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Traveling With Family: The Terminal Journey Diary – The Reality


Tourist Meets Traveler - A Terminal Journey

Part 2 of Traveling With Family: The Terminal Journey Diary continues with the trip, all that I learned and discovered, and the sad realization that came with adventure. You can read the pre-vacation story for a deeper background on the journey here – Traveling With Family: The Terminal Journey Diary

Three Days Post Trip – I hate to begin with spoilers, but my head and my heart have been at war. In fact, they are still combating between anger spiked with a disappointment I cannot explain, and the reality of the word that started it all – cancer.

My deadline has approached, and the temptation to keep the rest of the story to myself crossed my mind, but with the support of friends and family, I have decided to share it. This experience won’t be as detailed (or as laden with profanity) as my personal journal, but I think it’s important to be honest and real while maintaining some integrity. Perhaps, somewhere, someone is struggling with a similar situation.

Thursday – We are in the car and all, seemingly, feeling bright and hopeful. Perhaps, I’m just feeling that way, but the first day of a trip is always filled with excitement. We stop for breakfast on our way to catch a flight and I’m stunned at what my dad eats. A waffle swimming with syrup, topped with butter, and dusted with a light snow of powdered sugar. “It’s vacation. Dad is terminal. Are you going to begrudge him a sinfully delicious waffle?” I thought. The answer was no. I want my dad’s time to be happy. I smile and eat my egg scramble with a smile. When we arrive at our resort after a bit more driving and a long flight, it’s lunchtime. We hit up the onsite dining and Cabana Bay Beach Resort has Bayliner Diner, a cafeteria style eatery that has a deli-style joint, an America option packed with classics like burgers and meatloaf, a pizza joint, and an international station with unique options like a tofu stir-fry with a coconut curry sauce. My dad manages to snag my mother’s beef stew served over mashed potatoes with side of bread. He is supposed to avoid red meat, but again – “It’s vacation! Quit being a food-inspector.” My mother finds something to nit-pick about – a pan of pasta she has deemed “crusty” seems to be all she can focus and tells the tale of the offending pan of pasta twice during the lunch and again during dinner. I keep smiling because – “It’s vacation!” and she it’s the way she has always been; I should be used to it by now.

We spend the afternoon lapping up every moment in the pool. The slide becomes the hotspot and everyone has a go – including my mother. It was a joy to see her slide down and play with the kids in a rare moment of bravery. I skipped the slide as I play with the kids and enjoy floating around with the sun on my face. My dad is resting, while enjoy the sun, so I’m hopeful he will be ready for a day full of adventure tomorrow. We head to my favorite Italian place on CityWalk – Vivo. I have a full review here atAdventure @UniversalORL Vivo Italian Kitchen and CityWalk. Again, my mother is not pleased with the noise level and states her chicken has “too many onions” while throwing her napkin on her plate. A little voice in my head begins to say mean things, but I smile and reason that everyone is entitled to their opinions. It’s unfair of me to be frustrated. We all decide to turn in to be ready for Universal Studios the next morning.

Tourist Meets Traveler - A Terminal Journey - Diagon Alley

Friday – We take the super-convenient shuttle from the hotel to the parks. Wheelchair-friendly, the bus takes about 5-10 minute to make the journey and we arrive at the park. We all seem excited, but I notice my father is what I call “wilty” already. His head hangs a bit low, he is very quiet, and his gusto seems to be running low. It’s an early morning, so we head straight to Diagon Alley for our breakfast. Dad gets another round of carbs with a pancake meal. I’m wary, but eating looks like it has helped perk my father up, so we explore the area. As huge Harry Potter fans, I felt I could have spent all day and night in the expansion. It’s detail is stunning and Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts is still my favorite ride. At dad’s excited insistence, we indulge in Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, as I promised we would. After making the journey on the Hogwarts Express, my parents seek shade and rest on the lovely back patio of The Three Broomsticks. It’s a favorite spot we found during our previous visits that is a quiet area to enjoy a Pumpkin Juice. My father quickly sucks down another Butterbeer, and I begin to worry. He has had a lot of carbs and sugar. As cancer fighter with diabetes, I think it an unwise choice, but – “It’s vacation!” We decide to split for a bit to hit up some rides while my parents rest for a bit, with plans to meet for lunch. Post roller-coaster fun, we eat a lovely nosh at The Three Broomsticks where my dad gets a turkey leg and fries…and another Butterbeer. Even after we eat, he is moved on from “wilty” and looking “melty,” so I suggest they take the shuttle back to the hotel to get a solid nap. We split and agree to meet for dinner.

Looking slightly revived, my family congregates at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. My mother adorably worships the ground Jimmy sings on, and it’s been somewhere she has been dying to go. I think I’m being smart when I ask my dad what he plans on ordering to try and talk him into something healthier if he decides on another fat/beef/carb-heavy meal. He excitedly replies, “I’m getting the shrimp trio!” One of the better options, I’m proud of him….until the waitress takes our order and his “shrimp trio” becomes a “Cheeseburger in Paradise” with a Bahama Mama to wash it down. I’m stunned at the crafty old devil, and mentally facepalm.


