I’ve always been a planner. When I was an American diplomat, I believed I would retire and live in Costa Rica.

That plan went awry when I met and married a man from Saudi Arabia. He was also in the diplomatic corps but represented the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia rather than the U.S. Instead of Costa Rica, my life went in a different direction – to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In 2008 the road of life presented yet another crossroads for my family.

That was the year both my husband and I began our individual battles with cancer.

I was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer in Saudi Arabia. My husband was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of acute leukemia. He began his treatment in Saudi Arabia, but in March 2009 we came to the U.S. to continue his treatment. Our destination was the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

By October 2009 my husband’s prognosis seemed favorable and I traveled from Houston to Charlotte to visit family in the Lake Norman area. We anticipated a return to Saudi Arabia before the end of the year.

Again those well laid plans were interrupted by a simultaneous relapse of my husband’s leukemia and a reoccurrence of my own breast cancer. Due to the seriousness of both of our conditions I stayed in the Lake Norman area for my treatment, where I had family who could look after me.

My husband remained in Houston, where more of his family joined him from Saudi Arabia. My husband put up a valiant fight against his leukemia, but he lost the battle in February 2010.

My own battle continues to this day.

As a result, I have decided to remain in the Lake Norman area, where I am close to my family and trusted physician.
I never anticipated that I would make my permanent home in the southern United States. I was born and raised in northwestern Pennsylvania not too far from “Dreary Erie” so to me, North Carolina is the South.

But between Pennsylvania and North Carolina I have traveled to more than 100 countries around the world. I blame this nomadic bug for travel and adventure on my father. He loved both travel and history in addition to being a gifted storyteller. He made history come alive before my eyes with his colorful descriptions. Thanks to him and the zest he had for life, I saw most of America before I was 12 years old, and by my early 20s I had seen all of America. Therefore it just seemed natural to see the rest of the world, or at least as much I was able to.

This is the condensed story of how I became a resident of Huntersville. Because I continue my battle with metastatic breast cancer, which has spread, to my lungs, bones and abdomen, I live conveniently near to Presbyterian Hospital Huntersville where I receive biweekly treatments.
I live in a small apartment with my two precocious cats, Tripod and Saheba, whom I rescued from the streets of Islamabad, Pakistan, 12 1/2 years ago.

In regards to my own interests, I enjoy people, international affairs, travel, golf and writing. I have maintained a daily blog, since 2006 where I write about the culture, customs, traditions and typical life of Saudi Arabia.

It is a joy to be part of an American community again, even though I sometimes continue to have experiences of “reverse culture shock.” I have also found there are unique similarities between North Carolina and Saudi Arabia. For example, both places enjoy and take great pride in their sweet tea although Saudi’s prefer their sweet tea to be served piping hot in a miniature glass whereas North Carolinians prefer their sweet tea cold and served in a large glass with lots of ice.

I will enjoy sharing differing views, perspectives and life experiences through this weekly column as well as the appreciation of being a resident of one of North Carolina’s great communities.

Carol Fleming lives in Huntersville with her two cats, and you can read more of her thoughts at www.americanbedu.com. She can be reached at admin@americanbedu.com.