How to Become Famous in Peru and Brave the Amazon

I mentioned several months ago about how me and my other international friends tend to stick out here. Can’t quite imagine why…. language? height?… A good friend of mine from Germany (has some height on him) was riding a combi with me the other day. Now, combis are Peruvian mini buses… the ones we see families from 19 kids and counting driving. Yet, I’ve seen easily more than 19 people jammed into one of these vehicles. They have some kind of megabus complex going on… Anyway… As my friend and I were riding next to each other, he turned to me and said, “Emily, I don’t feel like I fit in here…” You can imagine that my heart immediately flooded with sympathy and I hunkered down for a rather heavy conversation. As I began to offer some comfort, he quickly stopped me. “No no no… I mean… I literally don’t fit in here”… quickly my vision broadened to notice him forcibly crunched into a half fetal position by the demands of the combi… Oh I get it now… Does that mean that I? Emily Zenthoefer? 5 foot 3 inches (arguably) fit in here in Peru? Victory. 

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The view from inside a combi

Maybe I have done a bit more than fit in after about 4 months. Recently, I was approached on the street near my school by a man and a woman. They said they would pay me $100 if I would get in their car, go across town and take a few photos. So I said yes and that’s exactly how it happened (okay fine…for the sake of my poor mother’s nerves, I should tell you the truer, safer version of the story). The same two people mentioned above did approach me and a friend offering us both a gig to take photos for our schools marketing campaign. They later found out that my friend was Peruvian and cut him from the gig, but I, being a good friend, decided to take one for the team and earn my $100 anyway. After a quick makeup job, 15 minutes of photos and signing my name to a couple of legal documents, I earned the fastest $100 of my life. The best part? Now my photo has been spotted in at least four locations on billboards around Lima. 

PICTURE! IT HAPPENED! (autograph anyone?)

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Not to mention that I’ve been in two “TV” interviews and been approached by the producer of ‘Yo Soy’ (the Peruvian version of American Idol where contestants choose an artist who they “are” and impersonate them the entire season). I’m currently taking suggestions as to whom I should impersonate when I try out… *comment below*. 

When the life of fame began to exhaust me, I sought an escape to the jungle. You know? That jungle we’ve all   watched a documentary or horror film on at some point in our lives? The Amazon. My friends and I flew north of Lima to Iquitos and were picked up by our jungle guide, Hitler (I can’t make this stuff up). After a couple hours in a boat down the amazon river, we arrived to our camp. During our four day adventure, we fed paiche (the largest fresh water fish in the world) and alligators, held monkeys, pythons and tarantulas, and allowed about a hundred termites to crawl onto our hands at once to use them as bug repellent. Also, we saw pink dolphins (every toddler girls dream). Also Also… we fished for piranhas (to avoid embarrassment, I will not disclose how many I caught). On our way back to Lima, a good friend of mine said, “Emily, don’t you think it’s a little strange how we swam and fished for piranhas in the same water?”…. I did not think it strange because I had not yet had that thought… Hmmm bold? or stupid? 

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Yes. We did some cool stuff. I conquered some grand fears. The real gem, though, was the sheer density of the rainforest. Every morning, I emerged from my mosquito net to find solitude near a lagoon behind where we slept. I would do some yoga, pray and watch. The water was not still… it rippled and bubbled joyfully as if to greet me. The ants began their shifts assembling all about the tree stumps. The nights greeted an entirely new species of activation… bats and mice conversed just above my head, frogs hopping aimlessly, snakes heard moving through the crackling leaves and, my favorite, the songs of the shaman during the ayahuasca ceremonies rang into my dreams. A certain density of motion… of life existed there. One that required me to sit still in order to notice. And so I sat… like the billions of stars that have waited so long to be seen. I finally saw them… and knowing full well that they had been there all along, I understood that it was not me changing the sky… or painting it differently, but it was changing me. 

 I sat long… and God said be still and see me working… I am in all things and I control all things… Actively and lovingly. 

Be Still and Know that I Am God

Be Still and Know that I Am

Be Still and Know

Be Still

Be

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How to…. Cusco

How many times did I hear “Will you visit Machu Picchu?!” as a response to “I’m studying abroad in Peru”? Enough to question if anyone really knows me… There has to be some kind of misdemeanor devoted specifically to people who visit Peru and don’t make the trip to one of the 7 wonders of the world. I awaited this trip for a large part of my life… when the morning came that I would fly out to Cusco, it didn’t feel real. 