Saturday – It’s no surprise my mother shows up the next morning by herself. Dad isn’t feeling well and was up with tummy troubles. I feel bad that he is so ill, but we had planned on taking the morning to relax, sleep in a bit, and swim before heading to the park, anyway. I built in time to rest instead of pushing things too hard in the park.

However, the morning and afternoon doesn’t make him feel any better. I feared it would happen, but I still feel terrible he is missing out on the fun. “Stupid #$&% cancer,” I think to myself. His diet hadn’t been great, but he was paying the price for indulging in a bit of treats. It felt so unfair, and wanted to “fix it” so he could enjoy the trip.

That is until he surfaced for dinner…

I was happy to see him up and feeling a bit better. Optimism began to pump through me again, and I even suggested he skip getting in the pool, and just dangle his feet in the water. However, the second his dinner tray hit our table – I deflated. He was having a triple-decker cheddar and brisket sandwich with cheddar broccoli soup garnished with a crushed crackers. He felt terrible all day because he ate so poorly, indulged too much the previous day and now he was trying to refuel on a fat/carbs/meat sandwich? I shook my head. “It’s vacation,” I reminded myself.


Sunday – I hit a breaking point. My mother showed up, alone. Dad was too ill…again. I wasn’t surprised, and I tried to let it go circa Elsa and her power ballad in ‘Frozen,’ but fury with step I made burst through my head and heart. After lunch, my mother called to check on my father and he refused to leave the room again because he had a headache. I was done. I was livid, seething, disappointed, hurt, and wondering why I bothered flying him across the country for him to sit in his room for 3 days?

That evening, as we had planned, my husband and I left the kids with my parents. My father finally surfaced so we could have a Mom and Dad night out. All I could think about was what a waste it was. What a waste of time, money, effort, planning, saving, making arrangements, researching, and trying.

Sadly, it didn’t get any better from there. Monday, oh Monday, was filled with such bitterness. We woke up and I called my father’s oncologist office, fearing something might be terribly wrong and we were discounting it. I detailed his exhaustion, the upset stomach issues, swings of feeling good to feeling so bad. The nurse suggested he get checked out, but felt confident it was his diabetes and all the sugars/carbs spiking his blood sugar. “It would explain the exhaustion, the up and down feelings regarding energy, and cause headaches.”


When went to breakfast where my dad had another pancake and syrup orgy with a side of bacon. I attempted to be sunny and friendly, after he bought me a souvenir to apologize, but I kept thinking – “I put all this time, money, and effort into making this trip happen – you eat like a fool despite feeling terrible afterward – and you try and buy me off with a souvenir? I wanted you to be there. I wanted you to be present and make the choice to try.” Instead, I smiled and thanked him for the cup.

But it hit a breaking point when we decided to go bowling. His apology crumbled in my ears when he refused to simply sit, watch, and be a part of the fun. Instead, he took a nap outside the bowling alley in a chair. The crack I was feeling became a divide that was filled with a pain after we bowled and loaded up in the shuttle and my dad suddenly perked up and chatted with our driver with a smile for the entire drive to the airport.

I felt a swell of self-pity. He couldn’t choose us over eating poorly. He couldn’t choose his grand-kids over a nap. He couldn’t choose what was right instead what was easy. But, as I talked to the nurse, she made me realize that the cancer is limiting, it’s insanely hard, and different for everyone, but after spending days in bed and the poor diet…it wasn’t a matter of “couldn’t” it’s a matter of “wouldn’t.” The nurse also explained, “Your father is stage 4, it’s terminal, and he has years to live if he fights, but how he fights is up to him. Ask him, ‘Are you happy?’ The answer is what matters. The acceptance of change has to come from him.

As several wise and supportive commenters warned on the first installment of this journal, “Just remember that you can help, but you can’t make your father or mother DO anything. No matter how much it might benefit him.” I failed to remember that. As much as I don’t understand why you’d ignore good choices that could change your life for the better, those choices are not mine to make.

Each side has a story, a reasoning, a focus, and a drive. What I think, hope for, and feel isn’t what others will think, hope for, and feel. What makes me happy, might not make someone else happy…and that’s normal. And, as a wise friend of mine pointed out, “Maybe you are so hurt because deep down this trip wasn’t just for your dad, but for you.

She was right in so many ways. I had hoped this trip would be fun. I had hoped it would reignite my dad’s desire to fight. I had hoped it would show him life is worth fighting for, his family was worth the sacrifice of junky food, and his life could be filled with adventure if he just tried. But, maybe, underneath it all, I was just hoping for memories I could clutch in my heart when he leaves this world and the opportunity to be happy, mad, frustrated, amused, annoyed, or warmed by something he says or does is gone.

Was it all selfish on my part? Maybe. Did it help him? Good question. Am I still hurt and angry? Yes, and I will be, but with the understanding that I will carry on knowing I tried and, at the very least, I have this…