What I learned about cancer from my cat and the Galapagos Islands

My younger brother Phil moved to Loja Ecuador about two years ago. Several months ago I got a phone call in the middle of the night informing me that he had been rushed to the hospital and and would undergo emergency surgery the next day. Loja is a city of almost 200,000 people, high in the Andes, at approximately 6500 feet. I speak no Spanish and was thrown into a huge panic….how do I get to Loja in time for Phillip’s surgery and how in the world do I manage the task with “no habla espanol.”

As it turned out, the next morning the doctors determined surgery would not be necessary and that Phil’s condition could be managed with diet and other treatment.

I was off the hook….

But that’s when we decided I needed to take a trip to visit him in Ecuador so that if such an emergency were to ever recur, I’d be better prepared. I also purchased a 5-level online Spanish course from a company called Pimsleur and began a slow and steady approach to the language.

We also arranged a November trip. It had been almost 8 years since I’d seen this brother and as the Galapagos Islands had always been part of my bucket list, we agreed to meet in Quito at midnight on November 10, then proceed to the Galapagos for 6 days and then to Loja for its 4th Annual International Arts Festival for an additional 10 days.

I’ve posted a number of photos and anecdotes about this trip on Facebook but am now using these pages to be a bit more expansive and tell this story a little more completely.

There was once a Twilight Zone episode called “Next Stop Willoughby.” I don’t remember who starred in it but essentially the main character gets off a midwestern train in a small town called Willoughby and finds himself back in time 50 years…band shells, carriages, people friendly and warm; a rediscovered sense of promises at life’s beginnings that can be reclaimed following the regrets of aging and passage of time into the future…a future missing those simple warming charms found when children are safe to wander the streets after sunset; where neighbors invite you in for a chat, when unexpected visitors are welcomed and warmed by your fire and company.

My Ecuador trip was a little like that Willoughby tale. It came at a time when I needed to remark less on my complaints and more on the magic of good company and simple pleasures.

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