Though I typically like to begin my stories from the middle, jump around the timeline a bit and leave listeners absolutely confused… This story is rather important. So I will start closer to the beginning. 

Day 1. Cusco. 

If you’ve never been to Cusco before, it’s important to keep in mind the altitude… 11,000 ft (almost twice the altitude of Denver). About 50% of travelers experience altitude sickness in some shape during their first few days whether it be in their stomach, a headache, dizziness, etc. Never have I been more proud to be coming from the great state of Colorado… theres nothing like standing over a pile of altitude-sickened trekkers completely immune. Thank GOD for an acclimated body. All this being said, the “Day 1” Cusco advice is always to rest… which is why I was not incredibly active this day. 

The Plaza in Cusco is as charming as they come…. aged churches tower and line the edges of the square about a most impressive fountain. Native women sit in symmetry weaving tapestries and ponchos of alpaca fur under the intense sun. And at night… *dramatic sigh*… the lights on the hills dimly illuminated the city in a most majestic way. 

As for the cuisine…. I dined on the finest of cuy that afternoon… yes, cuy. We in the states call it guinea pig! Did I like it? Yes. Did I feel guilty for liking it? Slightly. Will walking into Petsmart ever be the same? Absolutely not. It had the taste of pork with the difficulty to eat of crab. Guinea pigs have so many bones.. they are all very intricate and tiny so it’s hard to find the meat. But as I sat there, sifting through little guinea pig ribs, I contemplated two beloved deceased family pets. Fuzzy and Cutie (Shut up! We were all girls!)… I remembered how they would play in one of those hamster balls, nibble on alfalfa and cuddle up into your hands. And there they lie…. dead on my plate…. eyes open… teeth mockingly poking out…. beneath my fork and knife. (Is “The Circle of Life” going through anyone else’s head?).

Day 2. Salkantay Trek Begins.

 I wish I could say that we all hopped the bus, introduced ourselves and became instant lifetime friends. But it was 4:20 in the morning. That happened six hours later. We started trekking around 9 am uphill for about three hours. This was the period of anxiously getting to know the strengths of our other group members… will we spend the trek waiting for them to catch up? Or be those guys… “hey.. wait up! not so fast!”? Our group all took turns as the weak link… my share of the pot came the last few days limping my way through the rainforest. But we will come back to this. 

We trekked for about 6 or 7 hours…. me and my Gandalfian staff.

22090607462_5536083695_zDay 3. So. Hard.

At 5:30 am, we were awoken by our “chef” with a shake on our tents “coca tea? coca tea?”. The bitterness of waking up when it is still dark and freezing outside breaks even when you are handed a cup of steaming tea…. And we needed it. We spent 3-4 hours trekking steeply upward to the peak of Salkantay (about 15,000 ft).. It was the difficulty of a Colorado 14er plus the added weight of my pack. You know the feeling of reaching the top of a high peak? The thin air combined with the awe of beauty shorten your breath… Well, half of this happened. It was so foggy when I reached the top… it began to snow…. there was no view beyond five feet in front of you. Only the desperate will to flea from the cold. But we took a cool picture. 

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Hiking downwards for 6 more hours took quite the toll on my knees and ankles. I remember finding myself completely alone for about an hour of the decent… Slightly afraid that I would lose my group permanently… Or not find my way at all. But then I remembered…. this is why I am here. To escape a city of 9 million people (Lima) and reconnect with myself.. with nature.. with the church. 

You see, there was something quite intriguing by the pagan culture. They clearly see God… a god… in the elements of sun, moon, water, earth, etc. An obviously innate human need to worship is present.. a humility in knowing that the suns warmth is a gift, as is the nourishment of water. We deserve none of it alone. However, as a Christian, I don’t see individual gods in each of the elements…. rather, they are cyclical… intertwined… one…. one God. 

Day 4. 

