#SoThisOneTime when besties became cancer buddies

So this one time, a girl from Washington moved to my high-school. She wore really ugly tennis shoes with jeans and a baggy grey West Virginia sweatshirt.  She was a little bit shy, and a little bit not. But for some reason, I was drawn to her.

‘You don’t need to know how to play soccer. I’ll teach you. You don’t need to know how to cheer. I’ll teach you. You DO need to ditch that sweatshirt though.’ And just like that. I found my new best friend.

‘Sara from Washington,’ we called her.

We’d sit next to each other on long bus rides to Italy to cheer and play soccer…sharing headphones and dancing around in our seats to Yellowcard on repeat for 13 hours straight.

We’d come home from those long haul trips and sleep. Sleep like only a teenager can with the gift of Deutsche rolladens. One time we slept for 20 hours. I kid you not.

We’d watch Napoleon Dynamite and throw mattresses out the window of the second story just for giggles [surely there was a practical reason in there too? I struggle to remember the ‘why’…but those resulting deep belly laughs I can still feel like it was yesterday].  We’d star gaze on the trampoline, talking about boys, and have sleepovers on school nights… Always in sync.

Eventually, Sara from Washington went back to Washington. And I to Florida. We straddled the country for years. But no matter how far we drifted, I was still…always…drawn to her.

We haven’t really been in the same chapter of life, or the same pocket of the world for more than a decade. I mean, she got married and has two beautiful baby girls and is in the Air Force and has her Masters Degree and is just super woman. And I try to work and workout and travel sometimes. So yeah…not always in perfect sync, but deeply connected, nonetheless.

So, imagine for a moment…what it felt like when Sara from Washington calls me muttering those same sick words that I’d uttered to her 10 years prior…The exact same diagnosis. Hodgkins Lymphoma. The exact same ABVD poison regimen. The exact same ‘what in the actual f*#k.’

48 hours after she was diagnosed I stepped off a plane in South Bend to spend the weekend with her. Not because I could heal her. Not because I could make her understand that it would be okay. Not because it had even sunk in yet. But because, as always, I was drawn to her.

And devastatingly, reluctantly…I went into my old hyper-drive… ‘You don’t need to know how to do chemo. I’ll teach you. You don’t need to know how to laugh at yourself when you’re bald. I’ll teach you. You DO need to lean on your people though.’

And tonight, I’m feeling that same tug on my heart. Because tomorrow, I know exactly how she’ll feel. After six months of hell, Sara will feel the very words I wrote 10 years ago:

“It’s bigger than graduation, and turning 21, and winning the lottery, and finishing a marathon that you’ve been sprinting for over 6 months, and being born again…”

Tomorrow, at the age of 30, Sara is born again…into a world, post-cancer, that she’ll see through a slightly different lens. A lens that I prayed she’d never know, but one I’m certain that we’ll always, always feel in sync through.

Happy graduation day, Sara from Washington.

Welcome to the world where bad hair days are better than no hair-days, belly laughs feel twice as good and we know that ugly, baggy grey West Virginia sweatshirts literally.don’t.matter.one.bit.

Happy, happy day, best friend. My survivor sista.

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10 years a survivor, says.

Ten years ago today.

“You have cancer,” she said, on this day ten years ago.

And so, with a  decade under my belt, here’s what I would say to my scared, naïve, sick little 18-year-old-self:

