Steven and Sean on the Polar Bear Cam
Steven and Sean on the Polar Bear Cam

Monday, May 09, 2005

Just Another Woman Trying To LIVE STRONG

Our trip home on May 4 was a long one. Since St. Jude had made us round-trip reservations from Memphis, we decided the path of least resistance on planning the trip was to return through Memphis.

In no small part, my decision to go back through Memphis was based on my previous experiences of purchasing one-way tickets, the last time I did this (on our way home from St. Jude after radiation), my airport experience included:

  • A complete unpacking of my meticulously packed 60-lb suitcase.
  • An airport employee telling me to find a way to take 10 lbs of stuff out of the suitcase or pay $25. I said OK, I'll pay the $25 and he said I'm sure you can find something to take out. Then he handed me a zippered bag containing all our liquid items, shampoo, lotion, and other toiletries and handed it to me. I was already carrying a fully loaded backpack, Steven's radiation mask, my purse, and my computer.
  • A partial undressing. I was told to remove my shoes and socks and my outer shirt, down to a tank top, so they could more easily wand my bra, where they finally discovered the metal in my bra hooks.
  • A dismantling of my computer. After I removed it from its case, they proceeded to actualy open the actual computer to verify that the mother carrying the radiation mask and accompanying the bald kid wasn't really a terrorist hell-bent on hijacking the plane with the secret weapon concealed in her computer.
  • A hair-raising 1/3 mile dash to the gate, during which I cried and kept dropping things and where we arrived literally as they were getting ready to close the door to the plane. I think the crazed and hysterical look on my face convinced them that they might have a situation on their hands if they refused to let me board, we all have our breaking points.

So, after getting over the flashback to our November 2003 trip, and remembering my resolve to remain calm this trip, I calmly decided that booking our trip as two roundtrips, from San Diego to Memphis, and from Memphis to D.C., would work out the best for everyone.

Except for the fact that one of my little secrets is that I don't like to fly. Thank God I'm the only one in my family with this phobia, but I really, really hate flying.

I'm OK with it if the flight is uneventful and the skies are calm. If its a bumpy flight, I endure it, but even if I outwardly appear calm I always end up drenched in ice-cold sweat, with a splitting headache. I'm also a little claustrophobic, and some of our plane flights are a claustrophobic's nightmare.

The first leg of our flight was from D.C. to Memphis, and it was bumpy. I've been on many bumpy flights, but never one where the plane creaked and groaned like this one did, it sounded like every joint and weld was being stressed, causing even Steven who is usually immune to turbulence, to ask me what was going on.

Halfway through the flight, as the stewardesses were coming around for the second round of beverages, the plane took a severe and unexpected drop that caused the pilot to tell them to sit down and buckle up NOW.

Despite our adventures, we landed safely in Memphis, for a 3-hour layover. Not the most exciting time in the airport, but at least we weren't on that creaking, groaning plane any more.

The second leg of the flight was from Memphis to Houston, on a jet that seats 40, with 2 seats on one side of the aisle and one on the other. The seats are in miniature, getting on the plane was like entering a dollhouse, the roof of the plane too short for even me to stand up straight.

This flight was bumpy too, seeming to get worse the closer we got to Houston. Steven was chattering away a mile a minute while I closed my eyes and massaged my temples and prayed that we'd land safely in Houston SOON.

By the time we arrived in Houston, I had a splitting headache, but no time to attend to it, as Houston airport is huge and has five terminals. We were at one far end of the airport and, as fate would have it, our connecting flight was at the opposite end.

So we ran, me with my computer on my arm and carrying my backpack and purse. We ran to the train, we ran after we got off the train. We arrived at the gate just as they were boarding the plane, so no time to locate some water or something to take some pills that might help the headache.

As Steven and I were filing down the aisle trying to find our seats, we passed an older couple that were already seated. The woman looked at me for a minute and I suppose I probably looked something like I felt, a woman who was ready to be home.

As I passed, the woman turned to her husband and said, loud enough for me to hear, "Honey, look, there's another woman trying to LIVE STRONG."

I was confused for a moment, then I remembered my yellow bracelet. She looked at me and said, "Some days it's harder than others".

I started to laugh and felt a little better.

Steven sat next to the window, I had the middle, and a most unfriendly man took the aisle seat. He put his arm on the armrest next to me and refused to let me overlap that space.

We had headphones and wanted to watch the movie, and the headphone jack in my armrest (the one this man wouldn't let me use) would only work if I pressed the headphones into the jack, which required that I have a little space for my hand on the end of the armrest.

I finally apologized to the man, but told him that I needed to hold the headphone jack to use my headphones, and he grudgingly gave me a little space on the end of the armrest.

He was so unpleasant that he had Steven and me intimidated, but finally it got to the point where Steven could wait no longer to answer the call of nature, so I tapped the man on the shoulder and asked him if we could get up.

He folded his arms against his chest and said no. I said, "Seriously? We can't get up?" He said "no."

While I was looking for a flight attendant to help me out, he looked at me and laughed maniacally, then he stood up. It was really, really, really weird.

We are so, so glad to be home and not traveling any more.

That's me, just another woman trying to live strong.

- Kathleen

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