Life is the type of gift that once given, it is up to the recipient to form and use it as they choose. Although everyone’s life path is different, in every life there are pleasures, joys and sadness. However, I believe, as the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. As cancer is becoming the world’s major homewrecker, many people need to learn how to cope; how to make lemonade. This is my story of how my dad chose to take something that could easily destroy his life and turn it into something that has benefited him greatly.
For my father, Marcel Szyszkowski, travel has always been one of the greatest treats. He enjoys meeting people, seeing places and learning about other cultures. He would not have had an opportunity to go to the East Coast if he were not sick. In 2000, when his cancer recurred, he got to travel for surgery to Philadelphia. He used this location as a springboard to visit New York City and Washington, D.C. At the time I was a freshman/sophomore in high school and when I went with him to the East Coast, I was able to see many of the famous places I was learning about in history class.
Another recurrence in 2003 forced my dad to look for a new drug. He found one in Boston, Massachusetts. He enrolled in a clinical trial for a drug available then only in Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He made several trips to Boston, and again used this city as a starting point to visit more famous places. On one occasion he took my stepmother and they drove to Niagara Falls. From there they made a huge tour that involved Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. Although my father is a Canadian citizen he never had a chance to see Eastern Canada. He was amazed how different that part of Canada was from the western part he knew so well.
After switching his treatment to the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, Calif.,in late April of this year, dad now flies with Angel Flight, a volunteer organization that caters to medical patients with flights to many parts of the U.S. instead of riding commercial airplanes on long, tiring flights. These trips are made in smaller, private airplanes and these planes fly considerably closer to the ground. As a result he is able to see much more of what is on the ground. I flew with him and have seen many breathtaking views, such as Mount Shasta in California and many beautiful rivers and plains. Recently, I flew with Dad on a Piper Malibu Mirage, a small aircraft with a jet engine that is worth over $1.8 million. The owner of this stunning piece of equipment was the former president of Angel Flight!
Dad took me, my little brother Paul and his wife Maggie on trips to Santa Monica and we visited all of the tourist sights there and in L.A. Our favorite activity is riding the municipal bus. Riding these buses also gave me a window to the inside, as we all know that many interesting people ride public transportation.
So in conclusion, not all tragedies in life are completely bad. Cancer could have easily put a stop on my Dad’s traveling. Instead, he took initiative and used his cancer to see beautiful, fun and exciting places. I was lucky enough to take part in the process: taking life’s lemons and find out how to make lemonade. It’s very easy to sit back and let life pass you by, but ironically, we experienced more than we would have if my father had not contracted cancer.
Bianca Szyszkowski is a recent graduate of River Ridge High School, Olympia, Wash.