A serious illness can’t stop mom who loves family travel.  “My prognosis is probably 5 to 7 years so we just want to do as much as we can and create as many memories with the kids as fast as we can.”

The itinerary is fabulous – adventure, culture, seashore, exotic locales, get-togethers with favorite relatives – the best of fun family travel all over the USA and abroad.  This is the five-year travel plan of Michelle Paterson, a Houston, Texas mother of two.  

Her travel plan is built around family.  In fact, Paterson, her husband and children, ages eight and two, are traveling to see her in-laws in Scotland twice this year, and they will all travel to Ireland.  Paterson’s mother and aunt will be joining her in Hawaii, and she is planning on Alaska too. Regular trips to cousins in the California wine country, along with Cape Cod, Australia, Honduras, London and Paris are also on the agenda. 

Paterson’s two children will carry amazing memories of a globe-trotting childhood.  And that is exactly the motivation behind her plan.

Paterson has sage knowledge to share.  Get out of the house. 

Her ambitious travel schedule is poignant in its urgency.  While in her third trimester of pregnancy with her second child, she developed a persistent cough, racing heart, and suspicious lump on her neck.  A day after delivering her son, doctors removed a lymph node and tests revealed sobering news.  Paterson had two forms of non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL) – diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, an aggressive form that can be fatal, and follicular lymphoma, a slower progressing form that is incurable with conventional treatment.  In addition, doctors also told her that her NHL was in stage four, meaning that the cancer had spread throughout her body.  

“We’re kind of at a time crunch here.  My prognosis is probably five to seven years so we just want to do as much as we can and create as many memories with the kids as fast as we can,” she says frankly.

Her diagnosis hit extra hard since Paterson had seen both her father and uncle succumb to NHL, and she was determined to do whatever she could to avoid their fate.

Paterson started chemotherapy and learned she would have access to Rituxan, a targeted therapy engineered to hunt and deplete cancer cells without harming surrounding tissue, which helps alleviate patients of many of chemo’s debilitating side effects.  Unfortunately, Rituxan was not available when her father and uncle battled their cancers.

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.   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.