The Year of Last Holidays

If you were dying, but still felt healthy now, what would you do with the time you had left?
This question is the premise for two films entitled Last Holiday. In 2016, I lived the plot line.

Sunrise, Atlantic Ocean. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Sunrise, Atlantic Ocean. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

If you were dying, but still felt healthy now, what would you do with the time you had left?

This question is the premise for two films entitled Last Holiday.

In the 1950 version of the story, Alec Guinness plays George Bird, a salesperson of modest means and ambitions. During a routine physical, his doctor delivers a terminal diagnosis: he has Lampington’s disease, rare and very deadly — and he will die soon.

Bird wanders into the street in a daze, winds up in a second-hand shop where he purchases a Duke’s wardrobe, then takes himself off to a posh seaside resort. No longer hampered by his “keep-my-head-down attitude,” Bird starts to say exactly what he thinks.

Alec Guinness played George Bird in the original version of Last Holiday (1950).
Alec Guinness played George Bird in the original version of Last Holiday (1950).

The wealthy are charmed. A captain of industry seeks his advice. Bird finds himself the center of attention, and his whole life begins to change. Near the end of the film, his doctor discovers he’s given Bird the wrong diagnosis.


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The plot may be familiar to you, even if you haven’t seen the Guinness film. Last Holiday was remade in 2006 with Queen Latifah in the lead role, playing Georgia Byrd, a mild-mannered salesperson selling cookware in a New Orleans department store. Her boss is rude and thoughtless, and he regularly demeans her.

Queen Latifah plays Georgia Byrd in the 2006 re-make of Last Holiday.
Queen Latifah plays Georgia Byrd in the 2006 re-make of Last Holiday.

Georgia spends her evenings cooking complex recipes and dreaming of being a chef. When she receives her terminal diagnosis, she heads off to the Grandhotel Pupp in Czechoslovakia where her hero Chef Didier works. Freed from her regular constraints, Georgia blossoms.

I like both versions of the film. I first saw the original film over thirty years ago; I have to admit, I’ve always thought about it as Obi Wan takes his last holiday . . . since I was twelve when Star Wars came out, Guinness will always live in my imagination that way.

When Latifah’s version of the film came out, I went to see it. I love the re-make. It’s positive, it’s fun — and I love the premise, the “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Little did I know I would get to live the plot line myself.

SO . . . if you were dying, but still felt healthy now, what would you do with the time you had left?

The answer is different for each of us.

I have always dreamed of traveling the world and writing. There were so many years that I couldn’t — no money, then no time, job constraints, a small child at home. But I always thought that one day I would, that I had  to, that I wanted to with a large part of myself, my soul.

Royal Clipper near Soufriere, St. Lucia
Royal Clipper near Soufriere, St. Lucia. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

2016: My Year of Last Holidays

I should mention that my husband Drew, love of my life, died in the summer of 2013 after a 2.5 year fight with terminal cancer. We managed his last holiday — his dream, to go to London and Paris about six months before he passed.

In 2014, I had emergency surgery for a fully obstructed bowel. The Stage III colon cancer had spread to one of eighteen lymph nodes removed along with the tumor.

I started chemo in September 2014, and finished at the end of March 2015. As anyone who has had cancer knows, we live scan to scan.

My oncologist, my surgeon, and I spent the first half of 2016 thinking my cancer had metastasized, but could be cured after two lung surgeries and chemo.

Following a scan in June, things were worse. Based on conversations with my doctors, I expected I might live two years, and none of it was going to be pretty.

In March, I downsized from a large house to a two-bedroom condo; I figured I’d better do it while I still felt strong enough to do the work.

After the bad scan, I quit my job of 24 years.

My daughter and I watch Joe Versus the Volcano that night, another film in keeping with the Last Holiday theme. It’s one of those that people either really, really like or really, really don’t. I kind of love it. Catherine and I kind of loved it together.

Joe Versus the Volcano.

I took five last holidays in 2016.

