A cancer patient who was especially vulnerable to COVID-19 swapped her apartment for a Winnebago with her beloved rescue dog to escape the loneliness of the pandemic.
Kathleen Milbier, 42, was receiving chemotherapy treatment for stage four metastatic breast cancer when the pandemic hit in March 2020.
Former marketing manager Kathleen only left her apartment to go to and from the hospital as her weakened immune system, ravaged by chemotherapy, left her at extreme risk to the virus.
But in October 2020 Kathleen, from Los Angeles, California, gave up the apartment and her belongings and moved into a 60 square foot Winnebago to travel the United States with her small poodle mix Ernie.
She returns to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA every six weeks to have immunotherapy, but otherwise drives across the country safely seeing friends and family, by staying in their driveways.
Kathleen said: “I did nothing in LA. I was in my apartment for six months.
“I couldn’t go to the grocery store, all I could do was go to the hospital for treatment. It was so lonely.
“It was really tough to think that would be my life for the foreseeable future if I didn’t make a change.”
Once Kathleen’s health improved and her hospital visits became less frequent, she broached the idea of van life to her oncologist.
She added: “I was able to convince them of this lifestyle. I did a lot of research and I wanted to safely visit family and friends.
“I bought a Winnebago Travato van and moved into it with Ernie on October 1, 2020.
“I gave up my apartment, got a small storage unit, purged as much as I could, and whatever could fit into my 60sqft van is what I have.
“I couldn’t live my life waiting and not living life with this diagnosis.”
Kathleen set off from California and drove cross country to Cape Cod in Massachusetts to visit friends and family.
She took rigorous safety precautions to ensure she stayed COVID-free on the road.
Kathleen added: “Everyone wore masks outside, no one was allowed inside my van as much as they wanted to see it.
“My van was a germ-free zone just in case.
“If my niece and nephew wanted to come in, they would have masks on and use hand sanitizer and all the windows would be open.
“Now that I’m fully vaccinated there’s a lot more leeway so I can go into their houses and enjoy a home cooked meal.”
Kathleen’s experience with breast cancer amid the pandemic taught her to prioritize the things in her life that gave her joy.
She said: “Friends and family thought I was absolutely crazy to do this but I’ve seen more people in a safe way and done more in the last ten months than I have in years.
“It made me slow down and take a step back and know where my priorities are: living life, seeing friends and family, and travel.”
She added that being on the road with Ernie has enriched the experience.
“Ernie was rescued with 13 other dogs from a hoarding situation.
“He has been my therapy dog and my wingman.
“He’s been able to see the world – it’s almost like he lived such a hard life over the last few years and so did I.
“Now we can live our best lives and explore the United States.”
The pair have so far visited national parks including Yellowstone in Wyoming, Grand Teton in Wyoming and Crater Lake in Oregon.
They have explored Arizona, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Kansas, Maine and Montana among many other states.
Although there is no cure for Kathleen’s cancer, thanks to her regular immunotherapy she said that she feels the healthiest she has since she was diagnosed in November 2018.
She added: “My hair is growing back. I’m able to go for walks with my dog and I’m on very few medications now.”
Kathleen has clocked up 20,000 miles on her Winnebago and added that she has no plans to give up van life anytime soon and calls it her “American dream.”
She said: “The American dream used to be the white picket fence and 2.4 kids.
“But my American dream is van life – you can be wherever you want, park where you want and safely live life.”