It all began early one morning in April. I have a standing date to chat with my friend Heather who lives in Australia. When we call via Skype, it is 7am here in the UK and 4pm in Australia.
On this morning Heather said she had been to see the doctor because of a cough, and she had been for some tests. These tests had revealed that she had malignant melanomas in her lung, shoulder and leg. Quite matter of factly Heather stated the doctors had told her she had about 5 months to live. Of course, Heather told them that she fully intended to be around for the next 30 years, and knowing Heather she probably will be.
I had never met Heather in person, we had met online whilst undertaking a coaching course together, and we had hit it off. We had similar histories of adoption and we thought in the same way – much to the chagrin of our coaching instructor.
We chat weekly and talk about the weather, her farm, my caravan – everything under the sun and we have built up a strong bond.
My initial thought on hearing Heather’s news was I want to go and visit Heather to offer my support in person. That was my emotional head thinking. My practical head thinking found a million obstacles as to why I shouldn’t do it – the expense, the time, my inexperience in travel etc.
Nonetheless I looked up prices and they ranged from £700 to £1,000 return. I thought about it for a few days. I mentioned to Kelvin that I was thinking of going to Australia to offer my support to Heather and he said ‘just do it, you will only regret it if you don’t’. He is right of course, I would regret it if I didn’t go. And so I looked really seriously at the flights and the costs.
I found the most cost effective airline was Royal Brunei, and they fly from Heathrow to Melbourne via Dubai and Brunei. The flights all together were around 21 hours with a one hour stopover in Dubai and a two hour stopover in Brunei.
I booked my flights to set off from Heathrow on Sunday 15th June and to return home on Monday 23rd June. All very good except that I would land in Melbourne at 4.50am their time. Very early in the morning in the middle of their winter.
I relayed the dates and times to Heather when we spoke and she said that Geoff, her husband, would collect me from Melbourne airport and drive me to their home some 350 kilometres away in Wangaratta. What a gentleman!
Kelvin insisted that he was going to drive me to and from Heathrow, so basically all I had to do was sit there in the various cars and planes and be transported to the other side of the world. It seemed very easy, at least on paper.
I was both excited and nervous. Excited because I was going to meet Heather in person after 4 years, and nervous because the furthest I had flown was to Italy, about 2 hours and never on my own. Flying for 21 hours was daunting and scary.
I searched online and bought the lightest case I could since I was only allowed 20 kilos. Of course there were jumpers to be bought as it is winter in Australia and summer here. Also a lightweight jacket had to be found. But the universe was looking after me and all things were available for me. I had everything I needed.
During one of our chats Heather mentioned that she had lost some vision in her right eye. She was unduly worried, but was tending to crash into things and not see anything on her right side. Then I had a message that Heather had been rushed into hospital and had undergone brain surgery. Apparently there was a melanoma pressing on her brain and it had to be removed at once or she wouldn’t survive. Two days later Heather was sitting up eating her breakfast.
As the time drew nearer to set off on my epic trip, the more nervous I became. The week before I was due to fly I got a chest infection and felt absolutely awful. A trip to the doctor to get antibiotics was successful and I sat and felt sorry for myself for a few days until I began to feel better. I really thought that I would have to postpone my trip as I may not have been well enough to fly and I didn’t want to take an infection with me to Heather, who was by now half way through her chemotherapy treatment.
I was kept busy organising the freezer and fridge so that Kelvin had plenty to eat and drink whilst I was away for 8 days. There were meals for one, oven chips, pizza, bread, milk, eggs. Enough to keep him going for a week or so.
But all was well, and I recovered. The night before I was due to fly I hardly slept. I was nervous, excited, concerned, worried – a whole host of emotions.
The day arrived. My case was packed. I had my passport, Australian dollars, my itinerary. I was ready to go.
We set off on the ferry at around 10am and headed for Heathrow. We arrived in plenty of time and decided we would have lunch together. The food was very good and not too expensive, we had steak and chips.
