We left Sedona near the end of January and headed to Phoenix where the plan was to spend two weeks at my mom’s house where we would reset on what was next in our drive-about of the west. We had a grand vision of spending the winter months in Phoenix and then exploring Colorado and Wyoming into the spring and summer, but there were several truths we had to come to terms with first. Read Truth in Sedona, Arizona – Part 1 for the start of this story.
Health is Paramount
The first was Tim’s health issue, chronic back and hip pain, which rendered him unable to walk short distances without pain, much less be fully able to participate and enjoy the road trip adventure. During our initial stay in Sedona Tim had established a treatment plan with a doctor a short distance away in Flagstaff and we determined it was important to remain in that local area for the next six to eight weeks to complete the recommended treatments.
The fact that the Super Bowl was being held in Phoenix also contributed to our decision to stay outside of the Phoenix area. Rental rates during the winter “high season” were several times higher than normal; ten thousand dollars a month for a small rental house was a hard pass! So, with one week’s notice we were able to secure a rental house in the Village of Oak Creek, a Sedona neighborhood on the opposite side of town from our first stay.
Life is Short
We arrived for our second Sedona stay in early February and in time for our 9th anniversary. We have heralded our first date as our anniversary date ever since we shared the story about it being my last date and Tim’s first date (a fun story for another time!). We were happy to be in a spacious house with a grassy backyard for the dogs and equipped with an outdoor hot tub that was prime for stargazing in this dark sky community.
Shortly after arriving we had to face another difficult truth – the health and quality of life of Athena, our three-year-old rescue pup who had been battling cancer for over a year. It began as a grade three (aggressive) mast cell tumor with devastating news from the vet that they estimated that Athena had three months to live. We had the tumor removed and proceeded with body scans which at the time showed no signs of cancer. Within months however another tumor appeared, which we also had removed, and this prompted Tim to dive deep into research, therapies, diets, etc. in hopes of finding a preventative care plan.
We decided on a mostly raw food diet, chemotherapy, and an experimental vaccination against the type of cancer she was battling. Athena was a trooper through it all. She weathered the adversity while playfully bossing around her big brother Zeus and continuing to make us laugh and steal our hearts. Caring for her made us focus on living in the moment, making each day the best it could be, and think about the paramount importance of health for quality of life.
Once the chemo and vaccine therapies were complete, we waited and hoped for a miracle. In Montana Athena was joyful – rolling in the grass, playing with the neighbor dog, and crowding me on the couch while we watched T.V. Halfway through our Utah stay however we noticed a dip in her energy and new tumors began to appear. During our initial stay in Sedona, we were in denial of what was happening, but by our second stay we had to face the hard truth that tumors were taking over her body and her quality of life was deteriorating.
Athena’s happy howls, tail wags, and spunky attitude were fading and we felt guilty about pandering to our happiness and attachment while denying that she was now suffering. On the third day of our second stay in Sedona it became clear that we had to make the unbearable decision that it would be Athena’s last day in her physical form. She will forever live in our hearts and memories.
Awareness is 90% of “The Work”
In March I hit pause, reflected and I realized how tired I was. Over six months I had:
- Sorted and packed away memories from my childhood and adolescence
- Revisited my kids’ memory bins and photos from my time with their dad
- Left my hometown and support system (for the second time)
- Ventured on an open-ended road trip
- Began a new job and worked remotely while traveling
- Realized I had two kids to support in college
- Lived with a partner who was experiencing chronic pain
- Helped my son navigate through two car accidents, one totaled car and one new car
- Witnessed my support companion Athena lose her battle with cancer
- Come to the realization that I was in an unhealthy work environment
- Experienced anxiety, depression, and overall loss of physical and mental well-being
- Felt very alone
The truth is that I developed a heightened awareness that I was in a chasm between the tough independent nature that was core to my identity and the desire to be seen, valued, and belong, which required openness and vulnerability. I felt a sense of loss and displacement as a mom and from my hometown that I fought so hard to return to several years earlier. My identity as a transformational marketer and someone who was physically strong and mentally resilient began to fade.
I had been through several challenging times in my life – the end of my marriage, closing of a business, the 9/11 World Trade Center attack. What was causing me to feel completely outside of myself at a time when I expected to be thriving?
I needed an intervention and sure enough it came by way of an urgent care situation where I found myself staring for hours at a curtain that separated me from the rest of the hospital and the world. The tipping point was work. My day-to-day experience had become far removed from company campaigns that espoused a diverse, inclusive and “bring your full self to work” culture. With a sense of detachment, I observed my normally grounded, confident and rational self became unrecognizable.
Moments of Clarity
I was in Seattle sitting in an exam room waiting for my doctor, the same doctor who had warmly referred to me in the past as his “boring” patient because my health was historically steady and, well, boring. That day he diagnosed me with anxiety, remarked that I’d likely need to quit my job, and rattled off some medications he thought could help.
Sitting in my rental car afterwards I experienced a moment of clarity: The recent feelings I had about myself were valid, but they did not define who I was. This phenomenon of holding two opposing thoughts at the same time is called cognitive dissonance and this is what I was experiencing.
I needed rest and to advocate for myself.
I could be grateful for the drive-about experience and also feel lonely and homesick.
I wished my dog was still with me and felt relief that she was no longer suffering.
Taking a break is a sign of awareness and strength.
Staying in my integrity meant I was going to piss people off.
Farewell for Now Sedona
Tomorrow, we leave Sedona with one less family member than when we arrived. I have hiked hundreds of miles between our two stays in this beautiful place and during that time I have come to know one thing for sure: Nothing goes like you think it will so enjoy the ride, take care of yourself, and the rest will fall into place.
This post is dedicated to Athena – my emotional support shadow and breaker of all the household dog rules. She will be forever in our hearts and memories, making us smile, and snoring on the couch.