Lately I’ve been having lots of Bucket List dive adventures. (According to my oncology team, there’s not a whole lot of time left in my bucket, so I’ve been jumping on as many planes and boats as possible under doctor’s orders to make the most of whatever time is mine left to spend.) In the last month and a half, I’ve been 1500 kms past Cairns to the outer Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea with a small group of dive buddies to play with reef sharks, giant potato cod, olive sea snakes and more. Last week I spent four days on Stradbroke Island with Spunky Abe filming the majestic manta rays. And earlier this week I returned from a solo three day cage diving expedition with one of the biggest critters on most divers’ Bucket Lists, the Great White sharks of Australia’s Neptune Islands.
I suppose that with all these vacations anyone could be forgiven for thinking that I have a near-perfect life, and I am the first to admit that I truly feel deeply blessed to be able to have so many amazing experiences. (If there are any downsides to having so many back-to-back adventures, it is the fact that I suffer from chronic seasickness every minute that I am on a boat, combined with the fact that I am now at least three films behind in terms of what I should have posted by now. I promise that I am working hard to edit and upload those films for your viewing pleasure now that I am reluctantly but temporarily between dive trips 🙂 )
In my travels, I love meeting new people, and often when I talk to them about my Pink Tank Scuba blog, they ask me ‘Is that what you do for a living?’ It’s a strange and loaded question. What they really mean is ‘Is this how you make money?’, as though somehow money is the currency by which all human activity must be measured and validated. While I would love my dive trips to be sponsored, alas at this stage I pay for all of these adventures myself. When I tell people ‘I’m retired’, they always look at me strangely and reply ‘But you’re too young to be retired’ and of course they are absolutely right.
I try to put off telling strangers that I no longer work due to terminal illness for as long as possible so that they have an opportunity to get to know me before they have the chance to pity or pigeon-hole me. Often, they have no idea that I have been diagnosed with advanced, late stage cancer until well after we’ve parted ways and they discover the truth via my blog or Facebook page. When they first meet me in person, they cannot see past the bliss on my face or the passion in my voice to the tumours that lie beneath the surface as I prattle on about my endless love for the ocean and all the beautiful creatures that inhabit it. Despite the fact that I have now completed palliative radiation, because I chose scuba therapy over chemotherapy, I simply just don’t look sick the way many cancer patients do.
So to answer their question: do I dive and keep my ‘scuba versus tumour’ blog for ‘a living’? ‘No’, I reply, ‘I do it for living’. Being submersed in the depths of the ocean is the only place that I ever feel truly alive. Someone told me recently that time spent underwater is not counted against the time we have left on land, so it makes complete sense to me to spend as much time underwater as humanly possible.
As we travelled out to dive with the Great Whites, we stopped for a fun dive with some gorgeous Australian sea lions. Why do these creatures play in the water with such energy, delighting in every opportunity for submersion and interaction? Watching how they glide and twirl, I can only think that the answer is because it brings them the purest pleasure and joy. Only here can they escape the anchor of land where freedom is limited and movement is cumbersome. Surely the shore is a much safer place to be, as their greatest predator, the Great White Shark, lurks nearby in the salty depths. But in order to be truly alive, to be nourished and fed and lost in playful abandon, sea lions must enter the ocean fearlessly, fully embracing the shortness and fullness of life. This is something that I identify with strongly.
And yet I am as fascinated with the predator as I am with the potential prey. There is something deep within me that yearns to face what most people fear and to find majesty where others only see monster. Like death, the Great Whites are nightmarish leviathans in the minds of most, taking the shape of horrors too deep and dark to contemplate. But I have no fear. I have looked the unknowable creature directly in the blackness of its unfathomable eye and have found the truth of myself and the monstrous beast equally affirmed. To the depths of my core, I find myself even more in awe of life and less afraid of death than I have ever been before.
My most sincere, heartfelt thanks go to the legendary Andrew Fox from Rodney Fox Expeditions for leading me on this adventure of a lifetime, for capturing every one of the incredible images in this post and for allowing me to share them on my blog. (If you are interested in cage diving with Great White Sharks, Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions is the only adventure group in the world that can offer you an ‘ocean floor elevator’ for certified divers as well as a surface cage for non-divers – I cannot recommend them highly enough!) Here’s our selfie to mark the occasion:
And I reserve my very deepest thanks to all of my readers who graciously and fearlessly take this extraordinary journey with me through my blog. Every opportunity for me to share my images, videos and reflections with you truly means as much to me as my first-hand experience of these underwater adventures themselves. I continue to work on editing the films of my life-affirming encounters with Great Whites, manta rays, turtles, leopard sharks and more from the past month and a half, and I look forward to sharing them all with you as soon as I possibly can. Stay tuned!
Oceans of love and blissful bubbles,
ps Tank you so much for taking the time to read through this blog post. While you are here, please feel free to check out some more of my underwater films and images …
Pps Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog by email to be notified of future posts and to follow Pink Tank Scuba on Facebook!