Me at Heathrow
I went to the check in desk and queued up. The case was fine, not overweight, the passport was fine, but I hadn’t got an entry to Australia Visa. I had ordered this online at the time of booking the flight but apparently it hadn’t come through. Fortunately, the rep for Royal Brunei airlines was very helpful, she got on her mobile to Melbourne airport and got some advice. I had to go to another department and purchase a visa. So I had to get my case off the scales, and go to another desk and pay £30 for this piece of paper. So they tried to issue me with this entry to Australia visa, but because I had already ordered one there was a problem. But they sorted it all out, and after an anxious twenty minutes, all was in order. The rep told me that I didn’t need to queue up again, just come back and see her and I went back to the rep who put me in the front of the queue. Check in done and it was time to go through security and immigration. Scary.
I said bye to Kelvin and off I went through the magic doors. Security and immigration were no problem and I set off for Gate 22 which was approximately 1 kilometre away. Fortunately there were some travelators and I only had a backpack to carry. I was there in no time and sat down to wait for my plane to board. I started reading my book and before long it was time to board.
I was very apprehensive as the plane was huge and I still don’t see how such a huge object can stay in the sky. But on board I got, went to my seat by the window and waited for takeoff. The cabin crew were all lovely and got everyone settled.
In a short while we were taxiing down the runway and then the plane was ready to take off and the engines powered up. Before I knew it we were in the air and I really hadn’t felt a thing. The plane was only 2/3 full, so there was plenty of room to stretch out.
Flying isn’t the most exciting modes of transport, since the plane is either above the clouds or it is dark, so there really isn’t much to see. There were films etc. to watch and I watched a couple of films that were mediocre. They passed the time. The cabin crew regularly brought round water and juice, and a meal and a snack. After 6 ½ hours the plane landed in Dubai. We all got off and wandered around the airport, which was good to stretch my legs. It was really hot and humid. Fortunately, the airport had great air conditioning. I felt bewildered because of the time difference. I really didn’t know what was happening next. But it seemed we had to wait for around an hour whilst the plane was refuelled and re-stocked.
I said I would text Kelvin when I landed in Dubai. My mobile was still locked into the local network and I wondered what I could about it. I looked at the settings and it gave me an option of manual or automatic network search, so I set it to automatic and almost immediately it found a network in Dubai and I was able to text my arrival. Quite a feat for me, since I am not the slightest bit technically minded. Another achievement to add to my list.
We had to go through security again. Then we all got back on the plane again, in the same seats and were heading for Brunei. I thought that this wouldn’t take long, being ignorant of where Brunei is located. In fact it was another 6 ½ hours in the air as Brunei is in the Indian Ocean. With the same films, the regular drinks, a meal and a snack. We arrived in Brunei and it was even hotter and even more humid. We had a stopover of around 2 hours and fortunately the airport was air conditioned. I texted Kelvin again to say I landed in Brunei.
I wanted to buy a cup of coffee but they only take Brunei dollars at the airport so I changed a £20 note and went and bought a lovely coffee. There was a little shop selling chocolate so I bought some of that too. Brunei airport is undergoing renovations, so there wasn’t a lot to see.
A trip to the loo was needed, and there was one regular cubicle and several cubicles where you could squat. I thought to myself, if I squat will I be able to get up again. And laughing to myself I said probably not. I had visions of me stuck in a cubicle, embarrassed in a strange country. So I availed myself of the regular cubicle and all was well.
Through security again and then we all boarded the plane again and I was allocated a window seat again, there was an Egyptian man on the outside seat. I asked him if he would like the window seat as I had seen enough, and he was very appreciative and took up my offer. I had an aisle seat for a change, and it was fine.
Another 6 ½ hour flight to Melbourne, 3 of those hours were spent flying from the top of Australia to the bottom. I thought what a vast country this is. There were the same films, the same drinks, a meal and a snack. I tried to get some sleep and believe I dozed for a while, but didn’t really sleep.
