We are the Oakley’s a family of 5 from a suburb called Forest Lake in Brisbane. There are 4 of us travelling myself, my husband Scott, my son Alex who is 18 and my daughter Laura who is 16. Our eldest daughter Jess works full time and lives with her partner Nick, so she had to stay home. Jess has travelled to spend a week with us in Cairns and is meeting us in July in Longreach for a week when we also meet up with my parents from Tasmania.
We are also travelling with our dog Rascal. We are travelling in our Retreat Spinnaker and the kids have an Oztent RV3 that they stay in, we like this as teenagers they need their own space. We tow the van with my husbands beloved Ford Ranger (sometimes I think he loves the car more than me!). We are currently travelling QLD for 3 months and hopefully if all goes well will continue our trip to Northern Territory, WA etc until December 2016.
In January 2014 I was diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer. After a full mastectomy, chemo and radiation we believed I would make a full recovery. In 2015 with three treatments to go another tumour was found on my right rib and I was suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer. There was no cure for me but the doctors are aiming to keep me alive for as long as possible and all treatment now is aimed at keeping me comfortable.
We brought the caravan and often talked about travelling Australia but there was always reasons why we couldn't. In January 2016 all the planets seemed to align and we made the decision that the time was right, I wanted to do this while I was still healthy and able to do all the things I wanted to do.
Then tragedy... after a year of stability my tumour had grown and I would need either more chemo or radiation. There were several times we came close to calling the trip off as it all seemed to difficult. But then we decided that we would just take three months, travel QLD, head home to Brisbane for my scans and checkups and then take it from there. The aim of our trip is to create some wonderful happy memories with our kids whilst we can, live in the moment and do things that we have only dreamed of.
We didn't do a lot of preparation. We just got the van ready decided what we wanted to take, had a rough idea of where we wanted to go and the main things we wanted to see. We booked two stops in advance as having the dog with us narrows down the caravan parks we can stay in.
As I am on chemo every three weeks we had to organise to be near a major hospital with an oncology ward for that time. I had radiation until the Wednesday before we left and had to fit in other tests that were required and this made me quite tired so it was difficult to prepare to much. The good thing we did was during our first stay in Bundaberg we took the time to reorganise the van and reassess that we had everything. We have become more organised as we have gone along.
There have been many special joys. The one that stands out the most was snorkelling on the Barrier Reef with my three kids. It is hard to put into words how I felt but I will try. I have never snorkelled before and it has always been my eldest daughters dream to visit the reef so we waited until she met us in Cairns to do, We travelled with the Reef Magic crew.
In the afternoon I decided to join the kids in the ocean. They helped me fit snorkel and flippers and then the three of them explained how to breathe etc and then of we went. The magic of swimming over the coral with beautiful fish swimming by and sometimes bumping into us was amazing. Sometimes one of the kids would swim up and take my hand or we would poke each other to share something we had found.
Another joy is just reconnecting with the kids and spending time together without the every day interruptions. Talking, laughing and having many discussions has been a pleasure.
I think our biggest challenge was just getting on the road. There were times when I was so tired and everything just seemed to difficult and complicated. I got through this with the encouragement of my wonderful family and friends. Also the lovely staff at the PA hospital especially Emma the cancer care coordinator who organised everything with the other hospitals that I had to attend played a big part. Mainly it was just taking it one step at a time, one day at time.
It's hard to narrow down what I have enjoyed the most, it is a place/ a tour a moment in time. I think one of the things I have enjoyed most is the fact that no one knows my story so sometimes we completely forget about the cancer and are a normal family for a while.
I have also enjoyed the smiles on my kids faces as we experience new things together and enjoying the simple moments together. Our time in Mission Beach would have been my biggest disappointment as it rained all the time and we didn't really get to experience the area.
This has not really been an issue due to the age of our children although, my son was studying nursing through the Mater Hospital and had completed his first year so he has been able to defer his studies to next to year.
My daughter had been doing Distance Education for a couple of years due to our circumstances. We felt that this was a heavy workload to continue on the road (she should be doing Year 11) so she has just been studying English and Maths through another school just to keep in the routine of studying. This has proven difficult at times due to lack of Internet. She will look at either repeating next year at a mainstream school or doing Year 11/12 through TAFE. It will be completely her decision.
I think just the simplicity in which we live now. We do not have many clothes or possessions but we are happy. Also the closeness that has developed between my son and daughter. This is something I was aiming for as it is important to me that I know they will look out for each other. Another surprising thing is how many things there are to see and do in our wonderful country.
I think that the trip has brought a sense of normality to our family. When we are at home it is impossible to not be confronted by my illness. On the road we can forget for a while, laugh and enjoy every moment and just enjoy every day. We have regained a closeness that everyday life takes from you, Alex and Laura have become closer and and generally get along. It has also helped my eldest daughter become more independent as we are not there to make decisions for her.
Life has been difficult and will get a lot harder for our family. For three months at least we get to live in the moment, enjoy each other and hopefully make some memories that will help us through the hard times. My dream is that my kids will remember me with laughter not sadness and hopefully these memories will get them through the difficult time when it comes.
One thing I have been doing on the trip that I would suggest to other readers is completing photo books while on the road. I download the photos from our camera every couple of days. I then get them delivered to home, this way Jess gets to see our experience and when we get home in July we have something to show everyone. Every one can follow our journey on Facebook or Instagram.
Thanks for the opportunity to share our story - Annette.
If you think you'd like to turn your family travel blog into a little online business then this video will give you food for thought.