“Coca té coca té!” Oh! Time to get up…. Mom, why didn’t you discover this wake up tactic when I was a kid?! Guess what we did that day. More trekking. However, whereas we peaked a 15,000 foot mountain in the snow the day before, we were now limping (okay just me) through the jungle at high heat, lashing our arms about to fend off mosquitos. In addition, perhaps we were not made aware of the jungle’s inherent dangers from the get go… for example, we were told, only AFTER touching a three inch long, dead centipede, that it’s poison would kill you in one hour. That’s good to know. I just.. won’t touch any centipedes. Oh wait! I forgot to tell you (again) after touching thorny vines, that some vines contain poisonous thorns. But don’t worry! In that case, you would have five hours to live, not one. So what do I do when my friends or I are pricked?! “Alright guys! Give me five hours on the clock!” But maybe it was best not to warn us… In my experience, having possible dangers at the forefront of my mind makes everything seem fatal. Leaves are no longer leaves, but rather, poisonous monsters awaiting some ignorant gringo to use them as toilet paper… stray dogs are no longer cute and mistreated, but rather, rabies infested monsters looking to inflict their disease on anyone who wants to “play” with them. 

And that was day 4.

Just kidding… that evening, we visited termas (hot springs) near our campsite. This was the first resemblance of a shower for many of use… I can’t imagine the filth that still lingers in those natural waters. Later, we threw a dance party around the campfire. We had the most interesting combination of music I’ve heard since my middle school prom. I can’t imagine what the DJ was thinking… “I’ll start them off with a little bit of salsa, then pick a random song from my list of western-approved music” or “Yes, I do think it’s a good idea to play the YMCA three times”. The goofy music selections set the tone for a goofy night of celebrating new friendships and the light-hearted spirit of traveling. 

Day 5. 

Okay. Coca té is a great way to salute your morning… maybe a good stretch… but imagine this way of waking up: zipline. Mhmm yep. Soaring 200 feet above ground… in all kinds of positions… upside down, backwards, upside down backwards and superman. (Breakfast beforehand: not suggested). After a leisurely lunch, we continued our trek to Aguas Calientes (the town below Machu PIchhu – yes, we’re almost there!). 

Day 6. Machu Picchu. 

I want to say it was spiritual… breathtaking…. mystical. But for a place that truly is all of those things PLUS 2,500 tourists a day, you kind of end up breaking even. I enjoyed the solitude of my hiking.. maybe I was spoiled by it and unable to enjoy Machu Picchu because of all the clean-cut tourists who had definitely not done any work to get there. All that being said, I was still able to imagine the natives going about daily life, working on the walls, the fields, visiting the temples.. 

After, sneakily eaves dropping in the other tour groups, I gathered sufficient information about the ancient peoples and felt ready to leave. Goodbye Machu Picchu. 

I would like to conclude with a few helpful tips for your visit to Machu Picchu/Cusco: 

  1. Give yourself ample time to adapt to the altitude (unless you’re from Colorado). Drink coca tea… it helps and no, it is not cocaine. Plus! It’s illegal in the US so you can get that giddy, rebellious feeling drinking it.
  2. DONT let those native-dressed women with the adorable baby alpaca scam you. They DONT want you to have the photo for free and they DO have change for your 20 soles. 
  3. Finally, (and this goes for all of Peru) if you see a price on something, don’t just accept it. Always always always try to barter… Though 1 sol (33 cents) is practically nothing in the US, a frugal mentality can save you money. I’ve been in Peru for about 3 months now and I’d guess that I’ve saved about $10 now! 

Signing off, 

Em

Traveling in Lunahuaná and How I Dealt with Losing my Phone

I know you have all been anxiously awaiting another post from me so I apologize for the excessive suspense. After losing my phone on a weekend trip, I was trapped in a dark dark isolation… forced to survive with merely a GoPro, MacBook computer and hair dryer (jaw dropping, no?). What did I do? Well… the seclusion put me into an almost “retreat” mindset where I was able to enjoy disconnection from the outer world and introspect (OR… I used Facebook to communicate with everyone). However exaggerated the story, I still choose to use losing my phone as an excuse for not having written recently. 

