Why I Travel: A Dedication
Leah Walker September 7, 2011

My world was rocked in March of 2006.

I was 31, newly married, and planning on moving to Southern California. My husband and I were visiting Naples, Florida looking into an investment property. Yes, we were moving to LA from Texas and going to own a home in Florida. Yeah, it doesn’t make any better sense now either.

I was enjoying a beautiful, warm Sunday in Florida when my mom called.

“Honey, it’s cancer.”

I was surprised, but not really. I knew this day would come. So did she. This call has been made too many times in our family. Five years earlier, my cousin made the call. It was breast cancer, and she wanted my mother and me to come to Duke Hospital in Durham, North Carolina to meet with her geneticist. All it would take was a blood sample, and we would know our risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

She refused. She didn’t want to live with that knowledge. She just assumed that she would have cancer like her two sisters gone before her. There was nothing she would do differently, regular doctor visits and all that.

No blood test for her.

Twenty-five is certainly a young age to think of one’s mortality. Yet there I was in that situation. If I were tested and positive for the BRCA gene, my mom would know that she, too, was positive. She didn’t want to know, and in all honesty, I’m not sure I wanted to know either.

No blood test for me.

This is one moment I wished life had a rewind button. We reached the proverbial fork in the road, and unfortunately chose the wrong path. What if? I ask that to myself all the time. What if I had encouraged her to take the test? What if I had just done it myself?

Eight hours on the operating table and we learned that the ovarian cancer had obliterated her abdominal cavity. A year and a half was the average lifespan for stage three. I was enveloped with sadness and fear. This was too much. After a complete breakdown in the hospital parking lot, I dried my tears, said a prayer, and made a decision. My mom had taken care of me for 31 years, and now it was my turn to return the favor. I marched myself into her room, and told my dad that I was going to use all of my accrued days from work to be with Mom.

“Are you sure?”

I was never so sure of anything in my life. I left Austin for Houston the next morning. I needed to pack. I needed to find someone to cover my classes. I had 25 days and was going to use them all. Someone else could teach Shakespeare.

I took her to one of many chemo treatments. Little did I know, but her doctor had plans for me. I was cornered and practically hog-tied to the chair. This was it; I was having the test if I wanted to or not.


My thoughts swirled like a West Texas tornado. The doctor told me, just as the Duke geneticist had several years earlier, that I had an 85% chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer and a 25% being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Compared with the average woman’s chances, this was close to a sure thing. I would welcome those odds in Vegas.

It might be overly dramatic to say that this was the exact moment that my life changed. I truly believe it is though. I didn’t want to have a house in Florida. I didn’t want to live in California. And I certainly didn’t want to be a teacher for the rest of my life.

I was gobsmacked.

Nothing happened overnight, but changes were made. We canceled the house contract, threw out plans for California, and I taught just one more year. It was a step in the right direction. For three years after quitting teaching, I was willingly unemployed. I traveled with my husband as he worked, but I was lost. I was allowing life happen to me. There was some serious self-examination that needed to occur, and probably some professional help wouldn’t have hurt either.

I stayed with my mom often.

Her health was up and down like a ship sailing around the Cape of Good Hope. She navigated her way through surgeries, radiation, and chemo. She laughed in the face of the eighteen month average life span. In fact, it was around eighteen months that we went to Scotland and England, her first trip to Europe. The travel bug bit her. She and my dad took cruises; physically she could handle those. It’s not that she didn’t always love to travel; she just was too busy being a parent and teacher. What she wanted took a backseat to everyone else. Besides, she thought, there would be plenty of time to do all the things she wanted during retirement.

We made plans to visit New York City. It didn’t happen. A lot of things she planned didn’t happen either. After four years, the chemo wasn’t working anymore.

My mom died at age 64 on February 9, 2010. A month later, we saw the sun set atop the Empire State Building and the Manhattan lights from the Brooklyn Bridge. We took a train to New England where she’ll forever see the spring blossoms in the Old North Church garden. In April of 2011 we climbed the Great Wall and took a luge to the bottom. And then in December we listened to the Pope and walked the streets of Ancient Rome.

“Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Andy Dufresne said it best in The Shawshank Redemption. His words are the best way for me to convey my reason for traveling. I want to see things that I can’t imagine. I want to do things that scare me. I want to go places that I’ve only read about. I want to meet people that are nothing like me.

I don’t know what my fate may be, but for as long as I live, I want to be an active participant in my life. I can’t control what genes I was born with, but I can control what I do every second, every minute, and every hour of every day that I do have. Tomorrow is not promised. That’s just one of the many things my mom taught me, and for that, I am forever grateful. This site is dedicated to my mom, who thought I was the greatest writer in the world {except when I used curse words}.

Life is too short to live with a someday mentality.

Leah Walker

Leah has a marketing management company specializing in strategy, content creation and implementation for luxury brands and destinations. She's also a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. Leah documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. She sometimes freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, USA Today 10 Best, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel and wine ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's lived in Paris for five years, and was awarded additional time with a Passeport Talent visa. Though, her talent for speaking French is abysmal.


  1. I have goosebumps right now! This was such a powerful and elegant post. I can’t express how deeply sorry I am for the loss of your beloved Mom. You are such an incredible soul and I will be sending you positive thoughts regarding your health from now on!!! I wish you nothing but the most exquisite adventures from now on!

  2. Andy is one of my favorite movie characters. He embodies hope and courage. Your site is a piece of inspiration. Cheers to life! 😉

    1. The simple fact that you used the word “inspiration” makes me happy beyond compare. That’s one of my goals for this site. I’m glad I’m not the only one who loves Andy. He is also one of my favorites, along with Atticus Finch! Thanks for visiting.

