Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Travel and Other Labors

This week, the labor day holiday featured a four day weekend away from school for my son. I realized that it has been 3 years since my cancer diagnosis (August 17th, to be exact) and over a year since I have been dealing with metastatic disease. These past years have been focused on me: with doctors' appointments, chemotherapy, surgeries, drugs, dates with CT machines, hair growing in, hair falling out, and loss - loss of my job, my body parts, my physical ability as a wife and mother and yes, even coming to terms with the loss of my life.

As hard as these things have been for me, I realize that my family has been through it with me, silently watching, in what has to be a certain amount of dread.

What did we all need?

A break. A break from cancer, a break from disease, and a break from routine.

I have fond memories of Phoenix, Arizona. My husband and I went there for our tenth anniversary, and we stayed at a Resort called the Pointe Hilton at Tapatio Cliffs. It was a great vacation. I love hot weather and that in Phoenix it never cools off at night. You can swim or sit by the pool at 10:00 pm and it's still 95 degrees. For me, pools, being with my loved ones, never being cold, and relaxation is what the Good Life is all about, so that vacation has never left my mind.

Naturally, when thinking of a quick, four day get-away, Arizona popped into my head once again. It wasn't far, I could do the travel without potential medical problems of a long flight, and still get that pool time I desired. I searched for flight/hotel packages on Southwest and up popped a five day, four night stay at the Pointe Hilton at Squaw Peak with roundtrip air for $1000.00 for all three of us.

Here is a photo of the part of the grounds:

Nice, yes? It had several pools, a water park complete with a lazy river and a water slide. Perfect, I thought, for a family with a 15 year old boy. Since we'd stayed at the sister property, I knew that the rooms would be clean and the grounds maintained. I made the purchase. We would fly out on Thursday evening after school, spend all day Friday at the pool, and then Saturday and Sunday do some Phoenix area sightseeing. We'd fly home Monday.

There was only one problem with that plan.

It turns out, there is almost nothing to see or do in Phoenix.

Somehow, I had missed that fact with my romantic getaway 8 years before.

Let me backtrack and say that my husband and I had wanted to retire to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, a decision made due to my aforementioned love of heat and desert landscapes, the fact that it is affordable, (gas was only $3.49!) and especially due to the fact that it is not California. Of course, things have changed, and with my medical needs we likely won't be moving, but it was our goal.

So, we were not only going on vacation, we were showing our son our former dream, which is another reason why I chose Arizona.

The first day was fantastic. If you look closely at that photo I posted above, you will see some waterfalls, top left. That's where we parked for day one, which was all about relaxation. I flipped through the huge September In Style, we were served lunch poolside, and I even got on an inner tube and floated down the lazy river with my son. Getting in that tube was hard for a woman with two frozen shoulders - I promptly capsized and fell overboard. Laughing, I got up and began again, this time successfully, butt dangling in the center, legs over the sides. I used my son's flip-flops as paddles as we cruised down the "river." It was not crowded and was quite fun.

Me at the pool, with some hair (not as much as it seems) but no brows/lashes

My son looking cool.  Look close, you'll see me in a bathing suit reflected in his sunglasses, which is as much of me in a bathing suit as you'll ever get to see.  
We ate that night at a barbecue place next to the waterpark and I had fry bread with prickly pear butter and syrup and ribs that just fell off the bone.  Delicious.

Dinner makes me happy

And, the hotel put on an outdoor movie by the pool, which was fun.  The kid's movie was about dragons but was entertaining nonetheless. As a plus, that night was the Blue Moon.  We sat in the warm Arizona night, blue moon shining overhead, watching an outdoor movie, water bottles in hand, and the ability to take a little dip if necessary.  What could be better?

Getting ready for the movie to begin

The next two days were sightseeing days, and that's where we ran into trouble.

We didn't know it at first.  We went to the Phoenix Botanical Gardens, which was stunning. At the entrance to the gardens are some Chihuly glass sculptures of three cactus which are breathtaking.  For a moment, upon approaching them,  I thought they were real, and I said, "Look, the ends of those cactus are shining like glass!"  Then it became clear that these glittering and impressive cacti were glass sculpture, and I immediately recognized the artist.   I have been a fan of his for some time.

Chihuly Desert Sculpture

The real gardens are pretty breathtaking too.  We had a wonderful time, looking at the various forms cacti take, and hiking into the hills of the Sonoran Desert.  


Fearless at 15
Interesting cactus that grows around trees

Also breathtaking was the heat. Two years of chemo have made me a lot less tolerant of walking in 109 degree heat, and I was pretty wiped out.