The plane arrived in Melbourne and landed uneventfully. I disembarked and followed the signs to baggage reclaim. Waited for my case to appear, which happened very quickly, collected it and set off for security and immigration.
The signs were confusing to me, there were lanes for people from Australia and New Zealand and then there were lanes for everyone else. I went down the everyone else lane. I came to passport control and they didn’t even look at the visa I had so diligently bought. My passport was stamped and I was in Australia.
I found myself in the arrivals hall and there was a coffee shop. I had to have a coffee so I bought one and spent some of my Australia dollars. The people were so friendly and helpful. I texted Geoff to say I had landed and was in the arrivals hall. He appeared about 15 minutes later and we went off to find his car and start the 350 kilometre drive to Wangaratta and it was only 6am their time.
I felt a little tired, but not enough to warrant going to bed. Geoff suggested I get some sleep on the way, but I didn’t feel it was necessary. It was still dark being their winter, and the roads were strange, with signs that are different from those in the UK. The drive took about 3 hours and then I was there, at Glenloth and meeting Heather in person.
Heather’s house – Glenloth
It felt really good to give Heather a hug and go into her house. It was as though we had just popped out and come back in, the conversation just continued. I felt so at home, welcome and pleased to see Heather. She looked a little tired, but other than that she looked fairly good. I was shown to my room and where the facilities were and told to make myself at home. Geoff cooked me breakfast and Heather and I sat and chatted for the rest of the day.
I did begin to flag around 8.30pm and went to bed. I had been up since 6am on Sunday and it was now Tuesday. I thought I hadn’t done too badly. I felt it would be best for me to stay up as long as I could, then in the morning I would be bright eyed and bushy tailed. I slept for 12 hours. I felt really good in the morning.
I felt really at home at Glenroth, I was accepted by the dog Mickey and the cat Dixcey. Even the working dogs were friendly to me. Having seen photos of the farm before it all seemed very familiar. I was sitting looking out the window at the views that Heather had photographed. It was really quite surreal.
Heather and I at Glenloth
I met a couple of Heather’s friends – Gillian and Susan – and they were very friendly. Susan took us out on two afternoons in her car. We went out for afternoon tea and cake. Heather was looking good and a bit brighter.
It all felt right to me. I felt I had done the right thing, even though it was scary.
Heather and I chatted about nothing in particular, put the world to rights and enjoyed each other’s company.
On the Friday we set off for Melbourne again for Heather’s appointment at the hospital for her next chemotherapy session. We arrived in plenty of time and waited for the doctors to see her. Then it was time for the chemo. Geoff and I went and got some lunch in the restaurant whilst Heather was provided with lunch, and then I sat with her until her session was finished.
I felt privileged to be able to be there for Heather and to offer some support, however little that was.
Heather and I, assisted by Alfred the bear, in the Chemo Unit
Since I was flying out on Sunday it had been decided that we would all stay with Heather’s son and daughter-in-law who lived on the outskirts of Melbourne. So we set off to their house and arrived around 5pm. Rhys and Sonia provided us with food and I had their second spare room. It was very comfortable and again I felt very welcome.
On the Saturday Heather was feeling very tired so we girls sat and watched some dvds and had takeaway for dinner. It was a gentle day, with lots of support for Heather who was feeling a bit down after the chemo. I felt welcome and wanted and that was good.
On the Sunday morning I was dropped off at Melbourne airport by Geoff and Heather just before 9am. We said our goodbyes and Geoff took Heather back home to Wangaratta. They both thanked me for coming and said how much they appreciated it. I was just pleased that I was able to give support where it was needed. I had enjoyed my stay and I felt ready to go home.
I went into the departures lounge and it was huge. I was totally gobsmacked and thought what do I do now? I wandered around a bit and there was a board, it said all the flights that were due to go today, and where the check in desks were. Mine was in row B, but wasn’t open yet. I waited for it to open, queued up and got checked in. I had done that all by myself, with no help from anyone. I was feeling quite pleased with myself. No, I was feeling proud of myself.
