How do you sum up half a year, especially one that has been so full of intensely different experiences? Our typical travel work schedule was interrupted by an unexpected diagnosis, which turned into a complex surgery, followed by a long recovery and complete healing. In just the past six months, we’ve traveled to 6 continents, crossing off our 7th continent just a few days ago— Antarctica! As you can expect, this update covers a lot, so let’s jump right in! We’re going to look back in time to catch you up on all that’s happened.
JULY in Moldova & Greece
The fields of sunflowers in Moldova were in full bloom when we went to document a mission trip for Moldova Mission, the same organization we served with in 2017. But this trip to the landlocked Eastern European country felt completely different than last time because the summer camp was being hosted in a new location, a beautiful plot of land that the local church bought to develop into a camp of their very own. The property was beautiful and progress was amazing. The amenities were much better than the first camp location where they offered a 30-minute window for hot showers, boiling the water to make that possible. The new camp had plumbing to make hot showers possible for all, a luxury experience for the campers, compared to the homes they come from. The camp was also able to host twice as many campers in the new space, giving more kids the opportunity to hear and respond to the Gospel. The Gospel was shared each morning and evening in the form of Bible studies, prayer time, skits, worship, sermons, and sharing of testimonies. This year, we were asked to participate and share our testimonies too, which was a humbling experience to stand up in front of 200 people and share the good, bad and ugly of our lives and how God transformed us from broken individuals into the Jesus followers we are today.
While in Europe, we took the opportunity to visit a country we’ve always wanted to see, Greece. We spent a day and a half in Athens to see historical landmarks including the Acropolis before leaving to experience the Greek isles. We rented a car to explore the first of two Greek islands, the lesser known island of Naxos. This is where we discovered picture-perfect beaches with crystal clear turquoise waters, amazing hikes leading us to high mountain views of rolling green landscapes dotted with ancient ruins overlooking the Aegean Sea and tiny winding staircases through the small villages with colorful painted shutters and flowers blooming beside the gates of the closely stacked homes. It wasn’t until the island of Santorini that we saw the iconic white cave dwelling architecture with the blue domes stacked on the cliffsides of the collapsed volcano overlooking the blue sea. Here we trekked on the rim of the caldera, a famous 6.5-mile hike between the towns of Fira and Oia, with breathtaking views every step of the way. Another day we spent kayaking around the island, making our way to a secluded nudist beach where we snorkeled (in our bathing suits!).
If you’ve got the time and internet speed, click on the first photo in the montage and then click through to see them nice and big (they look best that way!).
a diagnosis in AUGUST & surgery in SEPTEMBER
Less than a week after we returned from Europe, Jordan was admitted to the hospital for symptoms of jaundice that had been progressively getting worse for about a month. A rigorous medical investigation ensued due to our travel history, even just within the month having been to Central Asia, Africa, and Europe. After five nights in the hospital, much bloodwork, several imaging scans and an endoscopy, the source of the jaundice was discovered to be a tumor near the liver causing a blocked bile duct. Biopsies were taken during the endoscopy and Jordan was released from the hospital to wait for the pathology results. A few days later we were given the diagnosis, a rare Schwannoma tumor that was cancerous and would require a surgery and chemotherapy and/or radiation. Given the diagnosis, we pursued three second opinions with academic hospitals, including Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, one of the top hospitals in the nation for the specialty we needed. The pathology was redone at each of these hospitals and after two weeks of much prayer and supplication, the results came back benign and the cancer diagnosis was miraculously reversed. Jordan still needed major surgery to remove the rare schwannoma tumor, in an even more rare location (only 14 ever recorded worldwide) but he would be able to make a full recovery without the need for further treatment. We praise God for this miracle! On September 15, Jordan had the surgery at Johns Hopkins and was in the operating room for 8 hours. The surgery was even more complex than initially expected as the tumor was actually inside the liver and attached to the bile duct, so a full bile duct resection was necessary, but no part of the liver had to be removed due to God’s leading us to the world-renowned surgeon who performed the successful operation with amazing skill. After 5 nights in the hospital, Jordan was released with a long recovery ahead, but we were blessed by so many in our community who offered us prayer support and meals during this difficult time.