Trying to find shade

After the botanical gardens, which took about 3 hours, we looked for something else to do.  And, that's where we ran into trouble.

We didn't go to the zoo because, well, there is a zoo in Sacramento.  Where it also gets hot.  We know the animals tend to sleep during the day and there isn't that much to see.

I only have about 8 good hours in me these days, which is why we didn't want to drive to Sedona or to Flagstaff - the 2 to 3 hour drive each way would have been too hard on me.  My time awake is shortened by the heat.  So, our plans were to stay in the Phoenix area.

We asked some locals what to do, and the only thing they could come up with was to go to downtown Phoenix and see the Science Center.  So, we did that.

Sorry Arizonians, but that's a snooze-fest.  Please don't mention that as a "place to see" to Californians who live near the San Francisco Exploratorium.  It's like inviting your famous chef relative over for a home cooked meal, and then serving them Lean Cuisine.  It is never going to measure up.

Downtown Phoenix is, appropriately, deserted.  Except inside the Science Center, we didn't see a soul walking the streets.  In fact, it was eerie and creepy, an experience this Sacramentan was not expecting.  You see, our mayor is Kevin Johnson, who used to play basketball for the Phoenix Suns.  He is always comparing downtown Sacramento to downtown Phoenix (unfavorably) and saying that what Phoenix is doing to liven the city is working and Sacramento should be more like Phoenix.  Now that I can compare the two, I can say definitively - KJ, you are insane.  In any day of the week, you will see more people in downtown Sacramento - more interesting shops, more activities, than we saw in Phoenix.  Downtown Phoenix could be a  post-apocalyptic scene in a movie, with dust devils blowing through the empty streets.   Nothing moves.  There was even a college right across from the Science Center.  But, not a student in sight, buying a book, grabbing a coffee.  Just cement and shimmering heat and the sound of our echoing footsteps.    I expected the Walking Dead to pop out from somewhere, but no zombies appeared.

Probably because there is not enough food.

Maybe on a day when the basketball team plays, that area has people  But, on a regular old holiday weekend?  It's a ghost town.

When in doubt, take a picture by a cactus

Oh, and everything seems to close super early. The Science Center?  Kicks everybody out at 5:00.   Even the restaurants and bars at our packed resort - on a holiday - closed by 10:00.   The pool bar/restaurant below our room?  Closed at 7:30. On a Saturday!  You would expect this kind of thing in Salt Lake maybe, or Vatican City - but Phoenix?

Staying back at the hotel wasn't much of an option as by now, the pool was extremely crowded and chairs were hard to find, and my picky 15 year old doesn't want to share pools with splashing 3 year olds anyway.

We asked the Concierge at the hotel what else we could do in Phoenix, and all he could suggest was we go to Scottsdale Fashion Square.

A mall.

And, with time on our hands and 105 degree heat  (with humidity, by the way) - we did.

I bought a shirt at H&M.  I found a pair of shoes at Jimmy Choo I loved but um, hello!  I'm dying, not stupid, and I am not spending 2k on shoes, even if they are light as a whisper with iridescent blue peacock feathers on them.

We found a store that I really enjoyed, on Camelback Street, called Denmarket.  It was full of discounted Scandanavian Design furniture, and they had two chairs I've been looking for for only $150.00 each.  I was shocked at the low prices and if I could have carried them on to the plane, I would have.  I'm really disappointed they don't have one in Sacramento.

On the way back, we saw a restaurant called Black Chile.  Black Chile!!!!   I could not believe the racism of that restaurant.  In California you would never get away with naming a restaurant called Black Chile, no matter how southern the cuisine.

Until I realized that they meant black chili, like chile peppers.


We ate there in apology for my stupidity.  It was quite delicious and the service was good. And, no racism in sight.

And, that was pretty much it for our trip.

I did, of course, have a wonderful time, because I was there with my family.  We escaped cancer as much as we could.  It's clear that my strength is gone: there were two nights out of the four that I wasn't able to go eat dinner with the boys, because I was just too tired, a bit nauseated, and not hungry.  I slept while they went out to eat.  But we did spend the days together.  I stupidly forgot my oxycontin, yet still managed to walk and hike like a normal person, although surely for a shorter amount of time.

And now, I know how much I can do on a trip.  My son is extremely interested in going to New York.  I know that will be a harder trip on me, with a lot more walking.  Travel is not easy for me physically, even when it's just a state or two over.  Going across country will need to be planned carefully.  We will have to stay in a room centrally located, arrange transportation in advance and make sure there are things for the boys to do while I'm sleeping.   But, it will happen next spring.  I also would like to go see Texas, but will not go without plenty of things planned in advance.  No more "play it by ear" trips for this family.