  • Your hair will grow back. It will take way longer than you want it to, and you will look ridiculous in the meantime. But it will grow back. And your new favorite cliché will be ‘a bad hair day is better than a no-hair-day.’
  • You’ll get a puppy. The best puppy ever. And you’ll name her Kimo. #CauseObviously. And she’ll be around for two more rounds of Temme cancer. But everyone will be ok. Cause that puppy is good luck.
  • This will not be the hardest season of your life. Take this one in stride. It will suck. You’ll be really sick. You’ll break up with your high school sweetheart in the midst of it. You’ll get fat from the medicine and ditching your USF cheerleading workout regime. But it will not kill you. Seasons to come, will feel so much more lethal. But you’ll weather those too. And people will squish your cheeks over how ‘strong you are.’
  • You will get sick of people telling you that you’re strong. Cause you’ll get sick of BEING strong. But just remember, that at your core, that’s what you are. You are made of strong stuff.
  • Your veins will never come back. You’ll always hate hospitals and certain smells will still make you gag. But you’ll learn what it means to be thankful for healthy blood work.
  • This cancer thing…it’ll give you an extra dose of ‘love’ and ‘miss.’ You’ll love your family and friends so hard. And you’ll have forever FOMO of them having fun or celebrating or struggling without you. So you’ll fly to them. Over and over and over, from every nook and cranny of the world. You’ll fly to them to smile or cry. Sometimes both. Because that’s what they’re doing for you right now. You’ll spend your life trying to give that back.
  • Take the miralax when your oncologist suggests it. Ain’t no shame in softening the pain of chemo. Being embarrassed or shameful of who you are and what you’re going through is the devil’s play. Let it go.
  • You’ll grow in your faith. You might pray for healing now. People will certainly do that for you all over the world while you’re sick. But through that, and through the subsequent seasons, you’ll find your spirit and you’ll develop your personal testimony.
  • Speaking of love, you’ll fall. Some will catch you and some will drop you. But you will feel real love. And it’ll make all the difference.
  • You’ll travel the world. You’ll take this suck-fest, and the ones to come, and you’ll make globetrotting lemonade. You’ll meet your people and live a bucket list for the ages. You’ll swim with elephants in Chiang Mai, dance on Lowenbrau fest tables in Munich and avoid snake charmers in Marrakech. You’ll bungee jump in Queenstown, paraglide in Algodonales and take a cooking class in Hoi An. You’ll go to the Kentucky Derby, the opening day of college ball in Sydney and bull fighting in Lisboa. You’ll do all of that and a bunch in between., with an insatiable thirst for adventure and memory-making, because of right now.

So while you hate the now. Know that time will pass. And before you can blink, ten years will go by. And as that time passes, the fact that ‘you have cancer’ won’t even be the most interesting thing about you anymore. You’ll grow into a nuanced, experienced, healthy woman. And you’ll thank God for giving you some more time to become.

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Dear, Asia.

Dear Asia,

The cliché adage, ‘time flies when you’re havin fun’ has proven true here in the lush land of coconuts, pretty waters and crazy drivers. While two months is a blip in time, I feel like I saw a lot of you…I definitely LEARNED a lot from you…

  • You taught me to be patient. Communications barriers or city-wide electricity outages or a Tuk Tuk driver who takes the long route to the temples will in fact creep up in SE Asia and mess with any schedule we may have sketched up. But as I’ve said before, getting lost in time and space is part of the whole beautiful thing.
  • You taught me to pop a squat. I’ve never been good at the whole camping facilities thing, but I quickly learned that when I have to go bad enough, I will go anywhere. I mean, anywhere. I learned that toilet paper is precious [[even more so when you’re allowed to flush it down, instead of throwing it in the bin]], some people stand on toilets if they’re not used to the porcelain gods and felt humbled to realize that some people in the world have never even seen a western toilet. It’s a simple thing, but never will I ever take a proper, clean toilet for granted again.
  • You taught me to cut the hotel snob bit. Sure, I admit. I’d still rather stay in a nice place, but I learned that not only CAN I shack up with a bunch of fellow travelers, all in one sweaty room…but sometimes, it’s even more fun. After all, who would have laughed with me when our room flooded in Hoi An, had I not met my favorite roadie rando ever?! [[shout out, Kaleena Kaleidoscope—yall should read her blog too!]]
  • You taught me how to be vulnerable. Perhaps a traveler’s MOST vulnerable is without any means of communication or financial support. I’m not good at asking for help or depending on others, but when Cambo got my phone and debit card, I had no choice but to change Ben Trouble’s name to Sugar Daddy. Uncomfortable as it was to ask him to buy me a water or a postcard at every turn, I suppose it exercised my ‘can you help me?’ button that I’ve suppressed for 26 / 27 years [[got it from my momma]]. I guess it’s ok to need help sometimes…makes you even more thankful for those people that swoop in and save your ass. Thanks for the sugar loan, Ben. And thanks for the kick in the prideful-ass, Asia. Good stuff.
  • You taught me to be present. No, I’m definitely not perfect at it, prob never will be, but I felt it working here. To be on a private beach in the middle of the Andaman Sea, or on the back of an elephant, or floating through a river market on the Mekong Delta, or tearing through rice paddies on a motorbike, or admiring monks at Angkor Wat…just so many moments that made me feel so alive, so aware, so in awe of people and places.

