Thanks, Walt

By Alice Accardi

It was big. It turns out it was 10 centimeters in diameter by the time it was removed. I rolled over in my sleep, moved my arm against my breast and found it. No monthly self-check, no mammogram needed; I just had to brush my arm against the lump, and it was impossible to deny its existence.

The months that followed included that mammogram, a surgical biopsy, a mastectomy and three different reconstructive surgeries – then an unrelated thyroidectomy just to spice things up. They also included 30 consecutive radiation treatments, just in case the very rare Phyllodes tumor had somehow crossed the chest wall. Oh, and a pregnancy scare in the midst of those radiation treatments.

And through it all, I somehow managed not to lose my mind.

What’s my secret, you ask? How did a 51 year old mom of three, with a full time teaching job, manage not to go stark raving mad in the face of wondering whether her kids would grow up without a mom?

Surprisingly enough, the answer can be found in the middle of Orlando, Florida, over a thousand miles from my home in New York. I threw myself into planning two consecutive trips to Disney World.

I’m not a good sleeper when thing are going well. When my world started crashing down on me, sleep was pretty much a thing of the past. And when I couldn’t sleep in those quiet hours when the rest of the house was asleep, the computer was a logical draw; one can only watch so many episodes of Three’s Company on late night TV.

But instinctively I knew that researching breast cancer was NOT the way to go. I knew that I would find lots of facts and statistics, most of them terrifying. And that many of those facts and statistics would not apply to my very rare issue. Worse yet, even if they did, knowing the frightening facts would not make them go away. So researching breast cancer was out.

What, then, to do, when even the chat boards were quiet? What else but plan a vacation?

It sounds simplistic, I know. How on earth would information about Fast Passes and Deluxe Resorts possibly help?

The answer is actually equally simplistic. I planned for a time when I would be better, for a time when things like Advance Dining Reservations would be important enough to merit my attention. Planning for our two trips to Disney World allowed me the chance to look beyond radiation and surgery, to a time when the black cloud hovering over my house would move on and life would return to normal. And that time would come of course – I had the reservations to prove it!

And so I spent hour after hour, night after night, week after week, learning all any one human being could about a trip to Disney World. I became the resident expert, the font of knowledge on all things Disney. Need to know where to lodge your family of five? Not a problem. Need to know where to find a discount? Just ask. Want to know about touring plans or rope drop? I can point you in the right direction.

Did I actually need all that information? Well, not to have a good time in Disney World. It’s almost hard NOT to have a good time in Disney. But, to preserve my sanity, to give me hope for brighter days and better health? Oh, yes, each and every tidbit of information was absolutely vital to my mental health. Each new detail gave me a desperately needed escape from fear, and absolute faith that a time would come when those details would actually matter.

And so we went to Disney, not once but twice, and stayed in one of those deluxe resorts. All that hard earned knowledge helped make our trips even more wonderful than they might otherwise have been.

But I’ll always treasure those trips, and the research behind them, for more than just a family vacation. They provided hope, a glimpse into a future I desperately needed to believe in.

That Magic Kingdom was magic for me, long before I ever got onto the plane. It provided me with the magic of hope. Walt Disney once said: “If you can dream it, you can do it. Always remember that this whole thing started with a dream and a mouse.”

About this writer

  • Alice Accardi Alice Accardi lives and teaches on Long Island, New York. She is married to Peter, and is the mom of Brian, Julia and Kira. She’s hoping to return to Disney World in the next year or two.

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