Amazing world traveler has gifts for us; we should return the favor

An adventurous, amazing woman who loves to travel has six months to live, more or less. Her name is Jodi Cullen, and you want to read some of her story because she is a cancer patient who has gifts for us all. She’s one of the brightest souls I’ve come across on this planet.

I virtually met Jodi in a Facebook group I belong to for women travelers called She Hit Refresh. The group is filled with fearless women who decide to ditch the traditional lifestyle of work, marriage, kids, white picket fence, get old, get sick, die. Instead, many of these women travel the world or relocate to a foreign country, often while supporting themselves with a remote-work lifestyle.

Jodi has been open about her cancer journey in the group, and her perspective can fit our lives. This is from one of her posts a few months ago: “… if your plans fall through or something doesn’t happen the way you dreamed, it’s okay. Stop and look at why you are where you are at and how you can make the most of it.” Jodi is upbeat by nature.

Jodi also is bold. Before her cancer battles, she quit her six-figure job, followed her heart and started her own pet care business.

Jodi is adventurous. Before cancer, she led an active lifestyle. She ran more than 25 ultra marathons and competed in half-ironman triathlons. She spent a lot of time outdoors, she hiked and camped. But most important to her — she loved to travel.

One day during an overseas trip, something just wasn’t right with her breast. Jodi ended up in an emergency room in Prague, Czech Republic. An ultrasound technician told her she likely had breast cancer. Jodi had a biopsy in Prague to identify the type of cancer, but the results would take awhile so she continued on with her travels.

By the time the biopsy results were ready two weeks later, Jodi was in England hiking with a friend. “I finished the hike and flew home to start treatment asap,” she texted me. “I wouldn’t recommend getting a cancer diagnosis in a foreign country ;)”. Jodi is brave.

Her diagnosis: an invasive, aggressive form of breast cancer that didn’t offer much hope. But Jodi hoped anyway. At 39 years old, doctors said she only had a 20 percent chance of beating the cancer, and even if she won the battle, she had a 90 percent chance of recurrence. She went to war.

Jodi closed her pet business to focus on treatment and healing. She told me that decision broke her heart. The business was just one of the things cancer took from her. Cancer gave her other things she didn’t want, like weight gain from steroids, and physical and emotional pain that can only be understood by other cancer patients.

Jodi made herself a promise during her treatment. “If I beat this I am going to travel the hell out of this world!”

After months of treatment, she made it to remission, ready to make good on that promise. She sold everything she owned and prepared for global backpacking adventures. She wanted to stay in hostels and take the road less traveled. She was considering a winter home base in Mexico.

She recently was working out details on how to support her new post-cancer travel lifestyle. She believed it would all fall into place, somehow. “I am ready for what the universe will provide to me… good or bad,” she said.

Jodi told me patience was a big lesson from her cancer. But here is her biggest lesson: “Throughout my cancer treatment I learned the most valuable things in life are people and experiences. Nothing else matters.” Jodi walks the walk.

After much reflection, she launched something special — a non-profit organization to help women with breast cancer go on retreats and getaways to help them relax and/or recover. That organization is named T.H.R.I.V.E. Travels (Through Hope & Rejuvenation In Travel & Exploration). THRIVE Travels recently was granted 501(c)(3) status.

And then. And then Jodi’s frequent headaches that had been increasing in intensity this year landed her in the hospital again. This diagnosis was for aggressive brain cancer.

Jodi was working towards a life like mine — an endless globe-trotting, vagabonding journey featuring new experiences with new people in new places. I never take my travel lifestyle with my amazing, devoted husband for granted. But, if I am totally honest: there are… ‘moments’ when I don’t appreciate my fabulous fortune I have as much as I should because I can be self-absorbed.

I can be cranky over the rare times I have to hand wash underwear in the sink. I sometimes miss some kind of food from home I can’t find in other countries and I overlook the wonderful foreign dishes that are available. I complain the Airbnb bed is too bouncy for my taste, despite an out-of-this world terrace view. I have actually even thought shit like this, ‘I don’t want to see another church/castle.’ Hey, I’m being honest.