A blip in time, a drop in the bucket…but a blip and a drop I will cherish for life.

I’ll be back, Asia Town…I don’t think you’re done teaching me yet.

Until then, cheers to Vietnamese coffee, panang curry and mango sticky rice.

Love,

A changed and grateful student

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Dear Mommas

Dear Mommas,

Not any poetic strand of words would do you justice…not today…not any day really…so I’ll just say thank you.

Thank you, truly…

  • For cleaning up the puke from the sink when we mis-aim in the middle of the night…
  • For clothing us, even when we’re embarrassed to look back at the obnoxious white sneakers and gross t-shirts that we donned decades back…
  • For the braces and glasses and skin treatment, but more importantly for building pretty people from the inside first and foremost…
  • For teaching us how to be a good friend…and how to pick good friends…
  • For cheering us on at every soccer game, football game and cheerleading competition…and for teaching us that YES, there are indeed winners and losers both on the field and in the game of life, but that we practice and play anyway…
  • For taking us on family vacations even when it was probably easier on you to just stay home…
  • For sending us to college where we grew into our skin and learned what it felt like to miss you…
  • For kissing your babies and sending them off to war, with nothing but a patriotic smile and a prayer…
  • For always wishing for peace, so the aforementioned wasn’t a thing…
  • For slipping us cash when things get tight…
  • For driving us to the emergency room in the middle of the night, huddled up in the hospital bed next to us and whispering encouraging words, like “no, you don’t have to go back to school bald…its going to be ok”…
  • For teaching us the difference between right and wrong, but giving us grace upon grace when we undoubtedly mess it up…
  • For loving us so unconditionally…even when we don’t know how, or care to, love ourselves…
  • For being our parent always, but eventually, once the adolescent bitch in us dies, a best friend too…

This list could go on for ages…but knowing you mommas, you have a million things to do… So, I hope today’s agenda is limited to receiving the love and soaking up those babies who have a million things to thank you for…

Happy Mothers Day to my sweetest momma and to you other sweet mommas who raised my favorite people momma

Postcard love, anyone?!

So here I am, it’s early in the morning and I’m sipping on an iced Americano, munching on a Greek souvlaki and watching the early-riser waves crash over a Thai beach with a good ole Arkansas friend…Global breakfast for the win, much?! I’m totally in love with this moment.

It’s just the millionth time I’ve sat back on this trip and thought ‘is this real life?!’ It seriously doesn’t feel possible…but then again, that’s kind of how my roller coaster works. The best of the best. The worst of the worst. And through it all, John Mayer’s verses chime in my heart ‘No it won’t all go the way it should, but I know the heart of life is good.’

I think one of the most powerfully calming and encouraging bits about this whole surreal thing is the people I have back home cheering me on. It blows my mind to know how many of yall are praying for me, hopeful for my healing and genuinely happy for my adventure. I don’t know how I lucked out with you people, but I’m as grateful as they come.

