Being diagnosed with cancer encouraged me to travel

This article was created for The Travel Project by Karla Carrasco, a backpacking cancer survivor who believes that travel is the best medicine for the soul.

Travelling solo was one of the most challenging things I'd ever done, but it ended up saving my life. I'd just come back from my first solo trip, when my whole life was turned upside-down.

This is my story.

Back in 2005, I was encouraged by a good friend of mine who works in Greece to come and visit her. I could picture myself exploring the Acropolis and getting a tan in Santorini, so I started organizing a group of my friends to go with me. Predictably, the group started shrinking – and it was only 3 months away from the date that I realised I would end up going on my own.

Karla standing in the colosseum

Despite my apprehensions, my friend reaffirmed that it would be an amazing experience that I would never regret…and she was right! I got the courage to book my flights as I had my dream itinerary for my first euro tour already in place. Starting in Barcelona, I would then head to Paris and Rome before ending with Athens and the Greek Islands.

The experience was intimidating but absolutely rewarding. It was my first time sorting my own accommodation, taking trains and getting lost, walking for miles upon miles and not talking to a single person but never feeling alone – always surrounded by history, scenic panoramas, warm and friendly locals, and travellers that shared the same hunger for freedom and exploration as I did.

Despite a few ups and downs, like injuring my ankle in Rome or ending up in crappy accommodation in Paris, it was amazing. But then, everything changed.


A few months after I came back from this adventure, the most challenging chapter of my life started; I realised I had a little bump on my tongue.

I thought I’d bitten my tongue, but weeks passed and it grew bigger. I ended up seeing different doctors, and eventually had a biopsy – when my worst nightmare came true: it was cancer. Tongue cancer, level 3. A month later, I was getting half of my tongue removed and a piece of skin from my arm implanted into my mouth. 40 lymph nodes removed and 8 hours of surgery was all too much to believe.

It was a miracle that I survived, but had anything happened to me – I felt so happy with my life. I felt accomplished; my backpacking adventures were like an Indiana Jones movie. I was the protagonist, and I think that helped me keep my serenity, faith and positivity. Today, I’m still here – I’m a survivor!

Karla at football stadium

Cancer didn’t stop my dreams of travelling the world. Instead, it’s encouraging me to go and see more of the world while I still have the chance. Three months after going through radiation, I got my backpack ready to explore more cities in Europe. Now, I can confidently say that life is not meant to be lived in one place.

Life is way too short to do the 9 to 5, I realise that now. You never know what could happen tomorrow, so do what you love today.

Has travel helped you deal with a serious issue in your life? Share you stories through our community contributor program and you could see your work published on six-two…


  • Juanita Hack

    A very inspiring story. Proud of your for living life to the fullest, as it should be done. Loved reading this article

  • mike

    I was diagnosed stage 4 colon and liver cancer with all the stein chemo and surgeries my bodies been failing and I’m not able to do much anymore I’m glad u were able to do all that it’s jnspiting I know it’s easy to give up when ur told at 35 u have a 0 chance of survival and all this hard chemo losing my teeth because of all the medication and chemo ect but I’m 38 now April will b 2 years since was diagnosed found I won’t make 2019 I wish I could do all that but I loss use of my leg so I’m happy u got to do all ghis😁😁😁