  3. Eloquence, determination & preserverence are all words I would use. But not one of those descriptive words comes close to the absolute love and faith I read in all your works. Thank you for sharing your journey with me. I do enjoy the “adventure”. Consider me an interested follower!!!

  4. Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal story, as it is riddled with hope, inspiration and love. I’m sorry your mother was unable to live out all of her dreams, but in not doing so taught you a very important life lesson. You’ve now shared this lesson with the world. I’m going through a personal transformation of letting go of the superficial to be able to embrace only the beauty in this world, and your story has given me a boost I need at this critical stage of change. Thank you

    btw. I love this quote, would you be ok with me sharing it on my website and linking it back to your story?

    1. She did teach me lots of valuable lessons, and her last lesson was the best. It was a lesson of strength, courage, and faith. I’m glad this was the boost you needed. I wish you well on your transformation. If you figure it all out, please pass the secret along. Feel free to use my quote. I would be honored. 🙂

  5. Your words have moved me like no other in a long, long time. I will let the words of your revelation sink into my denial of, “It won’t happen to me, I’m too young”. Thank you for sharing and for exposing the raw love and respect you had for you wonderful mother. I applaud your efforts to share more with us, to not look within and become selfish but to look beyond and become selfless. Travel on, dear Leah and explore what most of us only dream of.

    1. Thank you so much for your meaningful words, and I appreciate your support and love. Your idea about looking beyond to become selfless is a powerful statement. I miss you and hope to see you soon.

  6. Leah,

    I’ve been a journalist for more than 14 years, and it’s been a while since an individual’s writing has left me speechless. I don’t know you personally and you only know me from the moronic drivel I peddle on Twitter. Nevertheless, I want to thank you for sharing your story with me; it was truly inspirational.

    No matter what road you take in your many travels ahead I hope it leads you to the very best in health and happiness.


    1. Now we’re both speechless! You have offered me the highest compliment, one of my writing. It’s something that I love, but am not always the most confident in. I am grateful for your thoughts, comment, and well-wishes. Thank you!

  7. Inspiring and motivating post that made me think. Those are the best kinds. Thank you for sharing your story and I also hope for a long life filled with many more adventures. I couldn’t help but notice your weather forecast. I believe you and I are in the same city. Nice to meet you!

    1. I appreciate your comment and encouraging words. Thanks for taking the time to visit. I’m not sure if we’re in the same city or not. I’m in Houston. The widget is supposed to deliver your forecast based on your IP address. Hope it’s working! If not, it wouldn’t be the first issue I’ve had. Thanks, and come again!

  8. Love these words. They move me to tears, make me smile, giggle and above all, so proud that I know you. Hope for more adventures with you! You are such an inspiration. Since I met you, I’ve always felt your joy and ability to live those silly but true words, carpe diem! Did I spell that right?? Love to you!! Love this site!!

    1. I’m so glad you like it. I hope you see that you are part of it through your beautiful photography. Can’t wait for our next adventure together…Juno, NYC, Sonora, Costa Rica? Yes! All of the above. Miss you!

  9. What an honest and beautiful piece that reveals so much of who you are and the amazing heart that God gave you, and your mother surely nurtured. As a fellow traveler, it makes me reflect on the reasons that I desire to see the world and live life a little “differently” than most. Thanks Leah, for sharing a piece of who you are. I look forward to reading more.

    1. Thanks, Jamie. You saw first-hand how crazy I was the last year and a half I taught (beyond the usual craziness). It took a long time to get to this point, and I still struggle with it. I appreciate you taking the time to read and respond. I would love to interview you regarding your expat life in KL. You game? Hugs to Billy. Sorry I missed you both at Barbara’s in your last trip home. Thank you. 🙂

  10. First of all Leah, I’m so sorry for your loss. I do have to say though what you are doing now and ever more so what you did for your mother is a truly amazing thing. When many people might just give up or spend their life trying to survive, your mother was able to live her dreams at last.

    What a beautiful post!

    1. Thank you so much for reading and responding. It was a little scary throwing a site out into a virtual sea, much less something so personal. Responses like yours reaffirm what I’ve decided to do.

  11. Leah:

    I want you to know this is the most touching, honest piece of literature I have read. I just sat here reading it and bawling my eyes out! I loved your mom and am so glad I got to see her that last year at homecoming. She always saw the good in everyone. What an optimist. I know she is proud of you. I am proud of you and love you very much. You said it so well.

    1. You’ve always been one of my biggest supporters, and I am very appreciateive of that. I know she was very happy to have seen you too. We shouldn’t wait so long! Thank you. 🙂

  12. When you read my post from a month ago about this very thing, I think you will know that I understand what you mean in this post. Your honest and heartbreaking experience was not in vain – you’ve learned so much from it and so have I. I, too, was a caregiver for 3 years to my best friend who didn’t make it, but it taught me how to live my life differently. I’m so glad you got to travel with your mom and have photos to remind you of the “living” you did together!
    Life’s Short, Go to Paris: http://wp.me/pLv7o-uT

    1. I love, love your post. No one, unless they’ve been through it, can truly understand the impact something like this has on his/her life. Fortunately for you and me, we were able to turn something awful into something positive. I have about three things on my bucket list involving Paris. I think you’re on the right track. Life’s short. I should go to Paris!

  13. Leah,
    I have so enjoyed you travel blogs, but never knew the why behind the travels, now I do. What a tribute to your mom. I was fortunate to know and love your mom, what a wonderful person and teacher! I cried as I read your precious words, I lost my dad when I was 34 and I miss him every day of my life, so I understand. The Lord does not promise us tomorrow, so we must live our lives and love in our lives as if tomorrow won’t come and every day the Lord gives me is a good day and some days are just better than others. God Bless you.