I so wish I could share this whole thing [[or atleast the bits in-between getting robbed and using squatty-pottys with no toilet paper]] with so many of you. I often think ‘when I’m rich, I’ll fly Sara here.’ Or ‘when I win the lotto, I’m packin up the Temme / Adams clan and we are gonna do Thailand like nobody’s business.’ Unfortunately, my wallet is a wee bit sad these days [[though how rich I am in memories]], so until wealth finds me and I can transport my people to my places, I wondered if maybe I could share some of the love via some good old fashioned snail mail?

My people are sending me so much love that I can feel it a million miles and a billion waves away. I feel selfish taking it all in and using it to fuel my journey without giving anything back. I want to give something back, anything…even small as a postcard from this pretty little perch I’m sitting on this morning…

That, I can do. Small gesture. Heartfelt thoughts. Use my words. Share the love that I’m feeling, back with the world.

So here’s the idea…send me your address [[ atemme33@Gmail.com ]]. Or send me your coworker’s or your grandma’s address. Send me addresses and stories of people that you love who need to feel a little love from the world coming back to them. I’d love to pay the love forward. It’s not a big thing, but who wouldn’t love surprise snail mail from a beach bum a billion waves away?

Postcard coming soon to a mailbox near you. Beach bum signin out.

Sealed with love –XO

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Patience and Complacence

So it’s a million and two degrees outside when the bus driver drops us off and it’s time to bid adieu to my 3-week-long-Vietnamese home. Now we’re meant to walk to Cambodia. It’s indeed as surreal as it seems, made only more so by the fact that Ben and I were approximately the only people crossing that day. Alone, hot as hell and loaded down with our bags, we hoofed off for Cambo.

The Vietnamese border control, lovely as they are, don’t really have a thing for customer service. Not like we do at home, anyway. So we rolled up to the front desk, passports ready and waited to be acknowledged by the immigration officers. Five minutes later they look up. Another ten minutes later to bustle our departure cards around and clear Ben’s name from the most wanted list [[or whatever it is that took them that long to let him through]]..it struck me…this trip is teaching me patience.

Almost 3 months into the trek and I can queue up with the best of them. My flight can be delayed, my driver can get lost and my room doesn’t even have to be ready when I arrive at a hotel…cause the thing is, it doesn’t dang matter. Apparently having no schedule serves up a healthy dose of patience. It was a proud little moment to realize how much my OCD-overly-hurried-butt has learned to be present, accept every delay as part of the adventure and not wish away time. And that made me smile.

My smile didn’t last long though.

Apparently, 3 months of travel also causes some complacence too. I didn’t realize how cush I’d gotten. Especially having traveled with a dude for 10 days, I must have laxed up, and I forgot to knock wood.

I might have made it through the border with a lot of fresh patience, but I did NOT make it through the border with my phone [[which so handily stores my Drivers License, credit card AND debit card]]. Yep. I basically don’t exist anymore.

This was the start of a very weird 48 hours in Cambodia.

We took a day bus to Phnom Penh, stopped for some dinner and decided to wing it and head straight for Siem Reap. A 7-hour night bus ride later, we made it to temple town, dropped our bags, jumped in a tuk tuk and headed off to see the granddaddy of them all—Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat at sunrise [[aka, magic]] made me forget about my lost phone and identity for a while.

Until weird things started happening again…

First, a 5 year old Cambodian peddler boy hit me…in a temple.  We’re talkin full on swing to the gut. I’m still not sure why, but probably because I wouldn’t buy a $2 magnet?

Then Ben almost got attacked by a monkey…for which you should NOT feel sorry. Ben totally prompted said almost attack. Those little mackays are fearless, aggressive and probably attack 130 tourists per day. Luckily we didn’t have to add ‘Ben’s thumb’ to our missing items list for the day.

THEN, apparently there was some big car accident that knocked power out to the whole city of Siem Reap. Our driver said it could take up to a week to bring the grid back [[hello, patient locals]].

