IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Jan’s travel memoirs: Patient winds her way across country in an RV

Patient Story

She came to IU Health Simon Cancer Center for treatment of kidney cancer and Jan Roth plans out her treatments allowing time to travel in her RV.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

She’ll tell you about her cancer. She’ll tell you about her treatment and how grateful she is to her oncologist IU Health Dr. Theodore Logan. But ask Jan Roth about her hobby and her face lights up.

She’s owned six campers in 20 years and has traveled to about 45 states. She’s soon to add about four more to that count. She turns 70 in June and plans to celebrate that milestone birthday with a trip to Canada. She’ll be joined by her 10-year-old mixed terrier, “Greta.” Sometimes a friend travels with her and sometimes she meets her sisters along the way.

“I travel to celebrate life,” said Roth. As she recently enjoyed a foot massage from Michelle Bailey, IU Health CompleteLife therapist Roth talked about her adventures. Their mutual interest was evident as the two exchanged a sort of “camper-life lingo.” Roth’s cancer journey began in 2017 when she was diagnosed with kidney cancer.

She went to her doctor when she felt a lump on her right side. It turned out her kidney had been overtaken by a tumor. The infected kidney was removed followed by six months of chemotherapy. At the end of her treatments, Roth began having lower back issues – a result of the chemotherapy. By the summer of 2018 she could barely walk and began working with IU Health endocrinologist Dr. Theresa Guise.

About a year and half ago, Roth started immunotherapy drugs providing fewer side effects than the chemotherapy and giving her body a jumpstart to fight off infection.

“It’s so new that no one really knows how much better it works. It is activating t-cells to go after the cancer. My tumors have shrunk or disappeared,” said Roth. A native of Iowa, Roth moved to Indianapolis to advance her education. She began working as a labor and delivery nurse and never left – except when she’s traveling in her RV.

These days she pulls a fifth wheel camper trailer behind her pick-up truck and is sometimes joined by her two younger sisters.

“We want to see the world by using a camper. Instead of sitting in an airport or aboard a cruise ship, we go with a camper in tow,” said Roth. “I love history and no matter when you go just when you think there is nothing there, you learn something about history.” She tells about touring the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Fulton, Mo. The church, first built in England was destroyed during WW II. In 1961 it was reconstructed stone by stone in Fulton commemorating Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain Speech” delivered in 1946 at Fulton’s Westminster College.

She talks about visits to Hyde Park, N.Y. and the historic site of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home, and Charleston, S.C., - the bombardment of Fort Sumter that caused the official start of the Civil War.

Roth makes a yearly jaunt to Munising Michigan where she parks her rig close enough to throw a stone in Lake Erie. She loads her camper with clothing and supplies for all types of weather and enough provisions to get her through two months.

“The beauty of camping is you get to the campground, set up your site and you can explore and meet other campers with similar interests,” said Bailey. “You can talk about fishing, hiking, drinking bourbon, or other places you’ve visited or want to visit.”

Roth once extended a trip when she was doing laundry in Yellowstone National Park and met some fellow campers headed south to some parks in Utah.

“I thought ‘I don’t have to get home so I can be spontaneous,’ and away I went,” said Roth. She lists Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park as one of favorites.

Roth’s other favorite travel spots are the Painted Desert of Arizona (especially at sunrise or sunset), the Badlands of South Dakota, and the white sands of Alamogordo, N.M.

“When people hear they have cancer they get a little different. Cancer is an experience like everything else in life – it has its up and downs,” said Roth. “It’s no different than a bad car accident or losing someone you love. I heard someone say recently that when you are faced with your mortality, nothing else is the same. I travel because there is a peace about standing next to a 300-year-old redwood tree or listening to the crickets under the night sky. It’s about truly living my life.”

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