By Debbie Adams
Lexi and Chas Goodson met at the last ever Roanoke Valley Horse Show in Salem in 2014 when they were 16 years old. They married seven years later in May 2021. Their love story has not been traditional, and it has definitely not been easy.
Chas was diagnosed with cancer on his 21st birthday in October 2018, two years before they were married. The initial diagnosis was testicular cancer, a disease that affects one in every 250 males, usually young to middle-aged men. His had spread through his lymph nodes to his lungs.
“It was completely by accident that we caught it the first time,” Chas said. “I thought I had a hernia and instead I had a mass the size of a soda can on my lungs.”
He underwent surgical procedures at a local hospital, followed by other treatment options– chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and living more holistically.
There were ups and downs through his four-plus years of treatment that he is still undergoing; almost reaching remission, then recurrence. For one span of time, he was in remission for almost two years. Lexi says he has “had any complication you could imagine.”
Chas is an operator for a natural gas pipeline based mainly in North Carolina and has continued to work between treatments. He and Lexi travel from one job to the next living in a 40-foot Keystone Cougar fifth wheeler with their rescue dog, Roscoe, their “four-legged son.”
Just weeks before their wedding, the couple discovered that Chas’s cancer had returned but decided to proceed with the ceremony.
Chas had chemotherapy for a week before they were married in a pouring rainstorm at Explore Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway, also the scene of their first date. They left their reception a little earlier than everyone else because he wasn’t feeling particularly well. The day after their wedding, his hair fell out from the chemo.
“The relapse called for immediate high dose chemotherapy treatment with specialists in Indiana,” Lexi says.
Rather than going on a honeymoon, they spent their first two months of marriage in a hospital room in Indiana, nine hours away from their entire support system.
Their local oncologist had recommended world-renowned specialist Dr. Lawrence Einhorn at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center, who has revolutionized the treatment of testicular cancer. The treatments involve a mix of high dose chemotherapies and stem cell transplants. Chas compares the specific targeted therapy that Einhorn uses as being like “heat-seeking missiles” destroying the cancer cells. (Dr. Einhorn successfully treated bicyclist Lance Armstrong for the same cancer that Chas now has.)
Lexi says she “vividly remembers” the days of her husband’s high dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant as “one of his toughest times. He could hardly stand on his own, but he was so determined to get up and walk every single day regardless of how he felt. It was a very difficult mental and physical struggle every day for us both that really made us grow closer.
“It amazed me that even when he felt his worst, he was still thinking of other patients and nurses and constantly trying to get everyone to smile and laugh during his own struggles,” she continued. “He was well-known for his purple ‘super cape’ the high five buddy pole, and his encouraging attitude.”
The Goodsons became “family” with Isaac McCurdy who has the same type of cancer and was receiving the same high dose chemo and stem cell transplant at IU at the same time as Chas. During treatments, they pulled each other up, insisting that the other one “eat good, drink, and move” even when they had no desire to.
Last October (2022), doctors discovered his cancer had returned again, Chas says “with a vengeance.” Doctors found a new tumor the size of a baseball in his lung.
Chas and Lexi now head to Indiana every 28 days for treatments. The goal currently is “to maintain” more than to “cure.” He is currently in Stage 3-C.
Last November, the couple decided they were tired of cancer “living their lives,” and decided to take back control. At the end of January– with the blessing of family– they set out on a cross-country adventure, due back at the end of February for the next round of treatments.
Lexi says, “We have spent the last four years revolving our life completely around cancer, fear, and sickness. This year we decided to put our health, happiness, experiences, and dreams first, and not let cancer control us. Life is too short to dream about things and not put them to action. We have talked about traveling across the country for so long and we are finally speaking it into existence. We plan to spend the next 28 days headed towards the American southwest and spend most of our days exploring New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.” They left on Jan. 30.
They have made the choice to live in the moment, one day at a time. They still have fears; they still have tears, but they have chosen to live joyfully, as normally as possible, and not dwell on the negatives.
“We are fighting harder than the cancer is,” Chas says.
The Goodsons are traveling in a Toyota Tacoma, outfitted with an overlanding rig they built. It’s nicknamed “Freeda,” because she has made them “Freeda go wherever we please.” Roscoe has joined them for the journey– Chas says Roscoe loves traveling so much, they “have to pry him out of the truck at times.”
Lexi came up with the perfect career to fit their lifestyle— she has established her own travel agency— Inner Compass Travel— which she can run fully remotely from any location—from home, on a trip, at a hospital— wherever they are. They have been documenting the entire trip on the Inner Compass Travel page.
Chas does the driving— something he loves. Lexi works on her travel business and journaling about their trip, growing the business by “word of mouth.”
She has always loved traveling, something she inherited from her grandmother, a nurse, who achieved her goal of traveling to all 50 states and even abroad many times. She left Lexi her suitcase when she passed away, a gift Lexi treasures and continues to add travel miles to it.
The three spend most nights (even ones where the temperature has fallen to nine degrees) sleeping in their rooftop tent.
Their itinerary has included traveling from North Carolina to Florida, across the southern United States through Mississippi, Louisiana, into Texas, then New Mexico and Arizona, with plans for Colorado, Utah, and Nevada yet to come. As of Feb. 17, they had traveled 5,000 miles.
“We have been to a lot of places in our lifetime, but I am pretty sure Sedona, Arizona is the most phenomenal of them all,” Lexi says. “We tackled a hike that the locals claim as theirs and keep hush-hush from the general public. It is very challenging to get to, but has the most rewarding view from the top with ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs etched into the rock.”
They have done some off-roading through the Cococino National Forest, encountered snowy conditions in Flagstaff, Arizona, trekked through the Painted Desert, the Crystal Forest, the Blue Badlands, and other natural wonders. They have slept on the side of canyon cliffs. Much of their trip has been along Route 66.
Chas says the trip hasn’t been physically difficult—at one location he was able to complete a strenuous six-mile hike even with half of his lung removed. The one time he struggled was at Cadillac Ranch in Texas where it was so cold and windy that “it took my breath away.”
They have encountered “bizarre weather” at times, from sunshine to gusting winds, followed by blizzard-like conditions and back to sunshine in a day’s time.
They spent a memorable night in Palo Duro Canyon, in Texas, the second largest canyon in the U.S., setting up camp in the backcountry with the canyon practically to themselves (and lots of coyotes). “Just us in complete solitude and serenity.”
They have met “incredible people” along the entire journey and shared their poignant story. They have become fast friends with many– some on spiritual journeys of their own, some just vacationing.
By the time they return, the Goodsons will have visited 25 states on this trip. They will be moving back to North Carolina after the next round of treatments. Chas’s boss urged them to make the trip, saying, “your spot will be here when you get back.”
Lexi’s mom, Angie Burton, describes the couple as “two remarkable young people who have found a way to overcome their fear and what they’ve been dealt. They have traveled all over and changed the lives of people they have met along the way. They are tired of cancer controlling them and are trying to take their lives back. They have inspired me and so many others—we have learned so much from their journey.”
So far, the Goodsons say this trip has taught them to “live each day, be nicer, care a little more, and love each other more every day.” They have met “cool people,” heard their stories, and gotten some perspective on their own lives, what they are facing, and how to face it best. “It has humbled us and made us grateful for every day.”
If you want to see the beautiful photos and read the commentary from their trip so far, visit https://www.facebook.com/Innercompasstravel0/.