soon were given permission to enter the country of USA.
Finally we WERE in USA! Meanwhile the woman who was supposed to push Farheena’s wheelchair had vanished somewhere. The officer who had helped us earlier was back on seeing me pushing the wheelchair and walking aimlessly ;). Though an officer he was willing to push Farheena’s wheelchair around even when I assured him I could manage her. He guided us to pick up our luggage, get it cleared in the customs etc. This person who was going about doing his duty, never knew what it meant for us and how much difference he made to our trip. Finally we were put in a taxi which would take us to the terminal where we were to board the flight to FL and I saw him pay the taxi driver the fare and tip also. He told us not to pay anything for the taxi at all. After thanking him we said bye to him.
At the airport I tried to get some tea (the mamooli chai ) or coffee for Farheena as I was worried about her being dehydrated. I saw a coffee shop and as the flight was 3 hours away I decided to go and bring some coffee for Farheena. To my horror the food in a cafĂ© looked so different and expensive. My mind which always thought in Indian currency refused to accept the prizes on the eatables there LOL. Now I wish I had someone to guide me there as I thought I would get a coffee (ie with milk and sugar) when I ask for it. But all I got was black coffee without sugar or milk. Farheena refused to even look at the cup so I tried it and went cough cough puke puke… eeewwwwww. So I went back there looking for sugar and milk which I found in small sachets. I thought it was very funny. I did not like the coffee but gulped it down because I was not about to waste the money I had spent on it ;). Finally we got on the flight and landed in Tampa.
Once in Tampa we just went with the person who pushed Farheena’s wheel chair and he left us near the airport door where people were picking up their friends or relatives and asked for a tip of 3$ . I had some change with me (from the coffee shop) and so paid him. We waited there for 20 minutes or so and then Rayyan suggested for me to get inside and look for Paula as we were sure she would not be late. So in I went, looking for her. It was getting late and the airport wore a deserted look. A lady was sweeping the floors and I asked her how to use the telephone. Luckily I knew Paula’s number by heart. I asked for change but she paid for the call and told me it is OK. As I was talking to Paula I was surprised to hear her voice so clear. I was amazed how different phones are in USA as I could hear her as though she was talking to me standing right there in front of me where a woman stood wearing purple dress talking in her phone. As I was talking to Paula I could see her lip move to the words being said in the phone. The told the woman who was cleaning that may be I had found my friend as I think it the woman talking into the phone right there in front of me was actually the person talking to me over the phone.
She said to me “ If that is your friend then you better find her because she has looked past you four times and I don’t think she is ever going to find you”. So I shouted “ Pee, here I am”. The rest you can watch on the video.
The placard she was supposed to hold was brought out after she met us.. it was beautiful...
We loved our stay with Paula and Jay though everything was so different in Springhill. The food, weather, clothes, smell and roads, all were different. The silence on the roads was quite shocking LOL. No screeching wheels, no horns and no shouting. We badly missed our autorickshaws too.

At Naples - Duffy, Farida, Jude, Kathleen, Pauline, Farheena and Paula with Molly and Ali Pup.
At Race for cure - Farida, Paula, Farheena and Annie
The first survivor to meet us was our neighbour in Springhill by the name Diane. She was an amazing lady who we were meeting for the first time as I did not know her from our survivor board. She turned out to be an amazing friend for my family in the course of 4 months we stayed there. Next we got to meet another Diane who came on a visit. I am glad about the timing of our visit as we have sadly lost both these amazing women to the demon cancer.
Then came a flow of fresh air in the name of Kathleen who is Mom of three amazing kids but Farheena thought her to be her rival as she did not look or behave older than a 13 year old. Though not a cancer survivor she is a part of our group because she lost her Mom to the demon.
We traveled to Naples to meet some more ladybirds – Duffy and Jude along with their family. What an amazing get together it was. I was experiencing the emotions of survivors who have shared their survival journeys and bonding on net coming face to face and having a nice time together. No words can ever describe the feeling. Sisters in survival have created a special relation which goes beyond many relations I have experienced in my life.
Duffy and Jude admiring their photos in Saris... Narcissism at its best
We had an amazing time in Naples and then in Tampa Bay on our way back to Springhill. Time flew by in Springhill by shopping in Walmart, physiotherapy for Farheena, meeting new friends, having fun and parties. Everyday would make a blog by itself and it would be long enough to be boring.

Farheena having a great birthday party
Finally came the big day of the sari party. Paula had told Farheena about people coming over for a party and she kept asking her about ‘people come?’ quite often thereafter.
<-- A gift that totally overwhelmed me. Had tough time dealing with so much of love.

What a party it was.... all amazing ladies decked in Indian saris and having fun. For the first time ever in our lives all three of us got to know what real partying was all about.
Hearts I made for the ladybirds.....
Nancy and Pete
Lois and Lee
Jude and Merv
Debbo and Rick
Lizzie and Craig
Paula and
Off course three real Indians were the stars of the show.
It was heartbreaking time when the ladybirds began to go back and the party had to end. It has left everlasting happiness in our hearts and today I can very well understand what William Wordsworth mentioned in Daffodils about the mind’s eye.
We had great time in Homosassas Spring with Nancy and Pete.
Finally it was time for us to come back to India and the dream of Disney World still kept beckoning me. We had help from little angels and fairies in our tour of USA and our faith in humanity was standing on a strong foundation. We were running out of money and could not afford a trip to Disney World. Finally my husband after some arguments arranged for our tickets to Disney World.
When we entered Disney world and stood in front of the Disney palace, we could not believe that our dreams had come true. Our friends made sure that our special day would really be special for us. They went about making us happy without letting us know about it but silently my heart registered every tiny gesture which made the day happily memorable for me and my kids.
Finally when the time came, with heavy hearts we bid goodbye to Springhill and went to Philadelphia to spend some time with Judy.By then Farheena and the animals had become great friends. Rayyan had great time roller blading, skate boarding and cycling on the smooth deserted roads of Springhill.

Paula and Debbo scaring us by acting tired in Disney world.

Philadelphia was an amazing for all of us. We got to watch the fireworks of 4th of July from the best view possible. Rayyan had wonderful time running up the Art Museum steps imitating Rocky. We had a small tour of NYC with Judy and our friends Heidi and David.

Farheena, me and Judy
View from Judy's apartment.

Rayyan with Rocky....

Now it was time to say good bye to USA. We did not want to leave our friends behind and come back but then we had family over here. Finally with heavy hearts (at times I wondered will the plane be able to fly with such heaviness ) we bid good bye to USA and came back to our family.

<-- Rayyan had a surprise birthday a month ahead...Boy was he surprised???

The amazing experience of watching cirque du soleil live in NYC Broadway -courtesy Judy

Every time we think of our friends and the time we spent with them, it brings a smile on our faces. The memories will be there with us always. I wish so much that I could go back there once again and meet my sisters in survival who are a family to me.
Thank you friends for being in our lives. You make a difference to me!
Honey moon Island ... with the Darren family.

What a bunch of amazing friends my kids had... We have an extended family out there...


Rayyan Lost in Laptop

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...