Everyone handles a new disability or a difficult diagnosis differently but for me the only way to deal with the fact that I was now living with a brain tumour was to take one day at a time, get through the treatment and focus on finding as much joy along the way, and into the future, as possible.
As I grappled with a new, unexpected reality and navigated some scary treatment side effects, the travel industry unwittingly played an important part in my healing process. I sought distraction, scrolled through sunny photos of happier times, watched TV travel shows from my hospital bed, and started thinking about holidays and adventure! Less than a week after diagnosis, I had ordered a new bikini and set myself a new travel goal. I started dreaming about a trip to The Maldives.
Now – two years on – I have arrived.
The hot tropical air and dazzling morning light rush in to greet me as the aircraft door opens in Male after a 10-hour night flight. The small international airport is teeming with people but we’re all quickly steered to the connecting boats and seaplanes departing from the adjoining harbour.
Perhaps nothing sums up the chilled vibe of The Maldives better than those seaplanes and their pilots. Cool dudes with tans and mirrored Ray-Bans, in traditional white flight-deck shirts and epaulettes, but here paired with shorts and flip flops, or even bare feet! They personally welcome us and help us climb aboard before delivering the best inflight briefing I’ve ever heard: “Please fasten your seatbelt. Your lifebelt is under your seat. If you need air-conditioning, you can fan yourself with the safety information card in the seat pocket in front of you! OK? Let’s go!” Inflight service is a bottle of water and earplugs, for those who find the droning propellers, merely feet from our ears, too close for comfort.
Making the dream a reality
I watch through the open cockpit door as the pilots push the thruster forward and the plane bounces eagerly across the water gaining speed on its floats before the lift is engaged and the wings have control. It’s a novel and exhilarating experience in itself but within minutes the awe and wonder moves from inside to out, and my gaze is glued to the breathtaking view.
The Maldives is not just one place but hundreds. A nation comprised of many dots in an azure sea – an archipelago of over 1,000 islands whose entire land mass is just 115sq miles, all set in 35,000sq miles of sea. It’s a nation formed primarily of sea and from above you quickly realise why rising sea levels are such a worry. Most islands are just 3.5ft above sea level and nothing is taller than a palm tree. The threat of climate change is predicted to submerge many of these islands by 2050.
Local people inhabit just 200 of the islands and those developed for tourism mostly house just one resort. I have opted for Vilamendhoo, one of the Crown and Champa Resorts portfolio, and within 25 minutes my seaplane is splashing down and a traditional drummer is welcoming me as I step ashore to paradise.
The island meets all the criteria of a classic destination of dreams. It is a place of clear waters and aquamarine seas, white sand beaches and photogenic lazy palm trees stretching out over the shallows. It’s interior is tropical and green, shady and aromatic, and populated with fruit bats and dainty lizards. It is an island of sun-bleached wooden walkways, vivid, wide sunsets and kaleidoscopic underwater encounters. Even at the reception and in the restaurants you feel the sand between your toes.
My days fall into a gentle rhythm of swimming and snorkeling, reading and resting, interspersed with cocktails and feasting at the bountiful and varied buffet restaurant. I spend endless hours just admiring and photographing the incredible views or star-gazing through the warm, clear-sky evenings. I’ve heard some find the Maldives gets boring but I never tire of these spectacular views.
At the beach I wade off shore until I reach Vilamendhoo’s reef, encircling the island and offering instant, easy access to the Maldives’ awesome aquatic story. I spot a rainbow of fish –vibrant yellows and blues, pinks, greens and orange of every hue. I see the sleek profile of a reef shark, giant sea cucumbers and darting black and white shoals that look like marine bar charts. For deeper encounters there are diving tours to spot turtles, manta rays, shipwrecks and graceful whale sharks.
The fish accompany me to the spa as I lie on a therapy bed looking down through a glass floor as nature’s ‘fish tank’ entertains me, and the masseur works her magic.
There were challenges and costs for my trip that I never imagined pre- diagnosis but they can be overcome and I can only urge the travel industry to recognise more fully the unique role it can play in practically supporting health and wellbeing. Travel can transform your mood and reboot your outlook. Even just day-dreaming about that special trip can sooth anxiety and motivate you through the medical grind of a diagnosis.
Through every one of my 33 rounds of radiotherapy, with my head clamped to the treatment table, I had visualised walking along that white-sand beach. I had imagined that sun and those fish. Now I was there, and I felt just great. The only question outstanding by the end of my stay was: Where to next?
Chloe is an Ambassador for The Brain Tumour Charity raising awareness and money for research, and sharing tips on living positively with a dire diagnosis. Follow her story on Instagram @positivity_pants