    1. “Every day that the Lord gives me is a good day and some days are just better than others.” That’s such a wonderful way to put it. I like it, and I may use it…with credit to you, of course. You’ve been a great cheerleader for my writing and me. Thank you for your continued support and kindness.

  14. Thank you for sending this to me.

    My travels began because of loss too, of my older sister. I totally understand where you are coming from, and as cliche as it is, I use the phrase “Life is too short” very, very often.

    So sorry for your loss, and kudos on turning it into positive change for yourself. It’s not an easy thing to do. I hope you have many, many healthy and happy years of living the life you love! 🙂

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your sister. I can’t imagine. Sadly it takes a loss sometimes to see life as a the gift it is. There are so many in this World Wide Web, that it’s easy to forget there is more to a person than the travel articles and photos on their blog. You and Peter, however, are not two of them. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog; I feel like I’m tagging along on your journeys. And in my mind, that’s the highest compliment to pay a travel blogger. Thanks for stopping by!

  15. I’m not often lost for words (especially in writing) but this post was so beautiful, heart-wrenching and profound I don’t know how to describe what I’m feeling. I can tell your mom was very proud of when she was alive — and I know she still is. So glad you can take her with you on your travels.

  16. Thank you for sharing such a powerful and personal story about you and your mom. She sounds like a fighter. I’m glad you could find such peace in travel, such opportunity. It really is crazy how short life can be. We should never waste it.

    1. She was a fighter, even before she was sick. I appreciate you recognizing that in her. Thank you for reading and commenting. It helps to reinforce my choice to put such personal story out “there” for the world (or any person who finds their way to my site, should I say) to read. I love reading your site and your red hair! My dad, brother, and grandmother all have red hair. Sad it skipped me. 🙁 Thanks again for stopping by!

  17. Wow, this was such a moving post that I started to cry a little as I was reading it. Part of my reason for traveling is that a friend of mine died in her mid-20s from cancer. It made me realize it’s so important to live as fully as possible. I wish I could say more.

    1. I’m so sorry about your friend; I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to deal with something so difficult at such an early age. I hope this post serves as a reminder (and we all need those, mostly me) that we should live life to the fullest. Everything doesn’t have to be grand or over-the-top. My goal is to make the most of the mundane, which is a work in progress. Thank you for reading and your kind words.

  18. I have never met you, don’t know you, but my eyes are welling as I read this. Thank you for sharing your story. If even one person read this today and changes their life, or finds hope, or is encouraged, then you and your mom’s story goes on indefinitely. There are many people that say “someday” but the truth is, someday doesn’t always come. This is an inspiration not to wait. Just do it.

    1. I like the idea of her story going on indefinitely; I hadn’t thought of it that way. I think it’s brilliant. So sweet of you to read and then comment. I look forward to adding your blog to my google reader list. AND, I just got The Lost Girls from Amazon. I’m saving it for my trip to New Zealand in a few months. 🙂

  19. I’m just now reading this, on your mom’s birthday, and I can’t imagine a better tribute to her. My mom died 10 years ago, and while I didn’t make the drastic changes that you did, I do feel like that reminder of mortality is always in the back of my mind when making choices.

    1. Thank you so much, Emily. I’m sorry to hear about your mom. Does time make it easier? I’m grateful, as I’m sure you are as well, for the lessons my mother taught me, and they certainly will stick with me for my lifetime.

  20. My grandmother died of ovarian cancer on Dec 24, 1999. My mom had breast cancer and had a full mastectomy. I know how this can affect families. Sad to think that this will likely happen to you as well. Cancer sucks. February 9 is my birthday.

    1. Jeremy, that makes my heart hurt for you. Does the BRCA gene run in your family? I’m a patient in one of the leading cancer hospitals in the world and have a battery of tests twice a year. My plan is to be pro-active with plans for preventive surgeries in the next few years. So many people are hush-hush about the whole thing, but if I can prevent anyone from going through what my mother and aunts went though, it will be worth putting that personal information out to the world. Continued health to your family.

  21. This is a very beautiful and moving post. So so sorry to hear about the loss of your mom but I’m so glad you found your happiness in travel. Something similar happened to me, ater my dad passed away in May of 2006 at the young age of 60. I went on my first international trip a year later, with him in mind. I’ve kept on travelling ever since and I feel he’s always with me.

    1. Thank you so much, Cheryl. I’m sorry about your father. Sixty is such a young age to die. Isn’t it wonderful when we can find something that makes us feel closer to lost loved ones? It’s such a special feeling.

  22. Ahhh….thanks! I like the way you think, Ms. Lola. I’m sure I’ll still be up for adventures (and cussing) when I’m old and grey. God willing. We have plenty more adventures before then though.

  23. Leah,
    I am just now getting around to reading your dedication to your Mom, Maisy. It was wonderful! We had your Dad over for dinner and enjoyed his company as usual. Next I plan to read your comments to your Dad. He is so pleased that you wrote about him. We try to keep an ‘eye’ on him and help when we know he needs help. If you ever have any concerns, please do call us.

    Shirley (aka Squirley)

    1. Thank you, Shirley for your sweet comments. I’m glad to know he was pleased. You know how he is. I appreciate you being his friend and having him over for his birthday. I have your number and will call if I need anything. A thousand thank you!

  24. Precious cousin, I’m with you. It’s been almost fifteen years since that heinous diagnosis was handed down to me at Duke Hospital, and more than forty years since Aunt Nita bore the first brunt of this disease before us. But I’m still standing. And so are others we love. Keep the faith. And stay vigilant. Let’s be victorious!

