At times I am still in disbelief that I actually went to Peru, even better, to Machu Picchu! If it wasn’t for the pictures that I look over very often, I would have probably convinced myself by now that it was all a dream. You see, I am not much of a traveler. I do not have a crazy bucket list, and I don’t even truly enjoy flying. Traveling to another country, seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and experiencing a new culture was all just a bonus of going on an Odyssey with A Fresh Chapter.
What drew me most to the organization was the opportunity to meet and bond with other cancer survivors who had experienced different journeys and who came from different walks of life. After two different cancer diagnoses, I have been left with a strong desire to connect with “someone like me”. Someone who would understand the struggles and challenges I have faced as a young cancer survivor. Someone who may understand what it’s like to battle this disease as a newlywed, a mom to young children, a full-time student, someone switching careers, or even someone who doesn’t feel mature or old enough to make these huge medical decisions. I have longed to find someone who can relate to all or some of these things. Or even just someone who can truly understand what I mean when I simply say I’m tired.
A Fresh Chapter offered me the opportunity to not only connect with other survivors, but also to volunteer in both an underprivileged daycare and with a cancer support organization in Peru. I have always enjoyed helping others, but to be able to give back at an international level was truly a humbling and incredible experience. It was a form of healing and a sense of peace to know that regardless of my cancer and all the ways I now consider myself “broken”, I was still able to bring smiles, happiness, and hope to the amazing individuals I connected with in Peru.
Among the other 26 incredible people who joined me in Peru, I was able to be a different type of me. I didn’t have to wear the “I am fine” mask or the multitasking hats that I do in my everyday life. I was able to just be Gaby; the girl who still has fears and deep scars from dealing with cancer over the last six years. I was able to be vulnerable, I was able to be honest, I was able to be real. I didn’t have anyone trying to fix me, or tell me that it was going to be ok; I just had people that held space for me to share what I needed or wanted to share.
Although my time in Peru was short, the memories and friendships will always remain. It’s crazy to think how quickly strangers become family. I truly appreciate the generosity of the Cassie Hines Shoes Cancer Foundation for providing my flights to and from Peru. Without this travel assistance I highly doubt the trip would have been possible. For that reason I made it my goal to be present while I was in Peru. I embraced the beautiful views, wonderful people, and the chance to make a difference in my own life and in the lives of those around me. It was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, and for that I will always be tremendously grateful. A huge thank you to the Cassie Hines Shoes Cancer Foundation and the selfless donors and supporters who made this possible.