Surgery and Sightseeing

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What kind of title is that for a post?! Well, it’s a long story, but here’s how you can make even a bad journey in life a pleasure, and why it’s worth the effort.

Surgery and Sightseeing

Why I Should Have Dreaded This Trip

By normal standards my most recent excursion should have been anything but fun. The destination was Temple, Texas, which I had never heard of or visited before. The reason is a very long story, which I’ll sum up quickly just to convey the seriousness of it.

In January of 2020 I was diagnosed with colon cancer. My prognosis for cure was good but involved extensive treatment that included radiation, surgery and chemo. Complications developed that required numerous additional surgeries and made the treatment drag on much longer than expected.

After 3 years I am now cancer free, and for that I am deeply grateful. Unfortunately those complications caused some damage that isn’t life threatening but does impact my quality of life. My surgeon attempted a repair but it failed, so he then referred me to two specialists in Temple, Texas.

At our initial meeting the two Temple surgeons were great, but they warned up front that repair might not be possible. The only way to know was to let them operate and see. Going into the OR I would not know whether I would have extensive major surgery and be in the hospital several days, or have only a quick minor surgery and be released the same day.

My Attitude…And My Doubts

I say all that to explain my mindset for this trip. For the past year or so I’ve been in limbo. One attempted repair had failed, but I knew there was another possible solution, so I still had hope. If it didn’t work, I believed that I was completely ready to accept the issue as permanent and not get all whiney and depressed about it. After all, one of my favorite Bible passages is Philippians 4:11 where Paul says:

“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

Of course, it was easy to be positive at that point because I still had reason to hope. The sobering fact was that Temple was my last chance. If the specialists couldn’t help me, that would be the end. The issue would be permanent and I’d just have to suck it up and live with it. If that happened, how would my faith hold up? Could I live up to my own convictions? Could I really and truly be content knowing that my circumstances would never improve?

I prayed that the answer to those questions was yes, and that my faith was as strong as I believed it to be.

One Amazing Friend!

I tend to be a very independent soul. I like to meet life’s challenges head-on, and I’m determined enough (or hard-headed enough) to believe I can do most anything I set my mind to.

During cancer treatment I had to learn to ask for help sometimes, and that was very hard for me. I never want to impose on others or be a burden in any way. I’m more than happy to help others out. I just don’t want to be the one who needs help.

In this case one of my dear friends knew what I was dealing with and actually volunteered to accompany me. Mind you, she knew the trip would be a 6 hour drive to spend the night and get up at 4:00 am to be at the hospital. Further, we had no idea how long I would be there because it all depended on what happened during surgery, so she was prepared to “camp out” in the hospital with me as long as necessary. Now THAT is a true friend!

Even better is that, like me, this friend is a very positive person. I refused to get all stressed out dreading the surgery and worrying about the outcome. Instead I focused on figuring out how we might somehow enjoy this little journey, and she shared my mindset. We’ve been to Crystal Bridges and some other places and travel well together. We both thought heck, if we’re going on a road trip, we might as well have some fun along the way!

The Drive – A Great Lunch and a Nice Surprise

As luck would have it there was a famous lunch stop right on our way. About the time we were getting really hungry our route took us through Corsicana, Texas, home of the original Collin Street Bakery.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Collin Street Bakery is world renowned for its pecan fruit cakes, but it’s also an excellent cafe and bakery. They have a coffee bar and serve breakfast, and the lunch menu includes a very nice selection of sandwiches (on a homemade croissant or fresh baked pecan bread), salads, and soups. I highly recommend the chicken salad!

Then there is the bakery, oh my! The peach turnover was to die for, but it was hard to choose because pastries include cherry, apple, chocolate, danish, donuts, scones, and cinnamon rolls. Besides that are muffins, brownies, sweet breads, cake balls, and a couple dozen kinds of cookies.

If you don’t have a sweet tooth you might want to take home some homemade yeast rolls, hamburger or hotdog buns. They also have fresh baked jalapeno bread,, bacon and cheese bread, and other savory loaf breads. For anyone who loves baked goods, this place is heavenly!

Spring Wildflower Show

After an extremely satisfying lunch, and with a sack of cookies for the road, we continued on our way. That’s when we got the most pleasant surprise of the trip.

We knew it was time for the famous Texas bluebonnets to be in bloom, but the most notable and prolific trails were far south of our route. We had to go by the hospital in Temple before 4:30 that afternoon, so we had decided ahead of time that the “flower show” was too far out of our way.

What I didn’t know until later is that this spring happens to be one of the best years Texas has ever had for wildflowers. Just out of Corsicana we came upon a gorgeous field of bright, red-orange wildflowers. They are called Indian paintbrushes, and they bloom at the same time as bluebonnets.

Indian paintbrush wildflowers in Texas
Indian paintbrush wildflowers in Texas

In just a few miles we began to see both wildflowers mixed in the same fields, a truly spectacular display of color. I was unable to take a photo that could do it justice. Here are the best shots I could capture:

Texas wildflowers - blubonnets in the distance, Indian paintbrush in foreground Texas wildflowers Indian paintbrush and bluebonnet wildflowers in Texas

As it happened, in every place where we could stop for photos the bluebonnets happened to be far in the distance. For a better idea of their colorful beauty, check out the video below.