    In my fifteen years of new life, I have known post-apartheid South Africa and lived behind the wall in Bethlehem, I’ve prayed with peace-seeking monks at Taize and pilgrimaged across the Celtic isle of Iona, I’ve meditated in the crypt of the National Cathedral and gloried in the blue bonnets of your Mama’s big yard. I’ve also stood in the midst of Costa Rica’s rain forest and married my daughter to her beloved Tico.

    Cancer does not have the last word. God does!

    1. You are more than a cousin, you are an inspiration and a hero. Your life gives me not only hope and encouragement, but also something to strive for. You’ve lived more in these last 15 years since your diagnosis than most people have in their entire lives. Officiating my wedding and Mother’s service were the best gifts you could have given to me. Thank you again. You are living proof that cancer does not and will not have the last word.

  25. Leah –
    I somehow missed this page when I started coming to your blog… I’m speechless… can’t even imagine what you have gone through. Kudos to you for making the most of what our short lives have to offer. Keep on exploring and writing!!


    1. Thank you so much, my friend. It’s not something that I go around talking about, but it helps me remember to live with no regrets. I think that mentality can resonate with others. My motivation just happens to be medically related.

  26. I’m so glad, Ben. Thank you for stopping by and reading it. It’s the most meaningful thing I’ve written to date and probably ever will write.

  27. Thank you for sharing from the heart. These kinds of stories are so hard to tell. When I relaunched my travel blog earlier this year, it was to give me a place to write to help me deal with the stress I’m going through because of my mother’s illness, a form of aggressive early dementia. I’m traveling, loving, and living now, instead of later because — as I wrote when I relaunched — life is too damn short. There’s no test to see if I’ll get what my mom has, but it doesn’t matter. I got a kick in the procrastination pants anyway. I’m just starting to get comfortable/confident enough to write a bit about what hurts. Your sharing is an inspiration.

    1. Dementia is such a cruel disease, and I’m so sorry she is going through that. It’s important, as you know, to take care of yourself along the way. If you don’t do that then you don’t have much to give her. I hope you become confident to write about it eventually. It’s liberating and the support I’ve received is amazing. Please let me know when/if you do. I’d love to read it.

  28. How I am just discovering this I’m unsure, but I’m glad I did. We lost my grandmother to ovarian cancer a little over a decade ago. She was 62 (I think). Life and our family has never been the same, but I know if she were here she would embrace your last line. I like to think she’s traveled with me to all my sites as well…

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother, Deej. She was younger than my mother when she passed. When losing ones we love, the key is to keep them with us wherever we go. I know it makes me miss them a little less.

  29. Such a moving post. I love your final quote, ‘Life is too short to live with a someday mentality.’ This has really made me think. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. You’re so welcome, but I must thank you. I appreciate you reading and the kind words. “Life is too short to live with a someday mentality” is one of my mottos. It’s certainly easier said than done, but I try and encourage others to do the same.

  30. Wow..

    Life is so unpredictable you never know what may happen the next second… Your story has solidified the notion of why we should all follow our dreams and do what we want to do (within reason) – I hope your pursuits has given you inner peace.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

    1. I appreciate your reading and sharing. Thank you so much for your well wishes and kind words. I hope that it will spread the word and make others aware so they don’t have to suffer the same consequences as my mother.

  31. My mom died from ovarian cancer as well. She passed away December 11, 2011 at the age of 39 years old. It kills me when I think how preventable ovarian cancer is. I remember my mom refused to go to the doctor countless times when I was growing up because she had other things to do (i.e. work, errands). She always took care of others and not herself. So I have vowed to myself that once I graduate from Texas A&M (this December!) and am able to afford insurance.. my four year old sister and I will be visiting all specialists twice a year as well..YOU NEVER KNOW. Sorry for your loss, Coach.

    1. Karen, I knew your mom passed away, but I did not know that it was from ovarian cancer. I’m so sorry. I’m one year away from 39, and I can’t imagine how shocking it would be to diagnosed. That’s such a young age. I do hope that you and your sister get tested for the gene. It’s so admirable that you are taking care of your little sister, but you need to take care of yourself as well. If our mothers’ death did anything for us, it should have made us diligent about taking care of ourselves. Don’t allow her passing to be for not. AND, I’m so proud of you! Even though it’s from A&M, I’m so pleased that you’re about to get your degree. You were always one of my favorites. 🙂

    1. That is above and beyond what I could have hoped for, Suzanne. Thank you for your contribution and everything else you’ve done for our family. I’ll be in touch with the address.

  32. Wow. Leah… I’m in tears right now. Like I said before, i’m really sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. Ovarian cancer is so preventable and people just aren’t educated enough. I hope you get to reach as many people as possible through this post and are able to raise as much money as possible. Have you thought of setting up an indiegogo account to raise some money so that others could easily donate online?

    1. A indiegogo account is a great idea, and I hadn’t thought about it. Thank you. I suppose I could do that, but I didn’t want people to feel like I was asking them for money. My goal is to spread the message and get people to be more aware. I’m going to have to sleep on your idea.

  33. This was really hard to read for me as I lost my mom just a little over a year ago. Your mom sounds like an amazing woman. I think you’re doing a great thing by raising awareness for ovarian cancer here.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your mom, Sabrina. She must have been young. Thank you for your comment and sharing with your readers.

    1. My mom was all about having fun and adventures. That’s where I got it from, so yes, I’m sure she is proud of what she handed down to me. I am my mother’s daughter. Thanks, Raul.

  34. Thank you for sharing your story. I think this was one of the first posts of yours that I read. As an oncology nurse, I think a lot about living in the now because things change with an unexpected phone call. It’s a great tribute to all those we have loved to live purposefully.

    Thank you for making people aware of the signs of ovarian cancer. Early detection is so crucial.