Now let’s talk about how I lost my phone. Stupid stupid stupid *thumping myself on the forehead*. Oh how I wish to offer you something dramatic… or heroic! I was overtaken by a vicious mob of puberty-stricken Peruvian teens… I dove into the ocean to save a drowning cat (this would never happen because I do not like cats)…. But no. I simply left it on a combi (Peruvian minibus). Once I realized where I had lost my phone, that was not the end of the tale. Small glimpses of hope appeared here and there during our trip of people who “saw the bus driver trying to give it back” or “had my phone and want money in exchange for it” or “can access the security cameras at the bus station to find the bus driver”. My hopes were fickle. I specifically remember waking up on our last day (Sunday) and saying to some of my friends, “What a beautiful day! We’re going to find my phone… I can feel it!” (Can you visualize the smile I wore? The strut I walked?)…. Perhaps 4 hours later (many would tell you it was less), I said something a little closer to “yeah… we’re never going to find it…”. And that was closer to reality. 

On a positive note, I learned some valuable lessons…like… when deciding between leaving your phone on a bus and NOT leaving your phone on a bus, always go with the latter. Or… when trying to decide who you should trust, it’s probably not the person asking for money in exchange for information. 

Though losing my phone in Lunahuaná was inconvenient, I saw the road ahead of me divide very clearly into two paths (I apologize for the cliche analogy). I could’ve let it upset me… I could’ve dwelt upon it and beat myself up OR stay realistically hopeful and be present to each experience. For the most part, I can proudly say that I stayed positive. My friends took care of me when they noticed my discouragement and I truly had a lovely time. We rafted on the river…. this was a blast. I can’t quite say which was better: the experience itself or the terrified Peruvian woman grabbing my arm screaming “Ay! Dios!” at every bump. My favorite part was our impromptu hike into the mountains to overlook the town. I brought my ukulele and served myself a big slice of music therapy. I hardly feel more myself than when I am at an instrument. This sacred time is something I’ve learned to be necessary for me.. at least once every couple of days. 

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So maybe I don’t need a phone. Or a computer… or a GoPro. I’m just a girl with her ukulele.

The Catacombs of the St. Francis Monastery and How to Practice Your Foreign Language Skills

This week, USIL initiated me and about a hundred other students from all over the world into the university. About 10 days, 17 cab rides, 6 bus rides and many glasses of water later, I was then told how to use the public transportation, to ease myself into the tap water, and not to take cabs off the street. Perhaps their timing is not the best, but I am thankful for not having been sick or kidnapped yet! 2 FOR 2! 

Since classes began this week, I figured a slower pace would be suitable. I focused on really improving my Spanish skills…. not that I had any choice! If you want to learn a language, my suggestion: live in a country where it is spoken. You will have no escape.. and thus, be pushed. Often when I practiced my Spanish back in the states, I knew that English was a default. If my point was missed or I didn’t know a word, it was simple to just re-say it in English (Spanglish). HOWEVER, theres no giving up here. If you can’t figure out some way to communicate (spanish, sign language, charades), you don’t get to go where you want in the taxi or eat your steak medium rare. Something my Spanish professor taught me last year (that I will be FOREVER grateful for) was to describe your “missing” word in Spanish. For example, if I want to ask for a fork (and do not know the word – tenedor), I can say (in Spanish) “you eat with it” “its like a spoon”. Usually, that does the trick! If not, it is scientifically proven that if you just repeat yourself over and over, louder and louder, and faster and faster, your point will eventually be understood! 

Several days into my abroad experience, I realized that perhaps I may not be improving at my Spanish listening skills, but rather, my acting skills. It’s almost too easy to trick others into thinking you know exactly what they are communicating… just carefully time out your nodding, “mhmms”, and wear an empathetic face. If they look sad, you look sad. If they’re getting louder and chuckling to themselves, really give them that laugh they are going for! I may have gotten myself into trouble a few times with the classic “yes, yes” (sí, sí) response to everything I hear. Caution: using this technique, you WILL find yourself in situations you did not knowingly agree to! It’s true what they say: pride is the downfall of men. 

Many of my English-speaking Peruvian friends have suggested I watch movies in Spanish to improve my auditory skills. Did you know…. Netflix has a Spanish dub option for every movie/show we watch in English?! This has been my salvation! About 10 (or more) episodes of How I Met Your Mother (Spanish dubbed version) later and I have noticed a big difference in my auditory comprehension! (Also, if you’re wondering if it’s just as funny in Spanish as it is in English, IT IS). 

Besides the noticeable improvement in my language skills, another highlight of my week was visiting the Catacombs at the St. Francis Monastery. First, we were guided through the monastery’s many rooms: a dilapidated, wooden library lined with lamb-skin books, an ambient chapel containing the lingering smell of incense, and a choir loft where our footsteps were carried by resonant acoustics. Perhaps I over romanticize life in a religious order, but I often can’t help imagining life in those quarters… praying as I walk through the patio gardens, studying theology by candlelight… simplicity… peace. 

