Faced with her situation, Paterson decided her love of travel with, and to, family was critical and would not stop. As the daughter of a pilot, she had logged many journeys around the world and she was determined to share this passion with her children, and make memories they would cherish forever.
Aircraft was one of her greatest challenges. Even with all of the benefits of Rituxan, the combination treatment still weakened her immune system, making Paterson especially sensitive to infection. Doctors strenuously warned her about the germs and dry air on planes. Paterson would not let this deter her.
“A sick person can sit at home and go to doctor’s appointments. I want to do things a well person can do,” she explains.
Not long after her diagnosis, Paterson’s family traveled to Scotland, her husband’s native country, for a wedding. She combated the threat of infection by wearing a surgical mask and gloves. She cleaned tray tables, seats, and restrooms with sanitizing wipes. She constantly used sanitizing gel. In spite of all this, the familiar happiness brought by travel was definitely worth it. “I just wanted to be normal and travel when it was my brother-in-law’s wedding.”
Car travel is part of the traveling with cancer equation too – even a 16-hour trip to Tennessee to a cousin’s farm, which brought simple pleasures to Paterson’s children, like collecting fresh eggs and feeding cows.
For other moms who may be going through cancer treatment, Paterson has sage knowledge to share. Get out of the house. There are bad days and good days, and make plans with your kids for the good days, whether it’s going to the zoo or taking them swimming, or some other activity. When she was in the midst of her treatment, Paterson’s mother would watch her baby while she took her daughter horseback riding.
Even though her energy was limited and she couldn’t walk far, there were still fun things to do to break up the monotony of chemo and being housebound. “No matter how sorry for yourself you are feeling, you don’t want a year to go by when your kids ask ‘where was mom that year? I never got to see her.’”
After a year of the combination chemo/Rituxan therapy, Paterson’s cancer went into remission and has remained so for nearly a year. However, her follicular lymphoma is incurable and could return at any time. With that in mind, Michele actively raises money for Light the Night, an annual Society event to raise funds for cures. Click here to learn how you can donate money towards research on her behalf. Certainly, whatever the future holds, travel will continue to offer her respite from the world of hospitals, injections, and doctors’ appointments, and bring her joy with her children.
Lisa Tella is a writer, avid adventure traveler and mother of 2 pre-schoolers in CT.