Havana, Cuba

Honestly, my favorite part of Havana was the street art. Turns out we missed a lot that we could’ve seen, it seems. Just another reason to head back!
Mandi and I used Airbnb Experiences for planning our trip. This was our first time and we will definitely use it for future trips as well.

On our first full day in Havana, we did a classic car tour. This was a great way to experience the city and to learn some about the history of Cuba. The weather was also nice since it was early in the day. They also were so kind to pick us up and drop us off at our Airbnb.

Later that day, we did a Cigar, Coffee, and Rum experience with Able. It was absolutely amazing. I had never smoked anything in my life and Able explained how coffee and rum can change the flavor of cigars. He also talked to us about the planting of the tobacco and how cigars are rolled. We left with a lot of knowledge and he also let us know where we could buy some of these items. The restaurant, Café O’Reilly, that we had the experience at was so cute and we would recommend going even if you can’t do the experience for some reason.

Ernest Hemingway House

Our next day, we went to Ernest Hemingway’s house (there is a cost, I believe it was 5 CUC per person). We found that it was cheapest to take a yellow taxi there – this cost us 40 CUC round trip, whereas a classic car would’ve been 50 CUC round trip. I was a Lit major in college, so I had the desire to go to Hemingway’s house. I’ll be honest, it was neat to see where you can imagine Hemingway sitting and writing (and of course, drinking!) but you cannot go in the house, so it’s all based off looking through doorways. Once we got back, we went and saw the Floridita but it was so crowded that we just took a few pictures and went on exploring!

That evening, we did a hike through history with Benito. We enjoyed this because we got a different perspective of Cuba. We also got to ride on the bus and the ferry!

Another experience that we did when we returned to Havana was a printmaking class. I actually wasn’t able to participate very much in this one because of the after-effects of food poisoning. But, here’s what I can tell you – I WILL be going back and experiencing a class with Octavio. Octavio and his wife, Beatriz, were so incredible! It was amazing to hear about Octavio’s training and education and the opportunities that they are creating within the art community in Cuba. This is an experience that cannot be missed!

Our next stop was Cienfuegos! To read about Cienfuegos and Mantazas, check out this post!

Traveling to Cuba

Havana, Cuba

Most importantly, as I am writing this on August 31, 2019, you are still allowed to go to Cuba from the United States!!

Before my breast cancer diagnosis, Garth and I had planned a trip to Ireland but due to the uncertainty of what was ahead for me, it had to be cancelled. After learning that I wouldn’t have to have chemo or radiation a friend of mine, Mandi, asked about a trip. We landed on Cuba!

Cuba was absolutely amazing. I left part of my heart there and I cannot wait to return! Honestly, traveling there was quite simple. We probably over-prepared for our trip but it’s better to do that since you never know when you’ll have internet in Cuba. Now to get down to the details…

Preparing for Cuba:

  • We used Airbnb for all of our Casa Particulars (which is what you’ll need to stay in unless you stay in a non-government run hotel) and our experiences.
  • Download Maps.Me App before leaving and get familiar with it. You can bookmark key places so you can find your way back to them. It will also sync with Airbnb locations.
  • Download Google Translate. Make sure to download the dictionary part, otherwise it won’t work offline.

Traveling Tips:

  • We flew Delta to Fort Lauderdale, FL. Delta flies into Terminal 2 and SouthWest (which we flew to Havana), flies out of Terminal 4. Use the airport shuttle to get between terminals (pay attention to the horrible signage to make sure you get to the right spot).
  • At the SouthWest check-in, there’s a kiosk right next to it that you can get your Visa (also known as a tourist card) if you didn’t purchase it prior to your trip online. Pricing wise, it was $75 per visa and that was cheaper than what it was online at the time. You can purchase them online here, if you are interested.
  • When you’re on the plane to Havana, you will receive two different pieces of paper to fill out- one is a customs sheet and the other is a health questionnaire (You have to have health insurance to go to Cuba – this is included in the price of your plane ticket).
  • When you arrive in Havana you will go through and get your passport stamped and your visa stamped. Then you will go through security. As soon as you pass through security there will be a small table in the middle of the room where you will drop off your health questionnaire and then as you exit there will be someone to take your customs form.
  • Out of Terminal 2, you’ll exit out of the airport and go to the left for Currency Exchange and WiFi Cards (which we didn’t find until returning to leave). For WiFi cards, I would highly encourage you to only buy 1 hour cards. We never could figure out a way to log-off the internet. If you buy a 5 hour card, make sure you know how to log-off otherwise you’ve wasted 5 hours! Also, if you are traveling with someone or staying in a shared Airbnb, ask if you need your own WiFi card or if you can use the same one. We got lucky and we were able to connect when others were on or we could just use one single card.
  • If you cannot find the WiFi cards at the airport, you can go to ETESCA stands to purchase them.
  • As females, we did get catcalls but nothing that we felt uncomfortable with really. But, be prepared for people asking you to go to a place that’s “Only open today for specials on X (cigars, rum, coffee, souvenirs)” Don’t fall for scams!

Here was our itinerary:
August 10-12 – Havana
August 13-14 – Cienfuegos
August 15-17 – Trinidad
August 17/18 – Mantanzas (we were only here for one afternoon/evening)
August 18-20 – Havana

For more details about Havana, make sure you don’t miss this post! And to see about Cienfuegos and Mantanzas, check here!