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Stepping into the catacombs, I became claustrophobic… the ceilings were low and the my words seemed to die the moment they left my tongue (no double-meaning intended). There was an eeriness to stepping into a chamber containing thousands of bones. I was surprised to learn that in the 1700’s, bodies were in no way organized/buried…. they were thrown on top of each other. When one body was finished rotting, the pile of bones was ready for another. I’m not sure if I was more disturbed by this, or by what they have done in excavation to the site. Bones were sorted.. yes, sorted. To your right, you will see a tub of femurs, and to your left, tibias. In some rooms, they were assembled into some kind of symmetrical artwork. To me, it felt disrespectful and slightly disturbing. This has been the first cultural difference to really effect me in any kind of drastic way. Perhaps to Peruvians, this was their way of mending how those in the 1700’s discarded bodies. However, rather than judge or sit in my negative feelings, I have chosen to go after a more understanding heart: Just because something is different, doesn’t make it wrong.

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And so ends another week. I see no better means of ending this post than to quote a book I am reading… it does well to capture my traveling spirit.

Piglet – “Pooh. When you wake up, what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

Pooh – “What’s for breakfast? What do you say?”

Piglet – “I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?”

Pooh – “It’s the same thing.”

-A.A. Milne

My First Week in Peru and a few Tips for Travelers

I received a huge greeting last week when I arrived in Lima! My host mom, Cecilia, is feisty and direct (which I love because it’s hard enough to catch any kind of “beating around the bush” in English). Her son, Daniel, is incredibly friendly… I already feel comfortable in our apartment (and that’s not just because we have a maid… and a cook… no no not at all).

Thus far, Becca (the other student from DU) and I have explored our district (San Isidro). At the park, we came across what I thought to be a “street dance competition”… it could very well have been, but I was later informed by a local friend that these kids were dancing “k-pop” (Korean pop). Just another one of the many quirks I did not expect to find in Lima. We’ve also explored the markets, a cafe, and our church. These discoveries may not sound like an exciting time in the U.S., but when everything is new and overwhelming, the mundane can be rather comforting… not to mention a good source to learn the cultural practices. When in Lima, do as Limans do (except I do not foresee a future enthusiasm for telenovelas).

Now I like to believe that I have a special way of making mundane tasks outlandishly fun! In the U.S., grocery shopping can include breaking all kinds of social norms like shopping cart races and onion baseball… And when you get separated from your friend/family member, be sure to scream “Marco!” loud enough for the entire grocery store to hear…. a sure fire way to locate them quickly. (If you’re feeling out a new friend, you’ll know they are a keeper when they rebuttal with “POLO!”) Here in Lima, I’ve not even gone as far as to plan to break social norms because I’m practically a walking contradiction of all things Lima. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. White white skin. Can’t roll my Rs yet. Speak English. Think you’re supposed to smile politely to people on the streets…. My first day, I was buying a Peruvian phone at the supermarket. I hadn’t exchanged much money yet and wanted to ask if they accepted American dollars. Here’s what I wanted to say:

“Tomas dólares Americanos?” (Do you take US dollars?)

Here’s what I ACTUALLY said:

“Tomas doleres?” (Do you take pain?)

I’ve only ever tried to pay in gum before this incident and in case you are still wondering, Peruvians…and all Americans don’t accept payments in gum OR pain. 

The night life here is a blast! Everyone knows that Peruvians throw a good party… as long as you’re still awake when it starts. Last week, I went salsa dancing with some of the other international students. We figured meeting at the club around 9 pm would give the party a chance to get going before we arrived. Upon arrival, we were surprised to learn that the club didn’t even open until 10 pm. So what do we do? “Lets grab a few drinks and come back at 11 pm! That’ll give the party a chance to get going before we arrive!” 11 pm comes and the people do not. It wasn’t until about 1 am that the party was really getting started. It was a Tuesday night and by 1 am the club was jam packed. In Lima, 1 am is the new 9 pm. 