    1. I think you have one of the most difficult jobs on the earth, Lisa. I had such admiration for my mother’s doctors and nurses. I imagine it is emotionally exhausting to see that kind of sickness day in and day out. Bless you for doing that and helping so many people like my mother. Thank you.

  35. Maisy was a special lady and I know that she is very proud of you for this and who you have become. I too am proud of you for using your talents to inform others and the sacrifices you are willing to make to ensure that you will be around for many years to come. I am sure that it can’t be easy to go through with something like that as a preventive measure. Thank you.

  36. I remember reading this touching and emotional post when I first discovered your blog. You and your family are doing such a wonderful thing. I admire your dedication in not letting cancer beat you. Thanks for putting a spotlight on the symptoms of ovarian cancer. I’m sure your mom is looking down smiling at everything you’ve accomplished.

  37. Leah… I don’t know where to start. this article gave me goosebumps, it made me smile, it almost made me cry (but I’m at work so I had to control that emotion) it made me feel scare (I’m making an appointment to check the BRCA gene as soon as possible) and most important it inspired me.

    I’m not a great writer like you are and I wish I could find the words to express all the feelings, emotions (and thoughts) that are inside of me right now. Great post and great idea; awareness is a key element for detection. THANKS

  38. You’re road has not been an easy one and there is nothing that can compare to losing a parent. Your words will reach and touch many and your mother will have an impact on them. I am so proud and impressed at your ability to write something so personal and share it with your readers. Just know that there are many out there who support you and care about you even if we don’t know you personally.

  39. Love the post Leah! It took Jaime years to convince to see the world, but now that we’re doing it, I can’t imagine any other way of living. Love that you’re taking your beautiful writing skills and celebrating both your mother and the beautiful and crazy world in which we live. Who knows when we’ll be in the same city or same continent, but the Thomas family looks forward to sitting down, catching up, and having a great meal with you!

  40. I am very sorry to hear about your loss. I also lost my father 12 years ago to a very preventable disease. Happy I could help with this cause and best of luck to you!

  41. What a beautiful tribute to your mother, Leah! It took me quite some time to finish reading it as I had to keep stopping to have a cry. I can totally relate to your mother who was likely too busy taking care of everyone else to focus on keeping herself healthy. I know that I’m guilty of the same thing as I always seem to be running my kids places but can’t find the time to see the doctor myself, go for that mammogram etc. And honestly, I’d rather believe that there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with me. My doctor has been suggesting for years that I consider having testing done because I was adopted and have no idea what my genetic history might be. I’ve been avoiding the issue because I don’t want to think about the possibility of a negative result. Your post has made me realize that I need to start taking care of myself too because the last thing that we want as mothers is to leave behind our precious daughters to grieve and wonder if things would have turned out differently if we had only acted sooner. Thank you for the wake-up call and best of luck with the fundraising – you are doing an incredible thing!!

  42. I loved your mom, Leah. I knew her only a few years, having moved to Marble Falls in 2006, but to know her at all was to love her. Taking her to Austin one day for a check-up, we talked and laughed and praised God. I remember when we attended the Christian women’s conference in San Antonio in about 2007, she talked about her decision regarding seeing a geneticist and how that decision made her feel. I thought that, had the choice been mine, I’d have had the test, but I respected her decision not to. Knowing what transpired after that, I’m so glad you made a different choice. All of us make decisions/choices every day about our own bodies and our health. I’m glad that you are being proactive and grabbing life by the horns. You inspire me. Love and long life to you, Carolyn. (Besides wanting to comment, I wanted to do Fred out of a little money.)

  43. Leah – every time I read this post; I cry for the life that was lost and for the life we each have left to live.

    Thank you for being brave enough to tell your story and inspiring me to get off my ass and live mine.


  44. This post moved me as well, Leah, and I felt changed after reading it. My cousin died of melanoma at a very young 45 and it motivated me to have a stronger relationship with my dermatologist. It is never to early to detect and be aware and also, to think about our life as it happens and live it to the fullest. We have ourselves and our families to think of.
    Much love to you.

  45. Well done on writing this post and raising awareness Leah. It can’t have been easy for you. Your philosophy of squeezing everything out of every experience, achieving your goals and seeing as much of this beautiful world as you possibly can is truly inspirational. Thank you!

  46. Lisa sent me, and I’m so glad.

    My very best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of years ago. Though not my own momma, I bet I went through some similar experiences as you. Being with her through surgeries, radiation, chemo, hair shaving…Lucky for her (and me) she’s still alive. I truly believe it’s because of amazing people like you, spreading the word and raising funds for research. I do my part as well.

    Your mom is proud of you, and I’m happier knowing you.

  47. Leah -you are brave, courageous, smart, and insightful. I’m proud of your posts & comments. I’m glad I did the BRCA test & took the preventative measures already to prevent my family from going through the terrors we went through with mom & Aunt Maisy too. Know that I am one of your biggest supporters in this promotion, along with being there for you when u have that surgery in the future. –still praying for a cure for this disease- God help us all. Paula

  48. Leah – I raise a glass for two amazing women, you and my friend Maisy. For almost 30 years her life was an inspiration to me but never more so than the past year. After my cancer diagnosis, I soaked her will, determination and postiveness into my own soul. Maisy continues to give hope especially after her death. One of my shining moments was when I got the call that my genetic test was negative. As I am healing, I also am searching for that certain place that is truly mine. My journey continues – as does yours. Yes, it is a beautiful ride…..

  49. Okay ~ I am commenting on every place possible to comment!!! So touched by your story and what you are doing to help save others!!! When i read this article sometime back ~ I cried. I cried for the loss of your mother and best friend & I cried at the wonderful person you have become. Your mother left a legacy!!!! I know you know she looks down on you everyday and smiles at the woman you are!!! She is beaming with pride sister!! I hope and pray for all good things to come!!! XOXO ~ Amy

  50. Inspiring story Leah, and sorry for your loss. Glad to know you’re truly making the most of what you’ve been given with life and sharing all your adventures here with us!

