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Being diagnosed with cancer encouraged me to travel

feet dangling off a truck

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.


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.

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