I ended the week on a small trip to Paracas and Huacachina! Paracas is a small pueblo on the Pacific. Typically, people stay here in order to boat out to the Ballestas Islands. Early in the morning, we were herded into a speed boat. On our way to the Islands, we stopped at Candelabra Geoglyph! A strange cactus-looking figure carved into the earth.. one day, it just appeared… their explanation? Aliens. The Ballestas Islands are home to sea lions, penguins and multiple species of birds. At first glance, I thought the island was white rock. “How different?!” I thought to myself, “How exotic?!” As the boat crept closer and closer toward the island, I was able to calculate it a bit more correct…… Guano. 

Later, we toured the National Reserve. It was complete desert where the ocean used to be, but has, since long, dried up and receded. When we stepped out of the bus, it was quiet… quieting too. You knew that you were the only living being for miles. It sent me into a deeper connection with the land. Each sound I heard or movement of the wind felt deliberate. 

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Our final day allowed me to slash a huge cross through my bucket list! SAND BOARDING! We spent the night in Huacachina and were picked up by a huge “Buggie” in the morning. It seated all nine of us! I haven’t decided which I enjoyed more: the sand boarding or the Buggie ride through the dunes. With no warning, the buggie ride went from our means of transport to a real-life rollercoaster! Perhaps better than the Texas Giant or Titan…. we were flung all round…. up steep hills…we crept over the edge into a new steep decline of a hundred feet…. screaming with a terrified laughter. After five minutes, I completely forgot I was in a motorized vehicle.. one that could easily crash. (Sorry to all my male readers, but just to give the ladies an idea of how insane it was…. by the end of the ride, I had completely lost my hair tie from my head.) When we stepped out of the buggie, slightly dizzy and very windblown, we each chose a board and were pushed down steep sand dunes face first! It was fast…. one of those experiences that elicits a very… very open-mouthed smile (but beware: you WILL get sand in your mouth if you do this).

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Mmmm at last. The end of the trip…. we hiked up about 150 feet to watch the sun set over the sand dunes. A sunset that will forever be imprinted into mind. It was not even the sun that was the true marvel, but the remaining glimmer of light that persisted once the sun was gone. That is, arguably, the best part of a sunset. 

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With an ever so slight amount of light left in the sky, we chose the steepest sand dune and ran down it! It was such a soft material to run on, but with how steep the grade was, we were booking it! Practically flying! If I had fallen, it would’ve meant a long tumble to the bottom followed by a faint and whirling unsteadiness in the head. (Secretly, I wanted to fall….just to know what it felt like… but it’s always the times you want to that you become the most agile and coordinated version of yourself). 

After reflecting over my first week in Peru, I fully realize that I am still in the “honeymoon stage” of living here. I can see all the parts of the city that I know will eventually frustrate me, but am so infatuated by the newness that the “bads” don’t fully register yet. I remember having a conversation with Becca about the honeymoon phase this week where I joked, “I love Lima! I love the traffic! I love the disorganization! I love that they don’t accept ripped money bills… that I can’t put my toilet paper in the toilet OR walk barefoot!” A tip to all long-term travelers: know the small things that comfort you and seek them out. A cup of coffee and a familiar book. And once I have finished removing sand from every crevice of my body, I will relax with a latté and “Winnie the Pooh”. 

Until next time.

My Battle with Cancer and How to Use Suffering to Your Own Benefit

I  spent this morning twiddling my thumbs beneath a nuclear imaging machine… Well I couldn’t actually move during a thyroid scan, but all the internal nervousness that accompanies the twiddling of thumbs lay present. Thirty still minutes….Mmmm patience. 

She lifted the machine away and smiled – a comfortable smile, one that knew me. “Congratulations, the cancer is still gone.”

In December of 2013, I complained to my mom of a persistent sore throat. I was home from my first semester of college trying to practice for an upcoming French horn audition and the pain was becoming an obstacle. Having a doctor for a mom (a gynecologist to be specific) does have it’s perks (except when you’re first experiencing puberty and the prospect of having “the talk” is deeply exciting to her…. Often to escape these interactions, I would tell her that I had “already learned off the streets”). However, in this scenario, I am fortunate. My mom found that my thyroid was swollen and made an appointment with a trusted oncologist.

When I stepped into the doctor’s office, I suspected that I may need some extra thyroid hormone to regulate my body. You see, if your thyroid is under active (which mine was), your metabolism slows, focus and energy levels drop and sometimes, your throat hurts. This was all part of the problem, but there was something bigger: a cyst had been growing on my thyroid. 

