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How Creativity Changed Everything After My Mom’s Cancer Diagnosis

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In March of 2018, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

They caught it early, thank the heavens.

Now, in August 2018, my parents and I are returning from a two-week road trip exploring the West. And we have creativity to thank for the experience of a lifetime.

First, let me back it up a bit. I grew up in Evansville, a small city in Southern Indiana. My dad works at an automotive manufacturing plant, and my mom at an elementary school. They RARELY take time off. Having grown up in Kentucky and Indiana, adventure is not exactly a big portion of their life.

In January of 2017, I moved across the country to Phoenix, Arizona. It has proven to be a difficult decision, but it was a necessary one for me and my personal path. Since leaving, I’ve explored places I wasn’t sure I’d ever see and had opportunities I’d only dreamt of. But it all came with a price: I’m constantly seeing all of these beautiful things, wishing I could share them with my family. I realized I needed to get creative, no longer just in my career, but also in my relationships.

Cut to February 2017. My parents came out to Phoenix to see what Arizona was like. My dad is a self-proclaimed “mountain and forest man”, and didn’t believe he would be impressed by the desert. I quite literally had to CONVINCE him to see the Grand Canyon (yeah, it took convincing…!)

So, we drove north, and I got to watch my parents see the Grand Canyon for the first time. It was a beautiful moment, seeing my parents in awe and, quite frankly, speechless. My dad couldn’t believe he had gone his whole life thinking he didn’t care to see the Grand Canyon, and that he would have never seen it if it weren’t for me. Throughout the rest of the trip, through Flagstaff and Sedona, he loosened up like I had never seen him before. We were all truly living in the moment.

He expressed to me later that this sparked something in him, and he wanted to see all of the beautiful places in the US that he just never thought he’d get to. So, he started planning! And boy, was I excited to see him put some creative energy into something. In June of 2018, we’d start in Phoenix, hit up Sequoia National Park, then Big Sur, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, and lastly Zion. We were all SO excited.

Then, in March, a couple of days before my birthday, my mom went in for a routine mammogram and found a lump that came back positive for breast cancer. Luckily, it was at stage zero, which meant it was staying in one place and was not currently aggressive. You won’t believe the first thing my mom said to me when she was diagnosed, before we even knew what stage or the treatment plan. Tears in her eyes and voice shaking, she said,

“Are we going to have to cancel the trip?”

My dad and I kind of rolled our eyes at first and thought, “how could she actually be worried about THAT right now?” But we soon realized it’s because it wasn’t just a trip. It was two weeks of memories being made, quality time with her daughter that she doesn’t get to see enough, relaxation with her husband who works too hard, and freedom that was being taken away from her.

My dad and I both ended up saying the same thing: “It may not happen when we planned, but we’ll make it happen, we promise.”

My mom’s treatment started immediately. Two surgeries and a month of radiation. Meanwhile, my dad worked relentlessly on re-planning the trip, making sure we could accommodate my mother’s needs along the way. All while working 12 hour shifts at night, and barely sleeping (he’s a superhero.)

Fast forward to now, August 2018. My dad did it! He found amazing lodging in every location, in their price range. He spent hours refreshing pages, waiting for someone to cancel, looking through every possible Airbnb and VRBO, and found places that are normally impossible to book this close to summer the travel dates.

I truly think that without this trip these past few months would have been a lot tougher on both of them. It just goes to show that it’s not the situation that defines you, it’s how you handle the situation.

The trip gave them a creative outlet to get their mind off of the situation at hand. My mom was exercising when she could, trying to keep her energy up in anticipation for the trip, thus allowing a better recovery. My father was able to put his energy into planning the trip, instead of worrying and letting his mind wander to places it shouldn’t. Together, they would spend their time watching videos and documentaries of the places we’d be visiting and dreaming about the adventures we’d have.

My lesson? Creative outlets are more than mediums for artists to express their ideas visually. They are pathways for all people to  release energy, positive or negative. And you don’t have to be “artistic” to do so. It could be cooking, writing, sewing, event coordinating, or, like my parents discovered, vacation planning.

Humans are creative beings, and sometimes that means is creating light within the darkness.

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