The first trip was impromptu. I got the bad news, and took my daughter Catherine on a first-class Delta flight to New York for New Year’s Eve. We museumed, and shopped, and walked, and ate amazing food, and saw Broadway shows from the very best seats.

Afterwards came two last holidays before what I expected to be a very bad year of surgery and chemo.

The final two were the last holidays I ever expected to take. Where were these five trips? You know about the Big Apple. Three journeys involved tall ships. One was a trip to Alaska and Puget Sound.

And then something magical happened.

The spots in the pleurae of my lungs disappeared.

In January of 2017, I quit worrying about cancer. I’m staying on my path, to turn my writing and my blog into something bigger.

And you know what? If I hadn’t had the living daylights scared out of me last year, I wouldn’t be here . . . I’d still be sitting in my office, afraid to leave.

 


Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

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There are two posts having to do with my cancer, you’ll find them here. I’ll post another shortly, for those who want to know more about the scans, etc.


You’ll find four of my “last holidays” here, broken up into six different blog posts:

Royal Clipper sails near Soufriere in St. Lucia.
Article about my cruise in the Caribbean on the Royal Clipper.

Photograph of Royal Clipper
Article about my voyage on Royal Clipper in the Mediterranean.

Classic Fiat in Rome
Visiting Rome in the summer? Tips for seeing the sights while avoiding the crowds.

Screenshot from Inside Passage Alaska, Minus the Cruise Ship
My trip to Juneau, Skagway, Haines, and Sitka using the Alaskan Marine Highway.

Article about my westbound Atlantic crossing on Star Flyer.

Screenshot from Land of Tall Trees and Fat Fish
On Golden Pond on Puget Sound. My daughter joined me for this peaceful time watching the great mountain, Rainier.

The Lady in the Hermès Scarf

Hermes Scarves. Photograph, 123rf Stock Photos.
Hermes Scarves. Photograph, 123rf Stock Photos.

Elena tugged at a corner, and the heavy silk twill slipped from beneath the stack of scarves in the drawer to fall open in her hands.

In the field of cerulean blue, the silver bark of the tree shone. The slender branches stretched up from the trunk reaching almost to the limits of the carré, the square. From those branches sprouted golden leaves edged in black. A light breeze fluttered the silk, and the leaves and branches of the scarf tree came alive.

Elena looked across the bedroom, and through the open window it seemed that she could see David and the old man playing chess under the trees in the Jardin du Luxembourg. The old man was still, except his eyes moving around board, coming back to the new position of David’s bishop. He moved his queen from H3 to C8, pressed to stop his clock, and looked at David.

Elena found herself sitting on a chair between the two men wondering whether David could extricate himself. Nourah lay at her ankle. The Saluki’s head rested on her paws but she was not sleeping. Her nose quivered and her eyes were busy.

With David’s next move the old man smiled.

“Ah, Davide. Je vous ai piégé maintenant.” Another move and another press of the chess clock.

Suddenly Nourah lifted her head, ears pricked. Across the park a white cat emerged from a shrub and walked out onto the gravel path. In a flash Nourah was off, leash flying as she closed the distance in an impossibly short time.

Elena called after her, but a sight hound with prey is single-minded.

Across the street and into the neighborhood Nourah flew — oblivious to traffic, to passersby. Elaine caught her only because the cat disappeared through a gate into a large courtyard, and there Nourah sat, peering through the iron bars. When she stooped to pick up the leash, Nourah put her nose against Elena’s ear.

“Don’t tell me you’re sorry. I know you aren’t.” She ruffled the dog’s silvery hair.

David found them on the Rue Michelet headed back to the Luxembourg, Elena’s hair wild, and Nourah sleek and elegant at her side.

“Done with the game?”

“You saw. Jean-Claude had finished me already. Let’s go for a coffee, or — ” David looked at his watch. “Perhaps a drink?”

“Yes. La Closerie des Lilas or Le Dome?

Closerie“Perfect spring day – let’s go to Lilas.”

As they settled themselves at a table, Nourah arranged herself next to David’s chair, pressed against his leather messenger bag.

The waiter brought the drinks and Elaine took a sip of her champagne cocktail.

