A Happy New Year to you all.
The best-laid plans of mice and men, as they say. 2018 was one of those years for us. In fact, our year turned on its head as a result of two key events.
One was at Lanta Animal Welfare (LAW) in late February which convinced us it was time to leave earlier than planned. The other, a visit to the doctor for Julie’s sister Tracey at the end of September, that meant we would drop everything.
Somewhere in the middle of those events we lived on a tiny island in the South Pacific, slept in the back of a van for weeks on end, and got up close to incredible wildlife in the back of beyond.
WHEN PLANS NEED TO CHANGE
But it was a text message following a consultant’s appointment late September, saying ‘can you ring me?’ that really put the brakes on.
Tracey’s blood disorder, Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS), was initially diagnosed 10 years ago. At that time after receiving a couple of units of blood, the illness went into remission. That was until early 2018.
Despite numerous doctors and specialists appointments throughout the past 6 months, resulting in transfusions of over 40 units of blood, all failed to stop the steady decline in Tracey’s health.
We knew that there was a possibility that a bone marrow transplant could be on the cards, but it wasn’t until the end of September that consultants in Plymouth decided this was the only option. Julie had been tested for a bone marrow match 10 years ago. But an urgent visit to the Haematology Dept in-between planned housesits in Italy confirmed Julie as the perfect match.
On 24th October, Tracey was admitted to the specialist unit and started a week of chemotherapy.
At the same time, Julie began a course of injections to boost her stem cells. Seven days later the harvest and transplant would take place
Gone are the days of harvesting the bone marrow directly from the hip bones under a general anaesthetic. Today it’s a quick 4-5 hours hooked up to a unit the size of a slot machine. The blood is drawn through one arm fed through the machine where the stem cells are separated, and then the blood returned to the donor via the other arm.
Well, that’s the theory, unless like Julie you have flaky veins and the slowest blood flow going. So 3 days later and with a line into the groin rather than arms, the harvest was complete.
After several weeks in an isolation unit, Tracey was discharged at the end of November and the slow recovery is underway. She still needs weekly checkups by the haematology team and is having blood transfusions on a regular basis. Hopefully the transfusions will end soon and Tracey’s new stem cells will produce the much needed bone marrow and the blood disorder gone for good.
Julie’s Top Three Highlights
Falling in love with the dogs (and even the odd cat) at Lanta Animal Welfare. Playing a part in helping sick animals recover as well as helping them to be adopted. My heart melts when I see Facebook updates of my favour pooches in their new forever homes.
What’s better than a road trip in a funky van? One where you see bears in the wild fishing for salmon in Alaska and get to revel in the majestic scenery of Canada’s Banff and Jasper National Parks. Bucket list stuff.
Having the privilege of saving a life. My sister’s to be precise. Nearly 450 million of my stem cells are currently setting up camp in her bone marrow, trying to kick start her blood to work properly. It’s a long road to recovery, but I am glad I have been able to be there to help in as many ways as I can.
Steve’s Top Three Highlights
Spending quality time with some great friends and their pooches on the West Coast of America. Including soaking in the hot tub under the stars in Jenner by the Sea, getting to see whales and hundreds of dolphins on a boat trip from Monterey, taking in some of the beautiful hikes around Mount Rainier, and spending an evening on a ride-along with our favourite policewoman and her colleagues.
Being back in New Zealand to watch daughter number two, Katherine, be awarded a Bachelor of Science. But the bright young cookie didn’t stop there, and in the past year she has completed her Masters in Conservation Biology. So proud.
Knowing that during our 5 months at LAW, we help raise funds from visitors to support the fantastic work that the team do there. That we personally help several dogs find new forever homes where we know they will be loved to bits. And that we helped treat and rescue some pretty sick street dogs who will now have better lives.
