World Travel After Recovering from an “Incurable” Illness

I’m Phoebe. I’m part of the millennial clan that believes you need to do things a certain way in the Western world: go to school, get good grades, go to university, get a job. I pretty much managed these steps, but I always knew I wanted to travel.

In 2012, in the midst of these steps, I contracted the subtropical virus, dengue— nicknamed “breakbone fever,” in reference to the levels of pain people experience when dengue laces itself within your nervous system.

Leaving the hospital, marginally better, I expected my symptoms and hoped for an eventual return to normality. Instead, I started to sleep 12 hours a day, I was diagnosed with depression, fainting on the tube began, and the pain remained. It was below the extreme description of “breaking bones” but seemingly getting further and further from normalcy.

For 18 months I pushed on, willing my “old self” to come back, but to no avail. It then took six months to finally surrender and be diagnosed with two chronic illnesses, PoTs and ME: illnesses not covered by medical insurance, shunned by society as a sign that the patients are just being lazy, and most importantly—very rarely curable.

Lying in darkness unable to walk, crippled by the weight of the illnesses slowly taking hold of my ever-weakening body, I couldn’t imagine anything closer to rock bottom. For this time in my life, the opportunity to travel was taken away, completely off the cards—and that was something I was adamantly not going to just take lying down.

The hardship of the uphill battle felt at times like I’d placed all my chips on red, without red even being on the table. These illnesses don’t rob you of the time so many tell us not to waste, but they do rob you of the ability to carve your own path and truly make that path yours.

I ran over the same thought lying on the office toilet floor, exhausted, crippled with pain, and needing my heart rate to settle as tears ran sideways down my cheeks. But what was worse? Living like this or dying? I’d think this before straightening my clothes, adjusting my makeup, and walking to my desk to answer the 50-odd emails that had accumulated in my inbox.

I admitted defeat. I could never be my previous self, but I wanted to at least get somewhere closer. I made the decision that every choice in my first six months of recovery was going to be for my health, from the food I ate, to when I could take a shower. Everything else in my life was sacrificed to try to help my health. This worked—two years along in March 2017, my doctor told me I was in remission of my illnesses. Now, I can make choices I previously thought had been permanently pulled from my life.

Now it is more nerve-wracking than ever. It felt like the words of the doctor upon initial diagnosis took away all choices in my life, and by some miracle, I had them all back on a platter in front of me. I am now becoming the second documented women in history to travel to every country in the world. I’m currently in Samoa, having sailed from Panama. I present to schools to spread my message: For everyone lucky enough to have the choice, go and do what you really want as soon as it is feasible—because the opportunity to make that choice could be taken away from you in a second.

About the Author | Phoebe Howlett

Phoebe Howlett's message is: "Don’t be ashamed of your story—it will inspire others." She blogs in the midst of becoming the second documented woman to travel to every country in the world after recovering from illnesses that are incurable in modern medicine. She is a promoter of female travel and invisible illness awareness, and she currently has no address to her name. Phoebe's female travel blog ( 

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