  51. Leah my old roomie, I am overwhelmed after reading your article. What an amazing tribute to your mother and you are a blessing to all that read your writings. My eyes are full of tears as I read but at the same time I am proud of you and the courage you have each day. Your writings really make one think about what is in front of us each day if we really open our eyes. Thanks for writing this…your mom was correct you are a great writer. Julie

  52. Hey Leah – I am so sorry for your loss. I read this yesterday and was actually in tears – I had tried commenting yesterday but it was having troubles going through. What you are doing to try to raise awareness is incredible and I love the fact that your mom, even with the cancer, took the opportunity to go see the world (as much as she could anyway).

    Have you considered starting an indiegogo donation page as a way for others to contribute/donate easily?


  53. Still brings tears to my eyes Leah. Your mother was always so proud of you and its amazing what you have done with your writing with her as your inspiration. I know we both will always be your biggest fans. Keep up the great work!!!

  54. Fantastic idea to make donations in honor of your mom. I lost my mom young and I kind of use the “Get busy living, or get busy dying” mantra as motivation for my own travels.

  55. So inspiring, Leah. It’s wonderful that you’re doing this in memory of your mom though I’m so sorry that it’s a result of such heartache. I read this post when I first started coming to your site and reading it again after reading your post from earlier this week really touched me. I was also surprised to learn that there’s no test for Ovarian cancer as that’s what I thought my yearly paps were for. I bet there’s a lot of other who don’t know that so it’s really good that you’re spreading the word.

  56. You know I am one of your biggest fans, I loved this story and your mom was a very special lady and she would be so proud of your efforts in the awareness of woman’s health. May God continue to shower you and your family with blessings.

  57. Wow, such a beautiful post….and such an important reason to travel! None of us knows what tomorrow brings – you have a 15% and 75% chance of living life to the fullest with no worry at all! I’d take THOSE odds! And have the most fabulous time doing it, in your Mum’s honour.
    So many people never get a shake up like this, to make them make changes….

  58. Thank you Leah for sharing your story. Your Mother sounds like an amazing woman, and I know that she would be so proud of the way that you have embraced your passion of traveling and the way that you are living out your dreams. Such an amazing thing that you and your family are doing by using your voices to bring awareness.

  59. Leah – You have such a wonderful way of expressing yourself. You have put into words what so many go through and are not able to talk about – we are all in some personal way affected by this horrible disease! May we all be more aware, more willing to help, and more eager to give to help defeat this monster!

  60. I’m so glad I took the time to read this post again and I’m more than happy to share it. Your mom was such an inspiration to me, and to hundreds of other students who were lucky enough to learn from her. She would be so proud of you, Leah. You’re an amazing woman, just like she was.

  61. All this time reading your site, Leah, and I only just now find this. I’m happy to share the message and to see you writing your own narrative in life.

  62. Your mother was a wonderful and brave lady and I see those same traits in you. I really do see your mother in you, in both physical traits and spirit. I’m so proud of you and love reading about all of your adventures. I’ve always said “I wish I could go to….” and after reading about all your travels you’ve inspired me to travel to the places I’ve always dreamed about. Love you and your entire family!

  63. What a powerful story. Thank you for sharing it. I have found that it is helpful to work through difficult times or painful emotions by writing about them, so I hope this was similarly a positive experience. I love that you and she created so many memories together. Beautiful.

  64. Wow! What an amazing dedication – your mother would have been so proud. The fact that you have turned your life into a life grabbed by the horns and lived. I can not imagine anything more she would want for you! While I have been loving your posts for some months now, I think I will read them slightly differently now. I am so sorry for your loss. I could not imagine going through what you went through.

    1. Thank you, Anita. She taught me that I can do anything because that was her philosophy. I always thought she could do everything and that she was the smartest woman ever.

  65. Emotions run wild as I am reading your dedication… I’ve had the travel bug since I can remember; one of our recent decisions for my family to move & experience other cultures; is that what allow me to spend the last living months with my now deceased Mother. Another victim to lung cancer. Never smoke in her life and yet we had to endure this horrible experience! Thanks for sharing this, I am taking your preventive measure approach in advise… My Mom lives on in every breath I take and in every new experience I live…

    1. My heart broke for you last year when your mom passed. I could certainly relate. I’m sure your mom is loving all your South American adventures.

  66. I just reread this post… I may have even commented in the past, but I just watched Shawshank Redemption with my Dad and I thought yes, get busy living.

    Also, I am sure your mom would be proud of this site and the changes you’ve made in your life… all the best always, stay adventurous, Craig

  67. I just found your site and am moved by this dedication to your mother — and by your real life dedication. It sounds like she grabbed those last four years by the horns and that you were a big part of her joy. It’s amazing how cancer can get one’s attention. I had what turned out to be a cancer “scare”—a really bad scare—, but even that really helped me straighten out my priorities and giving into my wanderlust (and writing about it) has been a big priority. So, hey girl, write on — I’ll be following along.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your scare, but happy to know it was just that. It sounds like we’re on the same wanderlust and writing page. I’m happy to meet someone else who has the sickness. 🙂

    1. I did love her. Cancer isn’t something to be ashamed of. Sadly it happens. There isn’t a cure without people talking about it. Thus, I shout it from the mountaintops.