Speaking of our community, just a few days after being released from the hospital we led the installation of a community garden in our neighborhood, the result of a grant Jordan was awarded months prior to the diagnosis. Out of more than 3,000 applicants nationwide, nine individuals were selected to receive funding for a neighborhood project. Jordan was one of the lucky few chosen after describing our group we started when we moved to Wilmington, Friends of Greenfield Lake, and our neighbors’ desire to have a community garden to promote unity even more. More than 60 volunteers showed up from our group, and Jordan got to greet neighbors, supervise the installation and be interviewed by the local news station about our project since he was unable to physically help. In five hours, we transformed a plot of unused land into a beautiful, productive garden, containing a small shed and six large raised beds irrigated and planted with seed and seedlings.
Just four weeks after surgery, we returned to Baltimore for a post operative visit with the surgeon, who encouraged us about Jordan‘s progress, confirming the success of the surgery with no cancer cells detected in the pathology taken during the surgery and he expressed optimism for Jordan’s rate of recovery. Jordan’s 10-pound lifting restriction was lifted, and just days later we were back to work filming.
Work picked up and we were nose to the grindstone filming for FirstHealth in Pinehurst, North Carolina. There was a backlog of videos that needed to be completed after taking one month off for Jordan’s surgery and recovery. Before we knew it, Thanksgiving had arrived and the end of the year was just around the corner. With a really intense year fresh in our minds, the perspective of not being promised tomorrow, and the fleeting temporal nature of life, we chose to end our year by taking time off to jump to the top of our bucket list rather than leaving things undone with the illusion of infinite time. So, we booked a trip to Antarctica, our seventh and final continent! Getting to Antarctica has been Cassie’s lifelong goal ever since she learned of a famous arctic explorer in her family lineage. Her great, great, great uncle, Elisha Kent Kane, was on the first successful mission to the Arctic, and ever since learning of him, she’s wanted to explore the Antarctic. If not now, when?
a dream realized in DECEMBER
As you might expect, getting to Antarctica is difficult. Three flights and more than 6,000 miles stood between us and the southernmost city on earth, Ushuaia, Argentina, known as “el fin del mundo,” Spanish for “the end of the world.” This is the embarkation point for our ship to the white continent, but before zipping all the way down there we decided to spend some time in Argentina to break up the trip. Our time in Buenos Aires was cut short when our international flight from New York got delayed 16 hours, and we ended up spending a night in a fancy hotel on Long Beach, New York, all paid for with vouchers from the airline. The next morning we successfully flew to Argentina’s capital city and spent the next a day and a half art museum hopping, picnicking in botanical gardens and eco parks with unusual rehabilitating animals wandering around with no boundaries, and lots and lots of urban walking.
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
After Buenos Aires, we flew to Iguazu to see the world’s widest waterfalls. We spent an entire day walking around different viewpoints and levels of the massive falls that separates Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.
Finally, we made it to the port city of Ushuaia, Argentina, the launching point for our Antarctic cruise, and an outdoorsman’s destination in itself. That’s why we planned three full days of hiking while in Southern Patagonia. Our first day, we visited Tierra del Fuego National Park, hiking the coastal trail and getting to the end of Route 3, Argentina’s highway that runs north to south and literally ends at the ocean, when you can drive south no more. We even visited the southernmost Argentinian post office in the park!
Our second day we hiked to a beautiful turquoise glacial lake, Laguna Esmeralda.
Our third day in Ushuaia, we hiked to a lesser known attraction, Vinciguerra Glacier, and this was by far the most exquisite destination. It felt like quintessential Patagonia hiking through wetlands with wild horses grazing around a rushing river in a valley surrounded by towering peaks, then turned into a deep, scraggly forest climbing up a mountain. We climbed up and up until we got to a beautiful Koolaid-blue lake at the foot of the glacier. Then, we hiked ON the glacier and stood underneath the glacier. Jordan hadn’t been able to surf since his intense surgery, but he did surf this frozen wave! We picnicked overlooking the panoramic views and eventually had to pull ourselves away, marveling that such beauty exists for those who are willing to find it.