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A health scare leads a couple through twists and turns, towards hope

As the cable car broke through the low-lying clouds, the warmth of the early morning sun gave new meaning to the day.

I was one of the first to step onto the platform from the slightly overloaded car. Our tour guide had warned us earlier that if the sky was clear up there we should be prepared for something spectacular. But no words could describe what I saw when I turned the corner of the building. I stood in awe, awaiting my wife, who had been further back in the cable car.

Myra and Gene Sooley of Corner Brook give their hotel on the River Rhine in Germany a thumbs up. The picture was taken during a recent European vacation. The river had lots of traffic and is a major means of transportation of goods and people, says Gene.

As the cable car broke through the low-lying clouds, the warmth of the early morning sun gave new meaning to the day.

I was one of the first to step onto the platform from the slightly overloaded car. Our tour guide had warned us earlier that if the sky was clear up there we should be prepared for something spectacular. But no words could describe what I saw when I turned the corner of the building. I stood in awe, awaiting my wife, who had been further back in the cable car.

There was a crowd on the platform, but where was Myra? I had to have her near me to enjoy this most beautiful first view from the top of the world.

It was so magnificent. The crests of the mountains looked like islands floating in a sea of marshmallows, secretly concealing the towns and villages that lay below. Some were snow-covered; some were not. The snow-covered ones reminded me of the icebergs in the bays of my island home.

Roller coaster

The radiation treatment had gone well and the two previous CAT scans were encouraging. The oncologist walked into the outer office to discuss the results of the most recent scan, in April.

To say breast cancer is a roller coaster ride is an understatement. Even though the doctor was very abrupt and to the point - not wanting to show emotion - we knew even before he spoke that we were about to hear something we did not want to hear.

"There is a lesion on your liver consistent with the disease," he said.

Very sad, but it was not a shock. After four years of breast cancer, with bad reports, good reports, misdiagnosis and delays, we had come to expect the unexpected.

"The scars on your lungs have stayed the same, so we assume they were there from some previous incident and were probably benign," he said.

"But we will have to change your drug prescription to a newer drug to try and control the cancer in the liver."

Lots of shots

Finally, Myra appeared next to me on the platform to share the amazing view from Mount Stanzerhorn.

"Wow. This surely makes it all worthwhile."

She smiled, as if to say I told you so.

We had an hour to enjoy out of our busy schedule. We walked the extra 10 minutes to the very peak for the final view and lots of photographs.

"Remember, take lots of pictures, Dad," Trina had said. "Lots and lots of them. It's digital."

A few more photographs of heaven, finish off that fine Swiss beer, and get back on the cable car and head down the mountain with our newfound friends.

Leaving the sunshine behind, we were off to our next adventure, a horse-and-carriage ride with a Swiss farmer, then back to his hamlet for a lunch of great-tasting cheeses and wines and desserts, all prepared by the farmer's wife.

'We're goin', Myra'

When the cancer came back three years after Myra's first surgery, we talked more seriously about our formerly distant dream of following the routes and walking the roads where Roman chariots had travelled and soldiers once marched.

All of a sudden, our plans for a European tour became more urgent.

"We're goin', Myra," I said. "Let's make the arrangements and pack the bags."

It's not as though we hadn't travelled much before. We had crossed Canada a couple of times and travelled extensively in the U.S. You have to do that when your children work on different parts of the continent and you love to see those grandchildren.

But we always drove. Flying such a distance and visiting so many foreign countries would be a bit of an extreme adventure for us. What if the plane crashed, the bus went off the road in the Alps or we ate contaminated escargot?

What the hell, I told myself. Too late in life and circumstance to worry about such trivial things. Fear of things diminishes when a loved one is sick.

Myra's sister, Mildred, and her husband Ron, having heard of our plans, decided to join us. They had always wanted to visit Europe as well and their companionship was welcomed. Ron and I watched with amazement as brochure after brochure came and went and was then revisited.

"The European Experience," they called it. And rightly so, I might add. The preparation had started.

Back on the roller coaster

It was July now and the fourth CAT scan since the radiation treatment was complete. We were back on the roller coaster in the doctor's office. Those visits were always so fearful. You felt like 10 years came off your life with every encounter.

"How would you like to give me a million dollars?" the specialist said. He always joked with us to ease the tension.

We looked at him and at each other with bewilderment. What the hell is he talking about?

Though it seemed like an eternity, he quickly followed with, "That's what this report is going to mean to you, and more. We discovered with this scan there are no abrasions in your liver and the previous scan must have somehow been flawed."

Truly, there has to be a God. All that praying! There were tears of joy in our eyes. My wife had Stage 4 cancer. He is now telling us, as of this scan, her major organs show no signs of any cancer? Dare we believe this?

One of the best

After visiting the farmer's hamlet and shopping in Lake Lucerne, it was back to the hotel for dinner and then a well-deserved rest.

Even though the hotel room was the least desirable one of the entire tour, the bed felt like the pillowy clouds we had gazed down upon from paradise earlier in the day. Truly this day had to be rated as one of the best we ever had since we met 45 years ago.

This trip was a dream come true. It was simply amazing - we had gone thousands of miles through eight countries and visited cities such as Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Venice and Florence, where there was enough history and sightseeing to last a lifetime.

And we did it all in 16 days.

It was the greatest of vacations, the mother of all vacations - the look of joy and happiness on my wife's face that I hadn't seen for years, the many friends we made, especially Wayne and Dianne from Vancouver, 4,000 miles from our home but still in the same vast country. Our country.

On the tour, we were at first a busload of 48 strangers, a tour guide and bus driver. People from all over the world: New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Philippines, South Africa, Colombia, the United States, Britain and Canada - together for two weeks and best friends when it was all over.

There's a lesson to be learned, a wish to be had. And I had one wish, apart from wishing that my wife would be cured of all cancer. And it is this: I wish the whole world could be put on a bus for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, a lot of problems would be solved and the world would be a much happier place.

Hot spot

So here I am, back home again, sitting in front of the fireplace reminiscing with my wife about The Trip That Was.

But it is worry time again. In January, she had pains in her chest after we got back from the holiday.

The previous CAT scan and X-rays in October had shown nothing, but a later bone scan showed a "hot spot" where the pain is located.

We talked to the oncologist two weeks ago and he seemed very concerned. When you have cancer, you're always reading more into the expressions of the physicians than they tell you. We told him the pain was much worse back in October and he said that made him feel much better, because with cancer it only gets worse without treatment.

Grasping at straws again, we hope and pray this is something else.

Such is the life of a cancer patient. Another CAT scan next week, another bone scan next month.

We cling to the words and hope that feeling better is a good sign.

Organizations: CAT, European Experience

Geographic location: Canada, United States, Mount Stanzerhorn Alps Europe Lake Lucerne Amsterdam Paris Rome Venice Florence Vancouver New Zealand Australia Malaysia Philippines South Africa Colombia Britain

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