After I received my Stage 4 diagnosis in October last year, I was staying with my brother in Hong Kong during monsoonal, typhoon weather thinking about what I wanted to do now I’d been given, well, shall we speak plainly, a bit of a death sentence.
I had created not a bucket list, as such, but a list of some places I would like to visit and some experiences I wanted to have. I didn’t really want to call it a bucket list because it seemed so cliché, plus the whole association with death and dying.
I had started writing down these places and experiences in a list a little while after my initial diagnosis in 2015. It was really a list of things I’d been meaning to do, but putting off because it could wait until later. In keeping with my life philosophy that life is too short to skip dessert, I told myself that life is too short to put off doing what you want to do.
So the list was more about, once I get through my treatment and I’m feeling better, I’m going to look at doing the things on the list and stop putting them off and saying I’ll do them some day. What am I waiting for? The perfect time? That may never come.
I haven’t really had the chance to finish treatment and get better as it has kind of rolled in together, but that hasn’t stopped me from ticking off places and experiences on my non-bucket list.
So when I was staying with my brother in Hong Kong, I had this idea that I would love to hire an island for me and my friends to stay on and have the run of the entire place for a short holiday. I did a bit of Google research and came across this place called Pumpkin Island that seemed to fit the bill of what I wanted to do.
Last weekend I was able to make this a reality and tick another experience off my list. A bunch of my friends, their families and I had a fabulous four night stay on Pumpkin Island. It was just us and the caretakers on the island. We got to enjoy a little Island paradise of relaxing by the beach, swimming in the ocean, snorkelling, fishing, eating lots of yummy food and an occasional alcoholic beverage for the adults.
Never heard of Pumpkin Island? You’re not alone there. Most people haven’t. But if I say to you Queenslanders, remember XXXX Island, where you and your mates could win a stay on the island through buying XXXX beer? Yes, that island. That’s Pumpkin Island.
It was quite an adventure in the making, having made the booking for the island in December last year for this long weekend away for me and my friends and their families. There are seven accommodation units on the island so each family had their own private accommodation, but there were also opportunities for us to do things as a group.
The make up of the group changed from the initial booking through to a couple of months out from the booking as some people became unavailable to do the trip. The one thing everyone had in common is that they are all close friends of mine, but they didn’t all know each other because they were friends I had made at various times and places in my life. They varied from school friends I had known for over 30 years to friends I had made through work in the past five years. But the one thing they have in common is me (because it’s all about me) and they are the people who I know will always support me no matter what and have provided me with enormous support over the past couple of years. This was my chance to say thank you to them and also enjoy some really special time with them.
It really couldn’t have gone better than I hoped. Everyone got along so well, even though some of them had never even met before this weekend away together. All of the kids got along really well together too, quickly forming little friendship groups like you only can when you’re a child.
As we were on the island for four dinners and three lunches, each family group took charge of a meal and cooked for everyone, which brought everyone together at meal times and meant you only needed to cook once (but for a big group) and could relax for the rest of the weekend. We had a fantastic BBQ night, woodfired pizza night, roast meat and veges night and taco night, with lunches of hamburgers and cold meats and salad sandwiches and wraps. And dessert. Don’t worry, there was dessert there too. And I may have bought enough cheese, crackers and chips to feed a small army. Because you can never have enough cheese
I was well enough to travel, even being eight treatments into my 10 sessions of whole brain radiotherapy. We just put a pause on the last two sessions and completed them when I returned from the island. The trip had been many months in the planning and I wasn’t about to let anything get in the way of going to Pumpkin Island with my friends. Most of my medical appointments over the past few weeks have included questions to doctors checking that I would be ok to go to Pumpkin Island. And they were all very supportive of me making the trip. When my brain surgery was scheduled four weeks out from the departure date, I was a bit concerned I might not be able to go, but my neurosurgeon was very definite I shouldn’t cancel it unless my holiday was going to include extreme sports like bungee jumping. No chance of that! Unless you include eating four kinds of cheeses as an extreme sport.
I would have dearly loved to have been able to see clearly during the trip. That had definitely not been part of my initial planning. The blurry double vision curtailed my planned snorkelling activities. My extreme vertigo also made me a little less mobile than I wanted to be, but fortunately I had a lot of friends at the ready to hold my hand and help me negotiate uneven ground, soft sand, stairs and hills in an unfamiliar place. I was also able to commandeer the ‘island taxi’ a few times and get a lift around the island when I needed it. This was particularly helpful at night time and when the extreme fatigue suddenly hit and I found myself needing to get back to our accommodation to sleep.
During the day there were opportunities to see turtles, whales, pretty fish and corals, as well as going paddling in glass bottomed kayaks, stand up paddle boarding, fishing and snorkelling. Lots of choices of things to do. Not to mention the many hammocks and other resting spots where you could choose to do nothing at all.
I also realised during the trip how lucky I am to have such amazing friends. Not everyone has a support network like that and I am so grateful for every single one of those friends and their partners. I also loved spending time with their children and I hope the trip will be a great memory for them of a fantastic time they had with their families. I know it will be a great memory for me and if I am here in 12 months, I would love to do it again. Same time, next year. I love my friends and I am the luckiest girl in the world to have them in my life.