BY ED BEALE
“The light at the end of the tunnel could be an oncoming train.” – Jimi Hendrix
In 2006 my wife Michelle got hit by the proverbial train. After years of dealing with chronic and worsening migraines, her doctor ordered an MRI which revealed a oligodendroglioma: a malignant brain tumor. As much as the news was horrible, it was also a relief. We’d thought the headaches might have been from too much stress, since we were living in Mobile, Alabama at the time and had just come through Hurricane Katrina. Here is how she describes it.
“Our lives took a turn in early 2006 when I was diagnosed with brain cancer. We were shocked to say the least, but I was also relieved to know there was something actually causing my debilitating migraine headaches almost every morning. Not knowing how to deal with the whole situation, I dubbed my brain cancer tumor ‘Fifi’ because it was just absurd. Eventually it became ‘Fifi the Fiend’, because I would say, ‘There isn’t enough room in my head for two of us!’ I felt there was no reason to ask the eternal question ‘why me?’ Really…why bother? Almost everyone on this planet has a personal issue they deal with every day, and this was mine.
It was a dizzying 6 days from diagnosis to the first craniotomy that saved my life. It felt like someone flipped a switch and I was ‘me’ again. It was a very bizarre experience. We moved to the west coast 3 months later and in 2007 the doctors there did a second debulking craniotomy. The cancer started growing back and I had proton radiation in 2009, which has stunted the cancer growth so far.”
We decided early as a couple that life was for living. Other people get a fancy boat or high-end furniture, and that’s fine. Instead of buying gifts for special occasions, we collect memories. That means travel. In our 30s we still had most of our lives ahead of us and plenty of time to complete those ‘before you die’ trips. Then cancer intervened. Michelle said after her first surgery that most people joke about the oncoming train. But now she can see and hear the train, every day.
“So here we are 7 years later and our priorities have significantly changed. We decided this was the time to go on the trip of a lifetime. I’m doing as well as possible at the moment; can walk, talk, function, etc. I have no idea how much longer I will have (no one really does), but we decided it was better to go now than to wait.”
What’s that trip of a lifetime you ask? Sailing around the world, of course! However being us, the world was not enough. We decided to find a way to tell our story, in real time, to inspire others as we traveled. Fortunately we live in a time of satellites, digital photography and other forms of magic. To bring as many people along for the journey, we’re writing a blog and raising funds to pay for at-sea internet bandwidth. It’s not cheap! So far we’ve raised over $5000 from dozens of backers at our project page on Kickstarter. After the trip the blog entries and photos will be transformed into a book.
“I hope everyone who reads our book will find some sort of inspiration to do something sooner rather than later. Especially those who live with challenges no matter how great or small. We have been inspired by others throughout our lives to pursue our dreams and I hope we can do the same. I find it wonderful when people tell me I inspire them and I hope to reach more people through the challenge of writing this book with Edward.”
The trip and the story may sound cliché but for us it’s real. People have asked if we can afford to do this trip. Our response is the question we find ourselves asking back: “Can you afford NOT to follow your dreams?” We hope our story inspires you to take a closer look down that proverbial tunnel, and then to follow us West By Sea!
Look out for Michelle and Ed’s book: West By Sea, which will be out later this year.