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The Trek to Hungary

I'm so proud of Shane for making this long trip (22ish hours door to door----from the moment we left for SFO to the moment we arrived at the apartment in Budapest) and maintaining his cool and calm.

Don't know who that kiddo is in the background! And that black cup in the foreground? I call it Shane's sippy cup, he takes it everywhere he goes.

The very best word to describe the trip, from Shane's point of view, is grueling. It literally took every bit of his physical and emotional strength to make it through and he did!

The night before the trip, Shane didn't sleep much and that's a tough way to begin a long journey. When heading to the airport it seemed we would need two cars--- Shane, his dad and I in one with 3 suitcases, 2 backpacks and a wheelchair, Shane's mom in a second car with our box (containing a blender, Berkey water filter and InstantPot---gotta cook nourishing food for Shane!). I'm a big fan of the car squish so into the backseat Shelly and I climbed, me in the little bitty middle seat (a suitcase on my left), and Shane's mom on my right wedged in beside the window with an unwieldy box on her lap. Wish we'd capture a photo of us testris-ed in there, and I'm so glad she could laugh about it in the moment. My mother-in-law is one of my heros, always a positive attitude.

Upon arriving at the airport my dad was waiting at the curb, having already paved the way for Shane's parents to come all the way through to the gate with us (Thanks, Dad!). We walked up to the KLM counter and met our first angel of the day, Michael. Boy did my dad come prepared----he had a binder filled with every necessary document ---COVID test results, the letter of invitation from Dr. Kleef's clinic, the letter of approval from the Hungarian Police, a letter from the Consulate of Hungary giving us approval to enter---a whole lot of red tape to cut through just to travel here! From the moment we walked through the airport revolving door to the moment we sat down in the first class lounge (first class for Shane was an absolute must since he's so uncomfortable so much of the time) was about 90 minutes. Not bad. The KLM lounge was delightful and included delectable snacks like madelines, yogurt parfaits, charcuterie boxes, sandwiches, and cozy places to sit and relax. We ate, said our goodbyes, then Shane and his parents walked out the front door of the lounge and my dad and I hung back to give them some time alone. Turns out that those moments were full of tears, especially for Shane's dad.

Wheelchairs are awfully handy, you get cuts to the front of every long line! We zoomed Shane up, handed our boarding passes over, then down the ramp and onto the plane. As I walked onto the plane a flight attendant stopped me and asked if I would like to sit beside Shane, and just like that I was seated in a cushy, cozy, comfy first class pod right next to hubs. We were in a lovely business class premium section in the middle row, two people at our left and one on our right. and the 5 of us were completely separate from the rest of first class, curtain in front of us, curtain behind us. I did feel slightly guilty leaving my dad back in the peasant, ahem coach, section, but I tried to make up for it by making sure to share tasty morsels of our meals.

It was an enjoyable flight for me. I loved being close to Shane tending to his needs, napped for a couple of hours in a fully reclined position (heaven!), watched a couple of movies (too tired to read), and visited with my dad. Shane's cough was in full force so we communicated by opening up Notes on my phone and handing it back and forth (shades of 5th grade note passing, no?). I ate the most delightful food--seared ahi tuna on a bed of seaweed, beef and mashed potatoes for dinner, the most gorgeous plate of dessert (I ate mine and Shane's with zero guilt), fresh squeezed orange juice for snack, and multiple cups of rooibos tea with cookies. And to boot, the sweetest flight attendant who spent long stretches talking with me about Shane, cancer, and the kids.

Shane was not interested in ahi tuna, so I slid his portion into a vomit bag and took the contraband back to my dad. Then, when dinner arrived I did the same--scooped Shane's potatoes and my leftover beef (cut into bite-size bits) into a disposable metal lid and snuck it back once again. And then the piece de resistance---a tiny pink macron. I didn't tell my dad that I ate five more pieces of dessert that I could have shared. All that sneaking of food assuaged my guilt about leaving Dad way at the back of beyond.

We arrived in Amsterdam after 10 hours and immediately went to the first class lounge (Dad and I weren't allowed in this one except for pushing Shane in and dropping him off). Wowza, was this lounge super luxe with restaurants, couches, showers, and beds for rent. We purchased three-hours in one of the sleep pods and dropped Shane there as quick as we could. He was asleep in a moment so Dad and I quietly filed out. Father and daughter made a trip to McDonalds because he has an unwritten goal to eat at McDonald's in every country he visits. All I have to say about that is, "ours is not reason why." I did not partake. My last McDonald's experience was 20 years ago and I don't plan to relapse.

At this point I was ready to drop. Two hours of sleep the previous night, plus two hours of sleep on the plane added up to one exhausted Alicia. I found a spot to stretch out on a semi-comfortable looking (looking being the operative word) airport bench and tried in vain to sleep for 90 minutes. Sadly, I chose the exact wrong spot---right beside a children's play area and below a speaker that played an endless loop of, "Mind your step." Sigh.

After my non-nap, Shane texted to say, "I'm ready to get out of my prison cell," and back to the lounge my dad and I hustled. Shane had slept and was somewhat refreshed for the next leg of the journey, which thankfully was a brief hour and forty minutes. Shane sat in first class once again and since there was an empty seat beside him I requested to be seated there. The flight attendants obliged, somewhat begrudgingly ("We don't usually do this."). I have to say that this first class was a world apart... just coach with slightly wider seats and a wee bit more leg room. The meal made me chuckle, KLM's version of Mexican---tortilla chips, really rice crackers dusted with vaguely Mexican spices, and chicken on a bed of limp green beans, corn and tomatoes. A definite Dutch interpretation of Mexican food. Shane enjoyed the passionfruit cheesecake though, so that's something. We both snoozed and woke up to the plane on its descent into Hungary. The verdant green countryside was a welcome sight, and I found my eyes filling with tears as I realized that the next part of our cancer journey was finally beginning.

The next bit was lengthy and poor Shane was hanging on by a thread as we waited in one line for a passport check, then another for a document check (COVID test and official letters), then finally to baggage claim. Shane was stone silent all this time and every sound and movement seemed to pain him. We nabbed our luggage (9 pieces in total if you count the cooler and box), jumped into a taxi and made the 20-minute drive to our apartment in the heart of downtown Budapest (the Buda side). Dad and Shane took the teeny tiny box of an elevator up to the second story. When the elevator returned, I loaded luggage and made a few trips up and back. My Dad told me later that he was moved when he heard Shane break his weary silence as he stood in the cool, quiet apartment, "I can't believe we're finally here." He climbed into bed once again and attempted to sleep.

Sleep eluded us for the next two nights, inspite of Ambien for Shane. It seems jetlag is extra hard when you have cancer. But after five nights we are finally settled in and less exhausted and Shane is sleeping at long last thanks to a megadose of Melatonin and a new sleeping medication. Hallelujah!

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