Appreciating the moments around you

Sometimes, this is just a blog.  Nothing helpful, no specific cancer tips or tumor measurements or pictures from a hospital (and seriously, everyone has seen enough of me sitting there with an IV in my arm).  Every now and then, I just share what is happening in my life.  This is one of those posts.

We spent a quiet New Year’s at the beach with some other kids and parents; Josie was getting over being sick, and Tommy was just coming down with something, so for the second year in a row, no Sharpe made it to midnight. We got an invite to head to the Keys this past weekend, and went back and forth on if we should bring a recovering toddler. After a generous amount of debate, we ended up packing the car and heading south to Big Pine Key and the Blumberg Fishing Camp – our friend Kal and Anita’s place at mile marker 32.

For those of you who know me, I’m a huge fan of the Florida Keys. It’s one of the reasons I moved to Florida in the first place, and since landing here, I have only grown to appreciate the 120 miles of islands dividing the Gulf of Mexico from the Atlantic Ocean. There have been many memorable trips to Key West, but there are also a lot of other places to stop – and stay – along the way that are just as fun and relaxing. 

Problem is, I hadn’t really set foot in Monroe County since a good friend’s wedding in Key West a few weeks before Josie was born. Family life, health issues, and our admittedly insane travel and social schedule conspired to keep us from the place where the stress of everyday life gets washed away in the tropical breeze. Dad always told me that the salt air was medicinal, and while not proven in any double-blind studies, I totally believe that is true. 

So when Jen and I debated on bringing a still-under-the-weather baby boy to our friends’ place and risk getting their child sick, I naturally came down on the “Tommy will be fine, he’ll get better QUICKER in Big Pine, and isn’t going to get anyone else sick!” side. It was a bit of a stretch since I really had no idea if that was true, but getting back to the islands had been something I thought about many times sitting in a hospital bed. After our friends (a doctor and a nurse, thank goodness) eased the fears about spreading germs, we tossed the whole family in the car with some cough medicine and Tylenol, and headed for the Keys.

The best thing about the weekend?  It wasn’t “perfect.” I am used to planning activities to take advantage of all opportunities a trip has to offer – especially in the Keys. This time it was different. We had no plans. Tommy was still not 100%, so sleep was a bit choppy. The weather didn’t cooperate on Saturday (uh, maybe I had better leave that part out… rainy and high 60’s all day would likely have been preferable for most of my Northeast friends shoveling in single digit snow). Even the car ride down was tough – the anticipated toddler nap in the back seat turned into a lot more crying than sleeping.

Surprisingly, all those things made the weekend great. It wasn’t about a string of activities we had to complete. Weather issues gave us time to watch the girls play together all day Saturday, to relax inside and enjoy some down time. We got to spend some quality time with another family – Josie and Eileen are classmates and as best of friends as you can be at three years old. We ate way more than necessary, had a couple of drinks, and chatted over football and performances by the girls to the Frozen soundtrack. When the weather cleared Sunday, everyone got on kayaks and stand-up paddleboards for a cruise through the mangroves. We even made some killer homemade ice cream, which I am 99% sure is an antioxidant-laden cancer fighting superfood.

The no-plans, no-worries approach made the weekend special, memorable, and fun. The focus was on the people, not the events. It was a wonderful time, partially because of where we were, but mostly for more simple reasons – two days of watching the kids experience fishing for the first time, or having the girls do a quasi-sleepover, or see the stars and the “World’s Seventh-Least Accessible Christmas Tree” driving over the Seven Mile Bridge (here is a slightly blurry night-time picture).  Sometimes perfect doesn’t need to follow the best-laid plans; it can just be appreciating the moments around you. It’s what the Florida Keys is really all about, something lost in the shuffle of 48-hour weekends or three-day bachelor parties on Duval St. For not being “perfect,” I can’t think of a better way to start 2014.  After all, medicinal salt air can only help this recovery.

T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »