April 16, 2012: Kayaks Over Chemo

As we sit here once again on the seventh floor of Shaare Zedek, last week seems like a dream. I planned the trip months ago with the full knowledge that our chances of actually getting away for a family vacation were like…. were like the chances of a football team that barely made the playoffs winning the Super Bowl.

But I also knew that the opportunity to get away with the family was just as important as the nasty chemotherapy, and a lot more fun. So we planned….. and hoped. And it happened.

We spent the week at Metulla, a small town that is on the border with Lebanon. (Yeah — to my non-Israeli friends: This is what we call getting away to a nice quite spot.) Now some people enjoy vacations where all they do is sit around reading a book and scheduling a massage. But that would not be the Frankls.

So we went for walks…..hikes……..ice skating!……cycling!!….. and… kayaking!!!!!! Not only was this very important medicine for Stella, but it was also a joy for the rest of us to be able to do things with her. For all the hours Stella has had to lay in bed, we made up for them with a vacation that could tire a marathon runner out.

We saw raging waterfalls and mountains capped with snow. Every day, we woke and looked out on a beautiful view of the Golan Heights. But the best views of all to me were the views of my kids smiling and having fun. One time, I realized that it was the first time I saw my eldest smile that I could remember. (He had just set a record on the Canada Center basketball game.)

The past nine months (I know) there has not always been stuff to smile about. Even when things seem to be heading in the right direction, the fear that things could change is always out there, lurking in the corners and hiding in the dark. It’s hard to go about your day to day business, whether it’s work, school, or just simple errands with this terrifying thought keeping just out of sight. It’s hard on Stella, it’s hard on the kids, it’s hard on our friends. Hell, it’s just plain hard.

But I think when we packed up our suitcases, we brought the swim suits and sun block and left the cancer behind. That uninvited guest did not accompany us on our walks, our meals, and not surprisingly, the coward stayed far away from the rapids. Instead of navigating hospital corridors, we were navigating national parks. Instead of watching a slow IV drip, we saw rushing water cascading down from the mountains.

We divided into two groups of three for the kayaks. Two people would paddle while the third just hung on. At first I was nervous about Stella just going along, but when I saw that she was actually wielding a paddle, it changed my usual worried frown into a smile. (Note: Next time bring a water-proof camera.)

One morning I woke up very early and went out for a run along the border with Lebanon (that just sounds cool.) I was astonished by how beautiful the area is. There is an actual national park hike there and since they arrest anyone who would be foolish enough to climb over the gate and run along the path before it opens in the morning, I went back and got everyone and returned at a normal hour.

We were greeted by four amazing waterfalls that were so fantastic they chased all other thoughts away. (This is called Nachal Ayyun. The river starts behind Metula and finishes on the road between Metula and Kiryat Shemona. It’s a one-way hike so unless you actually enjoy running to get a car, bring two cars and leave one at the end.)

So we all got a break in every sense of the word. But what now?

I really wish I knew. I am writing this again from the chemo room where Stella is fighting her way through yet another treatment. We probably won’t know for a little while what we need to do next. But it is a real possibility that this will be the last chemo, at least for a very long time.

So we will not focus on a return to chemotherapy. We will instead dream of the future.

Complete with hiking, riding, and a little more kayaking in the Golan Heights.

Make every day count.

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