Fortunately, the gorgeous temples of Siem Reap don’t care about electricity—they shine on regardless. Driving through the World Heritage Site [[I should have kept tally of how many of these I’ve checked off over the last 3 months]], it struck me as an eerie blend of spiritual and commercial; ancient and exact; authentic and touristy.

Monks in striking orange robes donned most of the temples. Trees older than the good ole USA buried roots deep into the earth only to grow up and cover entire temple entryways. At every turn, a NatGeo-worthy photo opp [[too bad no phone = no Insta]]. It is a breathtaking place, no doubt, and an icon that I was thankful to have spent some time exploring.

We took our sweet-time climbing through, over and around a half dozen temples for the morning, exercising our patience with each group of peddlers that somehow don’t quite fit the soothing, graceful environment…

Patience again.

But no.more.complacence, thanks. Call us hoity-toity if you like, but a $7 room with zero electricity, air conditioning, wifi or free breakfast just wasn’t gonna satisfy on this particular day. So naturally, we walked the streets listening for the hum of a generator, ate the $7 and invested in the most lovely $30 hotel. We even got dressed up and went out for sushi at the 5-star resort across the street [[what would that cost at home? $150-$200? Not in Cambodia. Three amazing rolls, a chicken teriyaki, drinks, fresh fruit and more importantly a lit / cooled / stunning place to collect ourselves, set us back a whopping $34.]]

And by ‘us’ I mean Ben. Cause I still don’t have a debit card.

Yes, 48 hours in Cambodia was totally weird. Totally beautiful. And a memorable exercise in patience and complacence.

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Food babies don’t translate

I just finished my first ten days in Vietnam with a bulging food baby and have thus taken a minor hiatus from the blog for a few days while I whittle back to a healthy state. But here are a few things I learned about food babies in Vietnam:

  1. The term doesn’t translate. Hard as I tried to explain via graphic hand gestures, Captain Binh–the capable hands that guided our private boat around Ha Long Bay– just laughed and laughed at me. Pretty sure he thought I was indeed preggers, and thus partaking in one too many bias [[translate: beer]]. Captain Binh cheersed my bia with a glass of water, which we soon found out was in fact straight hard-A. Barely a word was understood between our captain, Chef Dong and 3 American gals over dinner [[translate: a hot pot of every protein under the Vietnam sun, eaten on a bamboo matt in the middle of 2,000+ floating rock structures]]. No. Words were not necessary that night. That night we just laughed over a food baby.
  2. Yes, you read that right. 3 American gals. Though I bid adieu to American gal #1 nearly two weeks ago, I was so blessed to reunite in Cat Ba Island with two more Seattleites to continue this beautiful journey with. If I had to guess, I’d say that Mariko and Kim saw the best and the worst of travel in their hurried, but precious two week trek. The best being, the food babies, the worst being when food babies decide they wanna prematurely come back up. Be it my first bout of travel sickness or the toddler we saw that took a gigantic dump on the train station floor [[intentionally… encouraged by his mother…acknowledged by nobody, except for the 3 wide-eyed American gals]]. Yes, Mariko, Kim and I took our friendship to the next level in Vietnam. We’re talkin no-bodily-function-holds-bar-kind of friendship.
  3. Some actual babies are used in a satirical but traditional tourism ploy to provide food for their local Hmong families in Sapa, Vietnam. It’s a poor area, from a westerner perspective, and it makes me sad to see little kids begging tourists for money, rather than playing with their friends. If perspective was indeed a goal for this growth n grace thing, I found it in Sapa. I left with a renewed sense of gratitude for my carefree baby-hood and the food that always graced our dinner table.

From a highly-recommended junk boat cruise down Ha Long Bay, to motor biking through the Sapa rice paddies; from foodie heaven in Hanoi to the  sweet lantern-lit streets of Hoi An; from  gorging ourselves on Vietnamese iced coffee and fresh spring rolls to getting fitted for custom made dresses, our schedule may have centered around food baby-makin, but our shared iPhone photo album proves it was a well-rounded sensory  adventure for the books.