I went off in search of some breakfast as it was around 9.30am and I was feeling hungry. I found a McDonalds and asked for a bacon sandwich. This came with a hash brown and coffee. That would do me for a while. Having consumed that I went through security and immigration again.
I found the departure gate, which wasn’t too far away and sat down to wait for the plane and began to read my book again. Soon it was time to board. Unlike on the way to Australia, the flight was full. I was allocated a middle seat and was squashed in between a man and a woman. There was no room to stretch out. There were the same films, water and juices, a meal and a snack. The flight was 7 hours to Brunei.
Again we all got off and there was a 2 hour stopover. It was very hot again and we had to walk across the tarmac in the blistering heat. But once in the terminal it was air conditioned thankfully. I texted Kelvin to say that I had arrived in Brunei.
Model of the Boeing 787 in Brunei Airport
I bought a bottle of water this time and drank the lot. I was very thirsty. I noticed that the air felt very dry in the plane, maybe because there were more people. But I noticed that I just wanted to get home and was impatient to get there.
Through security again and we all got back on the plane again and set off for Dubai. 7 hours later we arrived. There had been the same films, water and juices, a meal and a snack. It was again very hot and I was glad to be able to stretch my legs around the airport for a short while. I texted Kelvin to tell him I had arrived in Dubai. I had a look in the duty free shops and noticed that they had some very expensive tourist ‘gifts’. I could have bought a remote control helicopter. But I resisted.
Through security again and we all boarded the plane for the last of the three flights back to Heathrow. Another 7 hours and we would land at 6.30am. I felt tired, thirsty and little impatient because I just wanted to get home. There were the same films, water and juices, a meal and a snack. I did wonder why I was eating breakfast at 3.30am whilst 4 miles up in the air. The cabin crew were delightful and were always smiling, nothing was too much trouble for them. I am very impressed with Royal Brunei Airlines.
The plane landed at Heathrow on time and we all got off. I went to the baggage claim to find my suitcase. I texted Kelvin to tell him that we had landed and I was in the baggage hall. My case took an age to appear on the carousel. Eventually it appeared and I was so relieved since I didn’t want the hassle of reporting it missing, filling in forms and trying to remember what was in it.
So an hour after landing I went through immigration, through the nothing to declare channel. I was stopped by a customs official and asked if I would go with him. So I did into another room where he wanted to see my passport. He asked me where I had come from. I told him that I had come from Melbourne via Brunei and somewhere else I couldn’t for the life of me remember. He asked me if I had packed my case myself and I said yes. He asked me if I was carrying anything for anyone else such as drugs or firearms and I said no. He asked me if I was bringing in any alcohol or cigarettes and I said no. He seemed happy with my answers and sent me on my way. I went out into the arrivals lounge and there was Kelvin. I was so relieved to see him and to be nearly home. He was pleased to see me too as he had missed me. I felt a mixture of happiness to be home and guilt to have left him behind. But there was no need to feel guilty, he was just glad that I was safe and home.
Kelvin drove me home and we stopped on the way for some coffee and a toasted teacake. It felt really good to be with Kelvin and to have landed and not have to get on another plane.
We got the ferry and got home and everything was normal.
It had felt surreal to be sitting with Heather in her lounge in Australia, which looked familiar because I had seen it so many times during our call on Skype. It felt right to be with her in her time of need and it all fell into place time wise because the universe had made sure it had happened at the right time.
I feel proud of myself for having organised my trip all by myself and undertaken the trip all by myself. I am really pleased that I stepped outside of my comfort zone by a long way and made the trip. I have given myself a thoroughly deserved pat on the back. I never ever thought that I would make a trip like this all on my own. The fact that I have done it proves I have more potential than I thought, and makes me feel very proud of myself.
If this resonates with you and you would like to step out of your comfort zone but are not sure where to start, contact me and we can have a chat about how I can help you.
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I love knowing what is really going on with Heather since she’s such a trooper – she doesn’t say much. Thank you for this and Kelvin was so right. You will never regret this.
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