If there were ever someone well suited for trying new life experiences, it’s Jolie. This adventurous and fun-loving 23-year-old lives each day to the fullest because she knows better than to take them for granted. In 2013, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a white blood cell cancer that commonly affects young adults.
Before cancer, Jolie had been studying biology at the University of North Florida while working three part-time jobs. She was an avid outdoor enthusiast, hipster socialite, passionate vegan, and self-made artist. After injuring herself surfing, Jolie received a chest x-ray from which her doctor discovered several tumors in her chest and near her heart.
Having cancer made me feel extremely alienated. I attempted to date a few people but it was always awkward, and I felt like I was experiencing everything so much more intensely than the people around me. When I left my apartment, I wanted people to see me as a person rather than a cancer patient, so I always wore a wig and makeup to appear normal.
After several months of chemotherapy, Jolie was done with treatment and ready to move on with her life. Unfortunately, the celebration was cut short. A PET scan showed several new active tumors. Her cancer was not gone. Within days, she had to leave her life in Jacksonville behind and move home to Virginia with her parents. Thankfully, after several more cycles of chemo, Jolie went into remission.
Returning to a normal routine was extremely strange after fighting cancer for a year. I would never want cancer, but the experience has changed me in ways that I wouldn’t take back for anything… [I] strive for experiences that will cultivate personal growth, like traveling.
As many new cancer survivors discover, returning to ‘normal’ life can be challenging after facing a life threatening disease. Jolie quickly found herself surrounded by the trivial stressors of day-to-day life. So, we wanted to give Jolie a celebratory lap; a trip to experience new adventures, forget about the daily grind, and revel in her victory over cancer.
Our friends at Carnival Cruises set up Jolie with an unbelievable Western Caribbean getaway complete with excursions to see ancient Mayan ruins, zip-line through tropical forests, and snorkel in the clear azure water.
She and her high school sweetheart, Jimi, were greeted onboard with fanfare and extravagances. The executive chef specially prepared vegan treats and a five-course meal for the guests of honor. Jolie told us, “The chef came out and like talked to us and all that and he was really really nice. And then, the third day he delivered us vegan cookies to our room.”
Her favorite stop of the trip was in Honduras, where she was able to enjoy the regional wildlife up close. Jolie and Jimi also enjoyed their excursion in Belize among the ruins. “The Belize Mayan ruins were really really cool,” Jolie said, “They let you go up on [it] and some of it was pretty steep going up… But it was cool. We could see Guatemala from where we were on top of the ruins.”
Now that Jolie is back stateside, she is living purposefully and planning for her next adventure. We are so thrilled that she is in good health and can look forward to many new experiences.
The entire trip was really cool… I was really happy to be on a cruise and just hang out… I’ve never been treated like a VIP like that for such an extended period of time. It was really fun. I had a great time.
Thank you to everyone who donated to make this Life Adventure a reality for Jolie. We would also like to extend a special thank you to Frances at Carnival for your generosity and time.