  68. in 2001 my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer. He is my superhero, my rock, the man that first kicked me out the door at 16, reassuring me that my first international trip would be an adventure, not something to fear. Seeing someone you love frail in a hospital bed, no matter how good his own outcome was after surgery and treatment, shifts your world perspective in a way no one can understand unless they have lived with it. Every time he gets a colonoscopy I am the first one to hear about the results. I need to know. Because he was under 50 when he was diagnosed my own chances of colon cancer (plus having cousins with crones and colitis) have increased my chances more than I care to think about. It’s scary, but I can’t live in fear. I just need to live my life, raise my boys the best I can, and show them the world. Next time we hit the Great Wall we are all taking the luge down. Sadly my oldest was only 14 months old at the time and they didn’t recommend it. I will have no regrets if I ever get the call. This fall my parents are heading to the Europe for the first time. I can’t wait to show them England and Scotland. These are the memories I want to/will have of my family. Thank you for sharing your story. I know your mom is with you every step of the way.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story, Keryn. It’s amazing how an illness can change our outlook on life. I for one am grateful. Otherwise I’d still be dreaming about the things I want to do instead of actually doing them. I love that you’re teaching your kids to embrace life and its experiences. Here’s to life!

  69. Attracted by the website’s avatar/thumbnail, 🙂 I read your Dedication page and came here to comment. Funny thing is this. After leaving almost 20 years ago, I never thought I’d ever return to Vancouver and be under my parents’ roof again. As I’m figuring things out, I’ve been reconnecting with my parents; it’s been a lot of fun digging out my once-dormant Toishan (dialect regionally similar to Cantonese). I’ve been able to relay some of my RTW experiences, but I’m especially glad to relate on all things Hong Kong. My parents are now in their 80s, and aside from the usual aches and pains and being a little slower, they’re very healthy. I think subconsciously I *wanted* to come back and see how things went. I’m poorer financially, but on the whole, the last few weeks have made me (and I hope also for them) richer. Thanks, Leah.

    1. Enjoy every minute with your parents. Time is fleeting, but the memories made last a lifetime. I’m sure it makes them very happy as well.

  70. I’ve been following your facebook ever since your lovely photoshoot you made with the very talented and friend Eduardo Francés. I knew that he had enjoyed very much getting to know you and your energy whilst you were in Spain. I am sorry that I have only just come across this post as it now all falls very squarely into place how you transmit your own journey through every journey you take in the world.
    Making such life changes are never easy, and its clear to see that you have worked hard to gain the life so rich and full that you will be able to look back on with so much pride.
    Thank you for sharing your story so openly with us. I hope you clear your To-Do-List and if your ever in Porto look me up.

    1. You are so kind to take the time to write this thoughtful reply. I appreciate your wonderful words more than you know. I think I need to make a special trip to Porto just to see you. Maybe Eduardo can join us.

  71. Hi Leah,

    In getting to know you better, I was reading your website. What a beautiful and inspiring story.

    As a cancer survivor with a lot of other challenging genes, I take difficult situations and say what’s good about it. I am delighted to see you learned from your mother’s experience.

    Traveling, new experiences, and facing new challenges is what keeps me going and is so rewarding. Seeing that attitude shine through in what I have read in you writing before I realized your background, make it even better.

    I’m delighted we will be working together on some projects.



  72. I had no idea and I am really sorry for your loss, Leah. My husband also lost his mom to cancer. She had a relapse in 2002 and lived less than 1 year after her diagnosis. She died at just 42. Unlike your mom, my mother-in-law didn’t get to do the traveling she had always dreamed of. Her ashes and spirit finally made it to Hawaii when we took a trip there in 2006 in her honor.

    My sister-in-law has a similar story to yours. She too tested positive for the BRCA gene, but she was tested for the gene after she herself was diagnosed with breast cancer just 2 years ago at the age of 32. Because she tested positive, she elected to have a double mastectomy and full hysterectomy as part of her treatment. She’s now a survivor and grabbing life by the horns. She just took her first trip to Turkey this summer to celebrate being a cancer survivor.

    Life is definitely too short to not live it to the fullest every single moment of every single day.

  73. Hi Leah… I came across your blog recently (and loved your Lionel Ritchie story:) , but this post really hit home. My mom died of cancer at age 65 on Christmas Day 2005. 15 months later my husband and I took off on an extended RTW backpacking trip and are now back in the US, but planning on leaving as soon as we can to drive the PanAm highway. I, too, feel the need to see and do and explore and experience all that life has to offer because we are only guaranteed TODAY. My mom was what I call a “someday planner”… someday she was going to leave her bad marriage, someday she was going to see San Antonio, someday, someday, and then someday never came. Good for you for going out and facing your fears and living a life that would make your mom proud!

  74. My Mum died of cancer at 66 – it was a heartbreaking time. Losing people early in your life teaches you to live – to find certain possibilities about your own life can be challenging and definitely is a motivator. I look forward to reading your posts. Janice

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your mom, Janice. I absolutely agree with you about the living lesson. It’s how I try to live each day, though sometimes I get lost in the little things, which as you know, don’t really matter in the long run. Thanks for your comment.

  75. Hi, Leah -I just clicked on your blog from my friend, Priscilla’s, status update in Paris. Funny how many new people, things, places, and ideas I’ve been introduced to from my newsfeed!

    My mom was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer in December of 2009. It is similar to ovarian cancer, and doctors treat it with the same kind of therapy. My mom’s cancer was also everywhere in her abdominal cavity, and the doctors didn’t want to risk surgery, so they never removed any of her tumors. They staged it at 4. She received treatment through a clinical study at MD Anderson for 2 1/2 years until her death in October 2012. She loved to travel, too, and we went to Hawaii for Thanksgiving in 2011. My mom had the genetic test done, and all three of her cancers (uterine, breast, peritoneal) were not genetic, which was a relief to her.

