Cultural Experience | Rome

How Being a Cancer Survivor Inspires Me to Travel Often

“Life is too short to live with a someday mentality” – Leah Walker

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Life is too short to live with a someday mentality (1)

February 23, 2011, was the day Dr. Rossbach walked into my hospital room, followed by a herd of medical interns with devastated expressions on their faces, and said something along the lines of “I am sorry, the lumbar puncture results are back…you have Leukemia”.

I was only 13. Two and a half years of chemotherapy, frequent hospital visits, and several blood transfusions defined more than half of my teenage years, but I was always determined to make sure it didn’t define me. Now, three years after being declared cancer-free, I can say that many good things have come from my experience as a cancer patient. Apart from it being my driving force for working towards medical school, it has also inspired me to go out and see the world as much as I can. 

colosseum image

Here’s Why:

I had no control over my cancer diagnosis nor the lengthy treatment, but I did have control over my attitude towards the situation. Instead of letting my diagnosis stop me from realizing my dreams, I let it inspire me to go beyond them. My experience with cancer gave me the “live life to the fullest” attitude and inspired me to go after something I have always wanted to do but only dreamed of doing–to travel. In fact, I was lucky enough to have been granted a Make-A-Wish dream about halfway through my treatment, which I used to take my family and me on a week-long trip to Rome, Italy. Even though the travel bug hit me young, I was never in a rush to travel because I knew I had my whole life ahead of me to do it. After my diagnosis, I realized that tomorrow is never guaranteed, so why set barriers for myself when I could be accomplishing my dreams now?

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; therefore, life is only as beautiful as you paint it. After my period of darkness, I was forced to see the world in a new light. I chose to live with the “live life to the fullest” mentality and always see the glass half full no matter the circumstances. That’s why I choose to travel, as much and as often as possible. I travel to see the world from new perspectives and to challenge myself in every way possible. Fighting a life-threatening disease at such a young age taught me to never give up and to always fight for what I want. I want to take risks, learn about different cultures, meet people with a different perspective than my own, and live an adventurous life that will make for good stories years later. I try my best to see my hardships in an optimistic manner, for allowing me to see the beauty of life and giving me the right amount of determination to go out and make unforgettable memories in every corner of the globe.

“Travel far enough, you meet yourself” – David Mitchell

I believe cancer affects one’s mental health just as much as it affects one’s physical health. With symptoms such as weight fluctuation, hair loss, medically induced diabetes, weakening of bones, and an increased risk of other future health issues, it is hard to put your mind at ease even after remission. In a way, being a cancer survivor has been one of my biggest insecurities; it is a point in my life that will never be forgotten and the memories are always in the back of my mind no matter what I am doing. For that, I thank the art of travel for being a form of escapism. When I travel abroad and immerse myself in a different culture, language, and environment, nothing else matters, not even my past. All that matters is the present and my own personal growth that comes from it. Travel has changed me and continues to change me, in more ways than I can explain. It has made my once thirteen-year-old closed-minded self flourish into a young woman who is eager and willing to meet new people, travel to new places, and try new things.


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Travel Far Enough, you meet yourself (1)


So don’t wait…

Go out and explore the world as much as you can. You don’t need a life-threatening disease such as cancer to make you realize the importance of living life to the fullest and appreciating every moment of it. Life is too short to not take advantage of the time you have in this beautiful world. Travel as much, as often, and as far as you can. Learn a new language, try exotic foods, get lost in an unfamiliar city, and step out of your comfort zone as often as possible. In a way, I thank my cancer experience for allowing me to see the world in a positive light and am grateful that my biggest hardship has inspired me to travel young, and I hope my story gives you the inspiration to go out and do the same.

How Being a Cancer Survivor Inspires Me to Travel Often


Keilly Pulgar

University of Florida | 3 stories

Keilly (pronounced Kaylee) is a rising sophomore at the University of Florida. She is an avid travel enthusiast, professional napper, and coffee lover. When she's not dreaming of becoming a doctor, you can find her at the local coffee shop procrastinating on her homework by planning her next international trip. Follow her travels on instagram: @kpiiizzle

2 responses to “How Being a Cancer Survivor Inspires Me to Travel Often”

  1. Ingrid Fernandes says:

    Killed it, you’re my inspiration

  2. Keilly, you are truly a remarkable woman. I may have been your teacher , but you taught me far more than you will ever know. You are my inspiration. When I told you to chane the world for the better just by being in it you fulfilled my wildest dreams. I am so proud of you and the wonderful way you have turned the negative into the positive, and there is not a doubt in my mind that when God chose you to be an inspiring angel on earth , he chose the best , he sure knew what he was doing. Your are an awesome writer and I know you are going to be an awesome doctor. With all my love and pride in you, may you set the world on fire as you travel through it. Making it a better place for all who are blessed to meet you. Love always , mama debbie

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