I was fortunate to have two incredible travel opportunities this summer. I went to Cork, Ireland with UNO’s Writing Workshops Abroad program for the third time in July. I worked as a graduate assistant on the program, which meant I assisted the program coordinator with daily tasks and helped run weekly events, such as our literary readings. I also took thesis hours, so after I finished work I would find a coffee shop or pub to write. On the weekends I explored the city or ventured outside of Cork to neighboring villages. Photography is a hobby of mine, and I enjoyed capturing moments from my trip, especially on the Western Ireland excursion. Ireland is impossibly verdant, and Western Ireland has so many lush, postcard-perfect landscapes that I’m still sorting through all of my photos. After the program ended on Aug. 3 my husband flew out to meet me and we took an additional week to explore the country on our own. We love to hike so our itinerary focused on getting out in nature with a bit of city time as well. It was a great vacation at the end of the trip.
After spending over a month in Ireland I treated myself (again) to a week-long rock climbing trip in Estes Park, CO with First Descents, a nonprofit that “provides life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults (ages 18 – 39) impacted by cancer and other serious health conditions.” Last academic year I found out that I had stage IV cancer and, needless to say, being a full-time student, a graduate assistant and a cancer patient was challenging at best and debilitating at worst. I’ve always enjoyed being active so when I found out about First Descents I couldn’t sign up fast enough. The trip was entirely free, minus airfare, and exceeded my expectations.
I spent the week with 12 other participants as well as the staff, which included a chef who prepared our meals every day. Each morning after breakfast we piled into a van and headed out to climb for several hours. After dinner, we sat around a campfire and shared what we learned on the rock that day, expressed gratitude, and shared our cancer stories.
Rock climbing is daunting at first; our climbing guides encouraged us to get out of our comfort zones but didn’t force us to do anything we weren’t comfortable with. Rut Ro, one of our program leaders (everyone gets a camp nickname) stressed that First Descents practices “challenge by choice.” Most of the group had little to no climbing experience but we were all giddy from the experience and proud of what we accomplished by the end of the trip. I signed up for a free rock climbing lesson but I came home with something I didn’t know I needed: a new support system, a different mentality about cancer and a better sense of how to navigate the world and my new, post-cancer normal.