“I have something for you.” David pulled a box from his bag and handed it across the table.

Elena opened the orange box with the bright blue scarf, and as she  took it out it fell open and the golden tree fluttered out.

“How lovely, David.”

“All French women should have at least one.”

“But I am not French.”

“I think Paris has adopted you. Besides, when I am back in Riadh, it will please me to think of you wearing it.”

Elena reached across the table and put her hand on top of David’s, which he turned palm up to hold hers.

“You will keep Nourah while I am gone?”

“Of course. But –”

“Yes?”

“This trip, this time . . .

“It will be fine.”

Perhaps a narrow folding.

Elena lay the scarf flat, took opposite corners and folded each corner into the middle. She folded each side towards the middle again, and then again until the scarf was a thin, long strip of bright blue and gold. She tied it around her head, knotting it at the nape of her neck with the long tails of the scarf draping over her shoulder in her hair.

American cathedralShe loosened the scarf and it fell open again.

Nourah was not allowed at the American Cathedral, and David’s parents hadn’t understood why it upset her. But Elena put the Saluki’s picture next to David’s at the front.

You aren’t supposed to wear Hermès scarves in the rain. The colors might run.

The smell of the light shower mixed with exhaust and Elena and the dog crossed the street with the headlights glistening on the wet pavement in front of them.

Her hair was too thin for this now. She looked at herself in the mirror on the dresser again. It would have to be a different fold.

You see, you fold the scarf into a triangle. Center the widest part on your forehead, the rest of the scarf covers your head, and the long corners tie together over the back of the triangle to create a head wrap.

“Oh, there you are!” The young woman seated on the banquette waved at her friend.

The restaurant looked like a pale Parisian brasserie. The upscale clientele loved the monochromatic palate that was such the current style. So much more elegant than the real thing.“How ARE you?” rejoined her friend, swinging her handbag into the seat next to her. In the background the jazz gave way to something with a few too many violins.

They looked about for their waiter. He was at the table one over from theirs talking intently with an older woman. Thin and somewhat pale, and she was all in white linen with scarf tied around her head. The bright, clear blue with touches of silver and leaves of gold framed her face.

Salukis are from the Middle East, and are one of the oldest dog breeds. Photograph 123rf Stock Photos.
Salukis are from the Middle East, and are one of the oldest dog breeds. Photograph 123rf Stock Photos.

Fiction. Ann Cavitt Fisher, copyright 2016.

Dedicated to women who love scarves, and to all who need them as they fight cancer.


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Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

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Why are Hermès scarves so expensive?

Hermès of Paris is a luxury goods manufacturer established in 1837. The first Hermès scarves were produced in 1937, the company’s 100 year anniversary.

The Hermès silk farm is in Brazil. It takes 300 cocoons of silk to create a single scarf. The design and silk screening work is done in Lyon, France. Each scarf design takes from 750 to 2000 or more hours to create because each element in a design that requires a different color is hand drawn on a separate screen.

For those interested in learning about the Hermès Carré, the article and videos below help show why these scarves are special.

The Making of the World’s Most Coveted SquareMaking a Hermes scarf Secrets of an Hermes Scarf

Secrets of the Hermes Scarf

How Hermes Silk Scarves are Made

How Hermes Silk Scarves are Made

Hand-rolling the scarvesHand rolling and stitching

When Cancer Returns

Spinning Carnival Ride

The doctor’s eyes shifted slightly when he looked at me during the meeting following my scan. I knew.

And I knew immediately.

In the scan following my initial surgery, there were tiny, tiny spots in my lungs, as well as one in the T-11 vertebra. Too tiny to biopsy. So tiny the first radiologist said nothing. Possibly just part of my body.

In a scan just before Christmas, the spots on my lungs had grown and changed.

To be or Not to be

The tilt-o-whirl ride started when I was referred to a surgeon. He spoke positively about resecting the lung spots, although we might have to wait since they are so tiny that there is a risk of not getting all of the cancer — don’t want two surgeries on the same lung. My surgeon wanted to get a closer look at the spot on the T-11 vertebra, so I went for a spine MRI.