Bi-lateral Mastectomy

I wrote this post back in April while sitting in a coffee shop and I thought to myself, I’ll keep adding other thoughts I have and get it posted in the next week. Well, life got the best of me and here we are months later.

It’s been exactly 4 months (well, now it’s been 10 months – crazy) since I heard the words, “You have cancer.” I’ve learned a lot in these short few months, but I know I will learn more as this journey continues. I don’t want this blog to become about cancer, nor do I want my life to become, “She’s the girl who had breast cancer.” With all that said,I do want to be able to help. Whether it’s someone who has just been diagnosed or if it’s a loved one who doesn’t know how to support someone going through this. 

Everyone’s experience is different with cancer. To update you all about my experience, I had a bi-lateral mastectomy on December 5th, 2018, and had tissue expanders put in at this time to start the process of reconstruction. On January 7th, I met with my oncologist and learned that I did not have to have radiation and that my Oncotype scoring came back at a 0 (which means it’s unlikely for a reoccurrence). It was the first time I could say I got a 0 on a test and be excited about it! With my Oncotype score being a 0, I learned that I also would not have to have chemotherapy. I am extremely lucky and grateful that I don’t have to have either of those things. 

I’m one that wants to know what is about to happen or how bad something is going to hurt. I had heard that tissue expanders would be the worst part. I had heard this from nurses, other bloggers, and others I met who had had them. I’ll be honest, when I heard these things, I thought maybe I have a higher pain tolerance, maybe it won’t be so bad, but they are no joke. After having my first fill in December, I was absolutely fine and I foolishly thought it would continue to be an easy process. I found out on probably the 5th fill of saline that I was wrong. For those that didn’t know, 30cc’s is equivalent to one ounce – ONLY ONE ounce. As my plastic surgeon said, “It’s not a lot.” Well, my chest would beg to differ. But let me tell you, you can get through this! Looking back, it’s just a blip on the radar and all is well.

There’s no order to how I have put these, but these are my recommendations of things to have before/during/after surgery: 

My mastectomy pillow that came in helpful not only to use on my chest in the car and when sneezing. but can also be put around your neck for support. Creativity at its best! 🙂
  • Have a million pillows (seriously, have more than you think you need), including a husband pillow (or some may call it a reading pillow).
  • Mastectomy pillow – I found the template for this on Pinterest and then had a dear friend make it.
  • Buy cheap camisoles (think Walmart, Old Navy, etc.) – mine have gotten grease stains from Aquaphor, but you’ll love being able to step into these and wear them under shirts. 
  • Install a hose shower head
  • Make sure to have a step stool (lightweight)
  • Go ahead and move things you frequently use to low spots
  • If your toilet paper is behind you, make sure you can move it to a place beside you (I have a short foam roller that came in handy as a toilet paper holder, thanks to my mom – get creative!)
  • Go to Goodwill or somewhere and get several button downs or zip-ups. (This was something I didn’t really think about, I promise you will want to exert the least amount of energy and for awhile you won’t be able to lift your arms above your head, anyway). 
  • Before surgery, clean – you won’t feel like doing it for a long time, and you won’t be able to. Clean out your fridge and freezer – for food that you will get from friends and family bringing items to you. 
  • Now, for the honesty, and maybe TMI – if I had known and had time to do it, I would’ve gotten my armpits waxed – I’m almost 9 weeks from when I could take my first shower after surgery and I still can’t fully shave my armpits – you just can’t get it all. 
  • Once you are able, start massaging the tissue expanders – I use Cerave lotion and it’s amazing. This is about the only thing that I’ve found that helps to relieve pain. If your Plastic Surgeon let’s you, go get a professional breast massage. My PS has a spa portion where they offer them for a discounted price. 
  • Have photos taken before surgery – Whether you get professional ones done or you take them yourself, you will want these to look back on, especially if you want to get coloring of nipples the same, etc. 
  • Make sure you have Kleenex around – this is emotional. I am emotionally a pretty strong woman, but you will cry. It will be at unexpected times and you can’t prevent it, so just be prepared to go through the emotions. 
  • Have body wipes – especially after surgery, you’ll use these. 
  • Gauze, tape, and Neosporin/Aquaphor (listen to what your PS tells you)
  • A cup for your bathroom (This may seem dumb but I wouldn’t have thought of it and didn’t until it was time to brush my teeth and then you can’t lean over to rinse your mouth out – the things you learn…)
  • Water Bottle – I kept my Contigo water bottle by my side throughout this -well, it’s never far; but, I was drinking so much water to try to flush the anesthesia out of my body and just to stay hydrated in general. 
  • Disposable Nursing Pads – I didn’t know this until NOW and let me tell you, I probably would’ve used them a lot more had I known about them. I got these and they’ve worked fine but I hear there are other brands that might be better.
  • Heating pad – during those days when the fills for my tissue expanders was really painful, I would put the heating pad on my back and it was the most relief I experience. (DO NOT put a heating pad on your chest – your doctor should tell you this!)

If I think of other things that were helpful, or if you have something that was super helpful for you or someone you know, please let me know!

*Disclaimer – I am not a doctor. Please only take advice from your medical professional when it comes to what you should/should not do regarding your health*