Phoenix wasn't all bust - I did get the full monty strip search at Sky Harbor, where my sweaty junk was touched and everything   More on that later.

For now, I'm glad to be home, but am very happy to have had time to make memories with my loved ones.


  1. Ann - thank you for taking us on a tour of your trip! It made me laugh and smile and above all I was thrilled to see you smiling and I absolutely love this photo at the end of the two of you (oh yes and the tongue with cactus - yum)! I am so happy you made the time and effort to put these memories together for your family and to enjoy being with each other. Maybe I would visit Arizona in, say, January. Maybe. I couldn't take that heat! Sending hugs to you dear friend!!

  2. What a wonderful read! I enjoyed the pictures, especially the one of you and Doug, so obviously very much in love. Thanks for write so well!

  3. Ann - before you come to New York, give me a shout-out and I can recommend places to go and see. I live across the river in New Jersey, but I'm a native New Yawker.

    1. For sure, will let you know. I am thinking spring break - how is the weather in March/April? If it's too cold, we can wait until summer. (I hope)

  4. I saw the Chihuly exhibit at the Seattle Center in June, AMAZING! Thanks for sharing your mini -vaca, I look forward to reading about New York :)

  5. As a Phoenix resident (and breast cancer patient with limited energy) I have to laugh at your review of our city. Everything you said is true!

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your family. You have a gift for writing and I am prayerful that you will have many (healthy) years to continue to inspire us.

  7. I love your ouch photo! Cute. :)

  8. Ann, thanks so much for sharing. I was wondering how your trip had gone. The day spent by the pool sounds fabulous--so relaxing. Since I have a 15 year old son as well, I wondered how your son handled the days of nothing much to do? Was he able to keep a good attitude? I think mine would have grumbled a bit, but if he could have found a big screen TV with a sports channel, it would all be good.

  9. My son is a very calm and chill child, quite unlike his mother. So, he handled the boredom with grace, more than I did. He did state that he would not be going on any more vacations without his older brother along too. Not only was there not much to do, but the people to do it with were 500 years older than him. :)

    Sharon, my son isn't interested in sports, but we brought the laptop and so he entertained himself with that. Warning: this hotel doesn't have free wifi, which was kind of shocking. I had to use tethering on my iPhone to get us online.

    And, we will be inviting my older son for our next trips as long as he can make it.

  10. Thank you for sharing a description of your vacation with us. I am so glad that you got away for a few days with your family! The outdoor movie and hanging out by the pool sound great!

  11. Thanks for sharing. It's great you got away. It sounds to me like you managed to keep up pretty well. I hear you about needing both sons for the next vacation. I have two sons and know exactly what you mean. Rest up for the next trip.

  12. I LOVE that pic of you and Doug at the end of this beautiful story/blog. Please tell Matty that I say "hi"... ~Cuz Daryl

  13. Ann, you went for the warm vacation and I am heading for the cold. It is our 27th anniversary and we are going to Alaska on a cruise. I wanted to go BIG , I have to get my liver taken care of when I get back. I am getting the TACE procedure and starting a new chemo,last scan had to many accessories . It's great to spend "happy" non cancer time with my husband. I am glad you enjoyed your trip

  14. Hi! Hello!
    I do realize I am a few years behind as I reply to your post, and, as I am reading your blog, I expect to continue to lag behind for a day or so longer. As a native Phoenician, I will identify the problem you hilariously expound upon (hilarious to me, as reader, at least) in your late summer getaway post to sunny & hot Phoenix, Arizona. The problem is simple: You chose to travel to Phoenix, Arizona. In late summer. Which is...sunny and hot. Most natives are running away from the city as far and fast as their little brown legs can carry them in between the months of July & October. You encountered a ghost town was! I myself would never brave the Botanical Garden in September during daylight hours, yet you and your persevering little tribe did, and survived to tell the tale (!). Congratulations is due, my dear. My suggestion? Sedona. Sedona is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful place on earth during the summer. It is also only an hour and a half north of Phoenix.
    If you're ever in my neck of the woods again, I'd love to recommend fun things for you and your family to do, though, I understand if you'd rather...not.
    On another note, I really like you. I like your blog, I am drawn to your biting humor and brutal honesty. I get a little scared as I delve further & deeper into your blog. I want so much for you to feel good. And so I will recite a phrase you taught us a while back:
    I am so sorry you have cancer.
    Teresa Valenzuela AKA tu_mama_tere on Instagram


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