If you’d like to plan a spring trip you’ll find a nice guide at 2023 Texas Bluebonnet Roadmap: The 7 best places to see bluebonnets in Texas. You might also check 18 Best Places to See Bluebonnets in Texas 2023, and for info on future years just do a search for “where to see Texas bluebonnets ____” and add the current year.

If you’ve never seen the Texas wildflowers, they are truly a spectacle to behold.

The City of Temple

On arriving in Temple we first went by the Baylor, Scott & White Medical Center to check in with surgery and get my orders for the next day. Next we checked into our hotel, then went exploring.

The population of Temple is around 85,000, so it’s large enough to have lots of good restaurants and plenty of shopping. We enjoyed driving through some very pretty residential areas, including a few gated communities that were still open to visitors and sightseers.

Quite by accident we came upon what appeared to be a small college campus. I was trying to think what university might be located in Temple, possibly a campus of the University of Texas? Turning a corner we spotted the football stadium, which was huge. I mean really huge! We drove around back, and what a shock.

Wildcat Stadium, Temple, Texas
Wildcat Stadium, Temple, Texas

The picture doesn’t give you an accurate idea of the size. This was one seriously BIG stadium, and we realized this was no university. Wildcat Stadium? Oh my word this is a Texas size high school! It’s a 6A high school, which is part of the Temple Independent School District that serves over 8,500 students in grades K through 12. This ISD is the third largest employer in the city.

The largest high schools in Louisiana are 5A schools. Some have enrollments of over 2,000 students, and to me that’s huge. But then, as they say, everything’s bigger in Texas!

After our sightseeing tour we enjoyed a great dinner at a restaurant recommended by our hotel concierge, “Fajita Kings“. Not your typical Mexican fare, this place adds its own twist to traditional favorites. Menu items include dishes that are a melting pot of flavors from Latin America, America, and Texas. That difference made it delicious and a real treat.

I Almost Forgot – The Surgery

Oh yes, back to the point of the whole trip! Well, unfortunately, the surgery did not work out. The specialists determined that the repair simply wasn’t possible, and that any attempt would likely make matters worse instead of better.

I won’t lie. It was disappointing. That was my last hope for improvement, so now my reality is that this is as good as it’s ever going to get. I’m sorry about that, and I do have to give myself space to process the disappointment and grieve the “loss” of what might have given me a little better quality of life.

What I’m happy and grateful to report is that I’m not devastated. I really can be content with these circumstances, and to be honest it isn’t that hard to do. Why?

I am deeply, deeply grateful to be alive, and in fact very healthy. My cancer treatment was brutal at times, and one of the complications was a nightmare that dragged on for many months. I thank God for getting me through all that and for all the healing He has done.

Now I am cancer free, and with this surgery behind me I am finished with every last treatment – finished! That in itself is huge for me. For the first time in over 3 years, nothing is hanging over my head. No more surgeries or procedures that will leave me weak, sick, sore, exhausted, or all of that. Until now it seems I was constantly starting over to rebuild my strength and stamina, always struggling to make another comeback. Finally, I am done!

Besides that, I need only look around to know that compared to what I see others dealing with, my problems are minor. It is not lost on me that things could always be worse, much worse. Why would I make myself miserable dwelling on the negative when I can choose to enjoy my time by looking for the positive?

Lastly, and by all means not least, I am so very grateful to have a friend who was willing to take time out of her own busy life to do this for me. Honestly, it is very humbling. What a profound blessing it is to have such a friend.

Going Back Home, Going Back to My Life

The trip back home was great. My disappointment was hanging around in the background, but it didn’t matter. We enjoyed the magnificent flower show again, and we had some pleasant conversation with a lot of laughter mixed in. We even stopped along the roadside to get a couple of the photos you see above.

Before I close, consider the kind of trip I could have had. Let’s see … drive straight there, worrying all the way, grab a bite at a crummy drive-thru, ignore the scenery to spend the entire time talking about all the negative possibilities and dreading the surgery for fear it would fail … be a nervous wreck the morning of surgery, get the bad news that in fact it didn’t work, and then cry all the way home.

I didn’t have that kind of trip because I had a choice. I couldn’t control the outcome, before or after, but I can control my attitude. Now that it’s all in the rear view mirror, I still have choice. I’m not in denial and don’t recommend that. I have to face the fact that I’m out of options and what that means, accept where I am now and figure out how to regroup and move on. If I need to have a little pity party so be it. Maybe I’ll complain about how unfair it is or even cry about it. I’ll give myself permission to do whatever it takes to accept my disappointment.

What I won’t do is get stuck there or allow it to steal my joy. How much time and life and love and fun am I going to miss out on before I decide to let go of my sadness and go live my life?

For me, I can tell you the answer to that question is “not much”. Life is too short, and I don’t want to miss a minute of it. Indeed I am blessed. The problems I have left do not stop me from going to the beach and enjoying everything there that I have always enjoyed. In fact I already have my next beach trip planned.

I am still one very happy beachcomber, and for that I am deeply grateful.

Surgery and Sightseeing

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