Interlude – Bad times in Belfast

Returning home we came to see our trip as such an absolute high point in our lives from which we had suddenly been plunged into some of the lowest depths we’d ever known. Top this off with the sudden transformation from travelling through 9 months of seemingly perpetual summer into some of the most appalling autumnal and winter weather we’ve ever encountered in Northern Ireland. Month after month of short grey days with the sky seemingly abandoned by the sun forever to a relentless cover of low rain cloud. Every day looking out to see the heavens run awash with broad strokes of horrid black and white watercolour mess, emphasising the personal misery we were going through. My mother died at the end of November 2004. The bone cancer she had lead to a series of complications with terminal consequences but the last 2 months with her since our return from Mexico allowed us to say our goodbyes. 4 days after the funeral Maggie’s Mum, Doris, was admitted to hospital – pneumonia this time and we spent the run up to Xmas once again immersed in that all too familiar world of hospital visits and meetings with doctors. The big scare was lung cancer once again (she had been a heavy smoker all her life) and we had to endure a series of X-Rays, scans and tests to see what lay behind the pneumonia. At the end of January 2005, our worst fears were realised. Doris had lung cancer. To lose Doris now would mean that Maggie had lost her entire family to cigarette smoking related illness. First her father lost a leg due to circulatory problems from restricted veins & arteries caused by smoking. He continued smoking and spent what was left of his life in and out of hospital until it eventually killed him. Then David her brother, lung cancer at 48, died 6 weeks after the initial diagnosis. We don’t want to turn this page into a crusade against the evils of tobacco, there are already plenty of warnings to heed, but it’s quite simple. Cigarettes do what it says on the packet. They kill you. If you’re reading this and you’re a smoker with kids or loved ones, stop and think about it. Is it worth it? You’re gambling your health away, a commodity that is both fragile and precious. Cigarettes take years off your life. Guaranteed. ‘nuff said. The tumour was inoperable but it was identified as a primary tumour and a course of radiotherapy was recommended to try and eradicate it. The radiotherapy ran from late April through May and into June. At first all seemed well but then after 2 weeks, Doris lost her appetite and succumbed to chest infection winding up in hospital. It really was touch and go at times. It was a severe treatment, but the doctors advised she had no choice but to continue. Eventually the treatments ended but there were a further 4 weeks of further chest infections and zero appetite before things eventually turned round. Her appetite returned and the pain and discomfort from the treatment slowly faded. Gradually but surely she began to regain her strength and mobility. By late August it was time to go for a check-up scan to see if the treatment had been effective. Then a 2-week nail-biting wait on the final result. On Monday 12th September, we entered the Consultants office. She was smiling as she told us she’d just read the radiographers report on the latest scan. The tumour was gone – it was an all clear! All 3 of us were absolutely elated. We hadn’t dared hope for this but it was true. It was the best possible news we could hear. Over the past year, our Pan American Adventure was totally relegated from being our raison d’etre to a back seat role as we struggled through these crises. Now we could start to think about a return to our trip. We had return tickets to Mexico that expired on 21st September. The bikes were still in Puebla at Joaquin’s house. They had expired import permits to be sorted with the Aduana’s office in Mexico on our return. We needed a break too, so the time was right for a short return to our trip. Get to Mexico, sort out the bikes and ride to the USA. We plan to leave the bikes there, retuning home for Xmas & winter. Then next spring, everything will be in position for the ultimate part of our journey – the ride to Alaska.