Tedly’s patience with me, astounds me. He waits for me to reconnect to my genuine gratitude for this life. He waits for me to emerge from those self-interested, funky moments.

Ok, ok, since I’m being honest, there’s more. I will also share with you that sometimes it takes me more than a ‘moment’ to get out of my self-absorbed funk. And that, my friends, is fucking sad. That is not how I want to be. That is not how I want to live, whether I’ve got six months or sixty years.

Jodi inspires me to live a better life now. She inspires me to never give up, to hold my nerve through the shadow of the unknown, and to “travel the hell out of this world” — while I still can.

The universe must’ve introduced me to Jodi because I needed these life lesson reminders. I bet many people need the same reminders, and so I shared her story on this blog.

Tedly and I like to say we retired early for budget travel because “life is now.” In the day-to-day mundane routine of our crazy lifestyle (yes, we do have mundane days), I don’t want to ever use the phrase “life is now” as a throwaway, or a simple hashtag on social media.

Jodi’s life is now. She has a plan for her immediate future that looks vastly different from what she was planning for her life just last month. Read her note below to get a sense of her new life-and-death plan.

If you are not able to donate money, air miles, accommodations, or anything else to help ease Jodi’s mind, body, and heart in her final months on Earth, I hope you will at least remember Jodi’s story, and accept the gifts she has freely given to all of us.

Note from Jodi:

You guys are amazing. I am receiving a lot of messages asking what sort of help I need. If I am 100% honest, I need financial help the most. My housing is pretty close to all set. The emotional support is top notch. Money is what is stressing me out the most.

What do I need money for?:
I need to buy a car when I get to Portland. I need a reliable vehicle that can drive 45 minute round trips from the Gorge to Interstate KP.  4-wheel drive or all wheel drive is key for the bad weather days.  I need something reliable for the long haul that won’t break down on me.  I also need to make a purchase that will not leave my family stuck with an overpriced clunker once I am done with it.

Travel money:
My health insurance and care team is in Portland, Oregon and my family is in New England. There will be many flights purchased going back and forth between the two.

Cost of living and, well…dying:  I will have many out of pocket expenses as I transition from treatment and palliative care in Oregon over to hospice care in New England when that time comes.  I also need to prepare for funeral expenses.

How can you donate?
If tax deductible donation is important to you, go to my non-profit page at www.thrivetravels.org and click on Donate.  It will take you to Paypal but it will be registered as a 501c3 donation and we will send a receipt. Any excess funds will be put toward seeing my dream of sending cancer patients on healing retreats.

If tax deductible is not important and you want to avoid fees being taken from your donation, you can send a “Friends and Family” donation to cullenstrong@yahoo.com.

Another option is an existing donation site through Meal Train where you can pop in a debit/credit card number in. That is found here: https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/4dmqrm

If you prefer to mail a check, you can send it to my mother’s house. She will have access to my banking. Her address is:
1 Hawthorne Village Unit C, Franklin, MA 02038

I appreciate all the support and love I have received. This is not an easy thing to be dealt.  I am doing the best I can with what I’ve got. Luckily that includes having all you awesome friends 🙂

Jodi waves

(Editor’s note: Two of Jodi’s friends are taking over her non-profit to provide retreats for cancer patients, and it will be run in Jodi’s memory.)

 

 

 

 

 

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3 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing Ellen. A high school friend of mine is going through the same challenges. May God Bless your friend & her family in powerful ways.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Ellen, for sharing this courageous woman’s story. I, too, am prone to taking my blessings for granted as I gallivant around the world. It’s pretty sobering to read about someone who had the same dreams and found them shattered at age 39. But then she did something beautiful, by working to make the life-changing diagnosis easier for other women. Her selfless concern for others and gracious acceptance of what she has been dealt are indeed life lessons for all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

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