    I love traveling, too. My sister and I were talking just the other day about my taking some trips overseas in the next couple of years. I would love to be a Gal Pal with Priscilla someday, but I’m not sure I would be able to keep up! Oh – I was a teacher for 15 years. In fact, that’s how I know Priscilla. I taught her son, Jack, in preschool right after she and Matt moved to Houston! I quit teaching a year and a half into my mom’s illness. I just couldn’t be a great teacher and take care of my mom at the same time. Since my sister and her husband live in Seattle (with Mom’s only grandchildren) not teaching allowed us to visit as often as we wanted and to stay as long as we liked.

    This is a long-winded comment to say I understand what you went through with your mom. I am still learning how to live this new life I have. I will follow your blog for inspiration!


  76. This post brought tears to my eyes. I’m so very sorry for the loss of your mom, Leah – I can’t even imagine how difficult that must be. And what a brave decision to quit your job and live each day to the fullest. Wishing you many wonderful adventures in the future!

  77. After having my Dad and Father-in-Law both pass away this year within three months of each other I understand the impact those events can have. And likewise the self-reflection and decision to do things differently. My wife and I are in the beginning stages of a dramatic change in plans going forward.

    As sad as your story is, it is also beautiful and inspiring.

    Thank you for sharing it.

  78. Leah,
    I just found you through my lovely friend Cynthia Bogart’s site Daily Basics. I read your dedication about your life philosophy to live life today and your mom’s illness, both made me cry … for a multitude of reasons. I lost my mom in June of 2013 to Leukemia. I had no idea her death would affect me in the ways it has and to have such a prolonged affect on my own life and my outlook on my future. It’s made me think so much about how our days are no unlimited. I’m a kitchen designer, 20 yrs in, published many times over and I feel quite accomplished with the level that I work at but I’m no longer jazzed about working with overindulgent wealthy clients who can’t even cook or appreciate what they have. I’m in the process of curating a new path to regain some much needed passion. I hope to incorporate my love of kitchens and write about the real people and stories behind them that have nothing to do with having an expensive kitchen. I want to discover the food, diversity of culture and naturally travel is the conduit. I’ve begun a new business with a friend/designer in CA who shares my interests. The Kitchen Design Network is all about kitchen design, culture, food and travel to connect it all. Perhaps there’s some way we could work together. I enjoyed your post on Italy. I was there for a couple weeks this past summer and I share your pain. Lots of laughs and discovery for sure. Hands down one of my favorite places in the world. Thank you for your inspiration to live and live your dreams. Perhaps we can connect somehow.

    1. Thank you so much, Rebecca. If you’d like to email me, you can do so at leah at leahtravels.com. I’d love to chat a bit.

  79. Leah:

    Let me just say it’s both a pleasure and relief to read a well-written blog. I swear, if I see another person type “loose” one more time (when they mean “lose”), I’m going to “loose” it. But I digress. As many of us do, I often do a lot of research on the web on (mostly) technical subjects (I was once a technical writer as well, but now work in television). Anyway, to get to the point, my dad recently died from another type of inherited cancer, and I’m now faced with a similar dilemma. Do I get the genetic test or not? Well, the jury’s still out on that one, but I wanted to express my thanks to you for your heartfelt and honest essay about your mom. I really enjoyed reading the story, sad as such stories can be, and now feel even more desperate to travel more. I haven’t ever gotten the travel gig, but I have visited a handful of exotic places on others’ dimes while working (the Sheraton press tour in French Polynesia was incredible, just in how expensive it would’ve been had I paid for it!).

    By the way, I happened to find your blog because I was hunting for ammunition to talk my GF out of wanting to go on a cruise. Then I saw it, and thought, “Gee, you’re extremely well-traveled, tech-savvy, and an excellent writer. Her Google Analytics numbers must be through the roof!” Your blog is proof-positive of the mantra, “[well-written] content is king” (I’m attempting to build one myself about photography, so I’m painfully aware of the many challenges there are to launching a successful blog). So, congratulations on (what I assume) is your well-deserved success in the blogosphere!

  80. Leah, Stu Stuart, thought it might make sense for us to connect. I just read your dedication page and enjoyed your attitude and philosophy of life. I lost my Mother to breast cancer back in 1971, when she was only 46 and I was in my early 20’s. Since then I spent over 25 years working in the hotel industry and then 18 years ago, I began my second career when I bought a travel agency. I have had some challenges along the way but have persevered and love what I do…setting up great trips for clients and traveling the world as often as I can.

    I’m not sure where you ended up after spending time with your Mom while she was in Durham. I live in Chapel Hill and thoroughly enjoy North Carolina. In addition to doing traditional travel for clients, about 13 years ago, I started doing Craft Beer Cruises to Alaska and other places. We have one coming up in late August 2015 on Celebrity Cruises, cruising the Inside Passage from Seattle. The name of the beer cruise has evolved to the name Alaska Brews Cruise. In 2011 and 2013 we had about 90 people signed up. For 2015 we still have space available and I thought you might be able to help me get the word out about this great cruise. Feel free to send me an email and I will be more than happy to call you. Take care…Michael

  81. Dearest Leah, little did I know that my search for Austrian food would lead me to your beautiful dedication. I am truly sorry for the loss of your mother but must share with you that your uplifting words have inspired me to love my 91 year-old mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s, with even more passion because I understand the love of a mother. I will also be one of your followers from now on…….

  82. Wow I had tears in my eyes reading your article! I am very sorry that you lost your mother, but what an inspirational daughter she left behind. You have such a strong and uncomplicated Iive-life-to-the-fullest attitude! Thank you for spreading this attitude through your writing and blog/photography/snapchat!
    I wish you many many years of happy travels and discovery!

  83. Hi Leah, incredibly wonderful (and sad) story. Thank you for sharing it. I’m in a life transition right now too, and you have been an inspiration. Thank you.

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