Two weeks later, I was back at school and biopsy results came up “suspicious” – meaning neither determined as malignant nor benign, but with a higher chance of malignancy. Hmm… as someone who considers herself an inherently “all or nothing” person, the grayness of this result frustrated me to the core. 

The plan: stay in school until my thyroid can be removed in the summer. And so proceeded a rather dark five months of my life. I had difficulty focusing in my classes, falling asleep at night, getting out of bed in the mornings, and worst of all, playing my French horn. All the performing and practicing expected of a music major became too painful for me. 

However, what is suffering without a way to utilize it for your own benefit? I would ask my friends and family to complete simple tasks for me (like getting a glass of water or finding the TV remote). The classic template went something like this: 

me – “Hey [insert name of person I am about to take advantage of]”

them – “Yeah?”

me – “Could you [complete this mundane task that I could easily do for myself]?”

them – “No.”

me – “…but I have cancer”

them – “Oh right…sure.” always said with incredible awkwardness.

I should give my friends more credit than this though… For all you who may convert your own suffering into the utilization of others, BEWARE! People catch on really quick… and then the interaction may go a little more like this:

me – “Hey [insert name of person I am TRYING to take advantage of]”

them – “Yeah?”

me – “Could you [complete this mundane task that I could easily do for myself]?”

them – “No.”

me – “…but I have cancer.”

them – “Yeah… send it to Make A Wish foundation.”

There is no escaping the inevitable lash-back from your friends. In fact, it’s better for this to happen one on one! TRUST ME! In order to prolong the turning of tables, make sure to rotate requests evenly throughout your friend group and try hard to keep them private.

Moving on… With the support of many who love me, music, humor and a God who understands anger and grief, I arrived into summer. Before entering surgery, I made many emotional and spiritual preparations. Though it seems like an exaggeration now, I felt a need to be ready to die… and the pressure of that pushed me to find safety in God. And also, to stop watching Grey’s Anatomy (I often pictured the doctors laughing and enjoying lunch over my unconscious body). However, on June 27th, I awoke. 

Once they removed my thyroid, they were able to complete further testing to determine malignancy or not. A week and a half following my surgery, I was informed that I did indeed have cancer and would need to report back to the hospital for further treatment.

They treated me with radioactive iodine (it was meant to kill off any remaining particles of thyroid left in my body). Once I took this pill, I became too dangerous to touch and therefore was subjected to three days alone in my room…. my childhood room…. painted lime green and baby blue. Thankfully, my friends did some redecorating while I was away and I came home to a make-shift canopy over my bed and a jar of “Quarantine Activities”

On the second day, I looked out my window and read a large sign – “We Love You”. I still have no idea who did that for me. 

After three days, I rose again (sound like someone else we know?). I completed a scan much like the one I repeated today and was told that I was cancer-free.

Big News

Yesterday will forever be a day to commemorate in the life of Emily Marie Zenthoefer. Why?, you ask. Well you, the fascinated readers of this blog, too have reason to celebrate! WE ARE GOING TO PERU! Yes, Peru…. South America… THERE IS NOT ENOUGH CAPSLOCK IN THE WORLD TO CAPTURE THIS!!

……..Breathe….

             I have been accepted to study abroad at the University of San Ignacio de Loyola (USIL) in Lima this coming fall. After observing music therapy amidst a variety of settings in North America, I have noticed a starvation for Spanish-singing music therapists! The Latin American population in the US is only growing, but without music therapists who understand the music that is so intrinsically the core of our Latin American population, they cannot be reached. Yikes! Aside from my natural inclination toward Latin American culture, I feel called to kick-start a change toward inclusiveness within the realm of music therapy.

Currently, I am in the process of planning my Latin American adventure and need HELP! Below are the beginnings of my bucket list. Feel free to comment with ideas.

  • Machu Picchu – this needeth no explanation! It’s MACHU PICCHU…. Ruins of the Incan empire
  • Sand Boarding – no, I did not mean to write snow boarding! Peruvians (and mostly tourists) hike of the sand dunes and board down.
  • Indulge in the local cuisine – like…. GUINEA PIG
  • Discover the music scene – I’m not sure what this is going to look like yet. I am prepared to be surprised and caught off guard.