The surgeon called the next day. “I think the spot on your spine is cancer. That means we will not do surgery, and I’ll be referring you back to your oncologist.”

Death TarotBasically, if it’s in my spine, I’m screwed. The subtext is this, “Lady, I’m not doing surgery. I mean, why would we put you through it?”

Okay, so that afternoon in my office, I began thinking — endgame. What do I want the last year or so to look like?

At home in the early evening, my oncologist called and we talked as he looked at the new scan. He doesn’t think the spot on the spine is cancer. We have a long talk. A day later, after having multiple radiologists compare scans, they decide that it is not cancer since it has not changed in size or shape. It may be a bone island.

So. Now, I’m not dying. (Okay, we are all dying. But I don’t need to make immediate plans).

It’s the feeling of being handed the Death card. You hold it. You look at it. And this time, someone takes it back.

I then did the most logical thing in the world.

I got on a tall ship and headed to sea.

The Royal Clipper, sailing through the Windward and Grenadine islands.
The Royal Clipper, sailing through the Windward and Grenadine islands. Photograph by Ann Fisher.

Here is the review my trip on the Royal Clipper, one of the Star Clipper line.

Cancer Update

March 6, 2016: Great news! My CT scans are stable, so no treatment planned — instead, I get to travel this summer. Woohoo!


Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

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*** Image of the carnival at night is from Pixabay.

Ann Fisher

Chemo with Walter White

Taking chemo
My six month journey and my poison.

Tickle that cheek, and take your throne; pump your veins with gushing gold. — Glass Animals

On September 15, 2014, I took my first round of chemo for colon cancer. My treatment was FOLFOX6, a cocktail of Leucovorin, Fluorouracil (5-FU), and Oxaliplatin, for six months, infusions every other week. Each time I had a treatment, after the main infusion, I wore a pump which slowly pushed the 5FU into my veins for another 48 hours . Nausea and extreme aversion to cold, likely. Complete hair loss, unlikely. Neuropathy, likely.

Treatment began three weeks after emergency surgery for a complete bowel obstruction and a week long hospital stay. One week before treatment the surgeon implanted the chemo port in my chest.

I considered myself an old hand at chemo. I had helped my husband, Drew, through over two years of treatments before he passed away in July 2013.

Ah, but between the experiences of the support person and the patient — there lies an imposing gulf.

Friends were with me for most of my treatments, but my daughter stayed with her Dad for my treatment weeks, so at home I was alone. It was quiet.

A treatment or so into the ordeal, I watched the first episode of Breaking Bad. This was a series that had held absolutely no interest for me. I mean, why would I want to watch something about a high-school-chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-cooker?

Taking chemo with Walter
Bryan Cranston plays Walter White in AMC’s Breaking Bad

Walter White proved charming and addictive, and he drew close during my treatment.

I still have visions of the nurse’s face inches from mine, as she begins pushing the wicked-looking needle into the porto-cath in my chest. And there is a song that I associate with that vision and with the feeling the chemical infusion, Black Mambo by The Glass Animals:

Glass Animals

Glass Animals — Black Mambo video. — mesmerizing song — I recommend it. Gets to my feeling exactly.

Lyrics:

(Verse 1)

What’ll it be now mister mole
Whispers sloth in curls of smoke
Take a back seat
Or play pharaoh
Dance with me
And shake your bones

(Refrain)

Slow down
It’s a science
He’s been waiting
To bring you down
Snake eyed
With a sly smile
He can hold you
And shake you child

(Verse 2)

Leopards laze each
On plush pillows
Slender capes
Of red and chrome
Paperback dreams
In their deep doze
Twitch their toes to
Black mambo

Repeat Refrain
(Verse 3)

Wanna play cheat
Now says the sloth
A domino
Flush to his nose
Tickle that cheek
And take your throne
Pump your veins
With gushing gold

Repeat Refrain
We can hold you
We can hold you
We can hold you
We can hold you

***** Note: while the chemo chemicals I took were not really yellow, their cost put them past the price of gold.