Exploring Kampot and Kep during our visa renewal run to Cambodia
Cocktails and magical sunsets at Time for Lime, Koh Lanta (supports LAW)
Exploring the streets of Seattle
Cruising the Alaska Marine Highway
Lagunitas Brewery Visit
Looking up to see a juvenile brown bear walk passed our open van door as we sat in the carpark of Fish Creek Observatory
Moraine Lake, the brightest turquoise water with a backdrop of 10 peaks. A fantastic hike which ran parallel to the peaks. Even snowing on the 1st September
Having both daughters in the UK for Christmas
Not So Good
Steve lost another one of his boyhood mentors when Uncle Gerald passed away, the second Uncle in two years
Not pushing ourselves out of comfort zone as we have done in previous years
Realising that to see polar bears in the wild it was going to cost an arm and leg, and having to cross it off of our list reluctantly
Here are 2018’s random numbers
42 beds, one or both of us have slept in
9 weeks Julie was forced to work (while Steve frolicked on the beach with cute pup Gracie)
262 dogs and cats combined that were sterilised over a 3 day Mobile LAW Clinic
11 total number of dog bites while volunteering at LAW
1 cracked rib, while Steve was taking out the rubbish!
6 weeks for the rib to heal
5 metres the distance Steve slipped and fell on his butt while clambering over rocks to get ‘that’ waterfall picture
10 weeks his butt hurt after that fall
1,402 days since we started this journey
32,744 kilometres flown (20,353 miles)
26 attempts to pop the canulas (known as ‘the beast’) into Julie’s flaky veins
7 countries visited, Thailand, Cambodia, New Zealand, Italy, UK, USA & Canada
119 days of housesitting, saving over NZ$5,950 in accommodation cost
1 time Julie parted way with her scooter in Thailand
26 photos taken on a daily basis (equates to NZ$4,751 if buying a roll of film per day)
2 iPhone screens somebody managed to smash in less than 24 hours
5 minutes out of 6 hours spent at the Anan Bear Observatory without a bear in sight
1 metre Julie was away from a bear on the way back to the boat from the Observatory
4 people who stole our campsite in Olympic National Park
34 waterfalls visited and photographed
6 of us in one bed, Julie and I along with pups Princess Cara, Pucchi, Sultan and Nipper, needless to say the pups got the most of the bed
0 millimetres the amount of snow that fell on Christmas Day in the UK much to daughters disappointment
13 family and friends around the Christmas dinner table
Looking forward to 2019
As Tracey’s recovery is going to take some time, we wanted to be close to help. That means initially being on hand to take her to appointments and help around the house. As Tracey’s recovery progresses, we will remain in the Northern Hemisphere so that we can get back to Devon quickly if needed.
So we have taken on at least 6 house sits between now and July, including a month in Somerset the cider capital of the UK. There will be more gorgeous pups (including one who recently broke his leg), cheeky cats, lots of chucks and even a horse or two (a first for us).
We will also be spending 6 weeks in Ireland, housesitting in County Clare. Which we are both quite excited about.
Hopefully, we will get in our annual pilgrimage to Italy. And speaking of pilgrimages. There’s talk of tackling the 630 kilometre, Camino de Portuges, starting in Lisbon and finishing in Santiago de Compostela. We have ordered the Brierley guide which is an excellent first step.
In September we will be catching up with good friends, Paul & Rick in Barcelona, for a second visit to this stunning city. And then we hope to tick off one of Steve’s all-time bucket list items, picking and treading the port grapes in the Douro Valley, Portugal.
These plans will take us up to the end of October and from there, who knows? Maybe Christmas somewhere hot with a few dogs that need some love and walks.
The last few months of 2018 have been incredibly stressful and challenging. We had to change plans and commitments at short notice. A huge thank you for the understanding, love and support that we have received.
We hope your 2019 is filled with love, blessings, and happiness. And very big thank you for following our adventures. It means a lot to have you guys along for the ride.
Until next time, happy travels.
To find out more about MDS and blood cancers and to learn more about becoming a stem cell donor please take a look at the following links.