Sabbatical Stories - "What are you waiting for, Cancer?"
Updated: Apr 30
If you discovered you had a life threatening condition, what would you do? Stay in the same old job, living the same life? Or would you embark on a life defining adventure. That's what Candice did... this is her story.
Candice and Tom had a rough start to 2017. Candice had just been diagnosed with Cancer. A devastating blow that brought the fragility of life into focus. Candice’s mama-bear instinct came out like a roar as she realised she wanted to be around to watch her two little boys, then one and four years old, grow up to live the wonderful future she’d dreamed for them. She fought through two invasive operations, and after a stomach churning three weeks of waiting for biopsy results, emerged the other side with a good prognosis. She was lucky. She was out of the woods – touch wood. But it brought life into focus.
“I’d fallen into a pretty black hole while I was waiting, worrying about my kids and whether I was going to be there to see them grow up. I was so lucky that I got quite a good outcome. But I don't think you can erase that [experience]. I really felt like I had been forced to face my mortality, and that my future was far less certain. I thought ‘I can’t just go back to my old life like nothing has happened”.
Who: Candice, Tom and their boys Asher and Levi
Duration: 5.5 months
When: Aug 2017 to Jan 2018
Where: Driving circumnavigation of Australia
What: Exploring Australia, quality family time
Budget/person/day: AU$35/€22 approx.
Then, a few droplets of universal gold fell into their laps. While Candice was still on leave from work recovering from her second surgery, a voluntary redundancy scheme was announced. She jumped at it. Tom also thought a break from his demanding workload would mean a lot to the family after the traumatic experience they had just been through . It was time for something new.
“I had the redundancy and so I was in a position to think, ‘well, if I could do anything, what would I want to do?’”
“I looked around all the things that had previously been stopping me like, we've got a big mortgage, we've got kids, we can't pick up and leave”. At the time, Candice was thinking, “none of that stuff matters anymore. I don't care about my house. If I die tomorrow, what does that matter? It's nothing. It's just stuff.”
Candice and Tom decided that what they really wanted - what was really important - was to spend quality time together. They also wanted to introduce travel to their family and experience their own country. They wanted to take a 6-month family sabbatical to travel around Australia with a 4WD and caravan.
“It's really about making that decision. That is the hardest part. It was so scary. And to be totally honest with you, I don't know that we would have done it if I hadn’t had cancer, which is really sad in a way”
After that, everything flowed. They rented their house and traded in their family cars for an off-road 4WD and a caravan. In August 2017, they packed up a few things, and their boys, and they were off on their circumnavigation of Australia.
They quickly drove through country New South Wales and into Queensland before the wet season hit. Then through Carpentaria and into the Northern Territory. They drove the length of the Western Australia – vastness abounds. Hanging a big left turn at Perth, through the wine regions of the Margaret River and heading across the Nullarbor Plains before hitting The Barossa Valley, Melbourne and back up to Sydney.
It was the unexpected highlights that took Candice by surprise.
“Being nowhere was a highlight of the trip. We would just pull over for the night and be under so many stars. You looked around and there was no one there, it was just incredible.”
But it wasn’t without its challenges. Living in a confined space with two demanding little humans would stretch anyone’s patience.
“Dealing with kids on the road was hard at times, there’s no sugar coating that.”
“At times we had a difficult irrational two-year-old to deal with. And other times we had an older child that was used to going to day care and having parent free time, and suddenly he was around two parents 24/7, telling him what to do.”
But the good times far outweighed the difficult times. Candice recalls the extraordinary experience of having so much unplanned time together as a family.
“Having the luxury of time together when we weren't stressed, we weren't in a rush and we had freedom every day. We could decide what we were going to do, where we were going to go and how we were going to do it. That's really the first time in my whole life that I've had that.”
Overall, the experience profoundly changed them.
“We lived without stuff for so long. It just changes your perspective on what you need”
Suddenly being in doors seemed so limiting, and they didn’t feel like they ‘fit-in’ with their old life anymore. They’d had this amazing experience, but life in Sydney had just continued.
“…coming back to our life; it didn’t really feel like it fit”.
And it made them more conscious of their environmental footprint.
“Seeing the landscape and some of the environmental change has been life changing too. I really think long and hard before I make purchases these days. Because I've seen where everything comes from, and the impact of what we're doing.”
So, what would Candice say to people considering a family sabbatical?
“Just do it. Make it happen. And don't wait for a cancer diagnosis. I really realised the hard way that nobody knows what's in store for them. So how do you want to spend your life? Do you just want to spend your life accumulating and purchasing? Or do you want to spend your life investing your time and your money in experiences. Following your dreams and doing what gives you joy”
“There are realities we all have to face. But if there is any way that you can do something like this, it's not a waste of money. And it's not a waste of time. It's never, ever something you would regret doing.”
I first interviewed Candice when she’d just returned. Since then, Candice and Tom have moved to Brisbane to take on new challenges for their family and in their careers. The beautiful story continues to unfold for this remarkable family
“I guess that’s the post script to the sabbatical. We have always talked about living somewhere else and I think it finally gave us the courage to do that. And for Tom to take on his work challenge (setting up a new engineering company). I’m not sure any of that would have happened without the ‘time out’ that we had to really [think] things over, to not feel so entrenched in our lives on the hamster wheel. And we also realised we could be happy anywhere in Australia as long as we have each other and our health”
So now the question turns to you. What’s holding you back from taking your life defining sabbatical? Are you waiting for Cancer?
Beyond a Break exists to help people navigate their way to a sabbatical and supports organisations create better sabbatical programs to recharge their people. If you need a break, have a look at our services and free resources, or simply get in touch. I’d love to help you find a way to take a break that goes beyond.
You can follow more of Candice's adventure around Australia on their Facebook Page - The Memory Makers