By Megan Seckman

When Kendra Garvin, 44, was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer five years ago, she knew she had a choice to make.

Kendra had worked for 15 years as a cancer registrar, where it was her job to collect and record the tragic accounts of deceased cancer patients. She knew exactly what was ahead and the grim outcome of her diagnosis. She knew she could choose to succumb to being sick after the chemo, radiation, and immunotherapy to come, or she could truly live.

It took a cancer diagnosis for this island skipper to find her wings and choose to live.

“I want to live with no regrets. I don’t want to sit in a chair with this cancer and wish I would have done more. I don’t let cancer tell me what to do. Nah, it’s just a hump in my road and I gotta keep on movin’!” she says on a rainy afternoon with a heap of sunshine in her smile.

“I’ve lived more in these last five years than ever before. I didn’t even have a passport five years ago, but in these past five years I’ve been to California three times, Turks and Caicos, the Virgin Islands, on a Puerto Rican cruise, New York City, the Bahamas three times, Las Vegas, and Jamaica twice! And I’m leaving in 16 days to take my goddaughter, who now lives with me, to Disney (World) — but that’s another story,” she says with a sly wink.

Kendra’s favorite destination from her recent years of YOLO travel has been Jamaica. “I just love Jamaica. The people have so little — they live in their houses while they are waiting to fix them up, one section at a time, so they might not have roofs or walls while they’re saving up to complete their projects — but they are so happy! We’re so ungrateful here. I think I could live in Jamaica.”

Kendra recommends Jamaica to couples or groups of friends and went on both of her Jamaican trips with a group of girlfriends: once with her book club and the other time with 800 members of the women empowerment group “Power to Exhale.”

Kendra takes her flight pillow when traveling. The sandals come in handy for warmer climates.
Photos by Melissa Donald

Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean and is the birthplace of reggae, Rastafari, and all-inclusive resorts. Most visitors tend to stay at the resort for the duration of their vacation instead of exploring the large island. There are three resort destinations to choose from: Montego Bay in the northwest is beloved by golfers; Ocho Rios in the northeast appeals to adventurous types; and Negril is popular for beaches and upscale resorts. If you are considering a trip to the land of coffee, Bob Marley, and sugarcane, here are few of Kendra’s recommendations.

What to do

  • Snorkeling (Kendra tried this on her last trip, despite the fact she can’t swim!)
  • A dolphin excursion
  • Kayaking, parasailing, cream-colored beaches, waterfalls, blue mountains, and of course, reggae
  • Eat at “Scotchies”
  • Must see: Dunn’s River Falls, a famous waterfall in Ocho Rios

How to get there
Kendra flew Southwest with a stop in Atlanta; entire flight from Louisville was only 2.5 hours

Where to stay
Hotel Riu Palace: Although this adults-only all-inclusive hotel in Montego Bay retails for around $400 per night, Kendra was able to reserve a room for $150 through her “Power to Exhale” group (the group of 800 rented out the entire hotel).

Price range
Kendra guarantees it’s cheaper than Disney World. According to the U.S. News Travel Guide, it is the third most affordable Caribbean destination, just a smidgen more than Puerto Rico (and you’ll need a passport).