This week a friend of mine posted on Facebook:
“You are never too old or too young to be working ‘the bucket list”….love having the freedom and ability to live mine…so much gratitude….how about you??!!”
Love it for sure girlfriend….And yes, how about me?
I know, I know we cancerchicks don’t like to often let our lil’ minds roam to thoughts of bucket lists. It kinda has a morbid, uh- oh, I better hurry up and get it done feel to it. It makes us girls think about death when honest, the last thing we want to do is think about death because we tend to think about death all the time when we have cancer. It’s all we can do to ward off feelings that recurrence is just around the corner and sometimes, thinking about bucket lists has a come hither grim reaper feel to me (but admittedly as we all know, I am a little neurotic.)
Ironically, and despite my fears, cancer actually gave me a carte blanche to knock out the list a little earlier than planned, and not wait a minute longer to do the things I wanted to do. Despite its sinister personality, cancer was very permission giving, like a parent who always says, “Oh okay, what the heck!” So at an accelerated and quite happy clip, I was able to turn up the metronome of my life and make a huge dent in that list in the last few years.
But here is the thing I realized; it was not because I wanted to do the things on it before I died, but simply because I wanted to do them. Perhaps because I almost died, and because I had cancer, and now realized that this very careful girl was allowed to do things that seemed frivolous and a tad immature and extra large.
It is as my friend said, “the freedom to live your bucket list.” I suddenly had freedom, courtesy of breast cancer.
I am an easy girl to make happy, really I am, extravagant things neither appeal to me or make my list. Some of my favorites ticked off in recent years include things like seeing Rock City, and taking my kids to ride the wooden escalators at Macy’s in New York like my mom did with me as kid. Future destinations of desire include Mt. Rushmore, Muir Woods, taking my son to eat Esskay hot dogs while seeing his first MLB game at Camden Yards, seeing the Weeki Wachee Mermaids, and learning to surf. But for sure, the list has been rapidly whittled down thanks to cancer; not in a rush, not in a let’s get it all in before I die kinda way, but in a why wait a minute longer, HEY! There’s extra junior mint in the box kinda way.
I sit in a hotel room 6 hours from home as I write, after several days of driving my son up and down the eastern seaboard on college tours. As we drove hundreds of miles, giggling and and having some adult like conversations and just being together, it dawned on me that cancer survivors also have a different bucket list. One that isn’t the places we want to go, or what we want to buy or learn to do, but one comprised of the things we want to live long enough to experience and see come to pass.
Not what we want to do before we die, but live to see before we die. It is the cancer bucket list.
Talk about morbid, but bear with me.
When I got sick, I remember looking at my then 12-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter and wondering what would become of them if I did not make it. I grieved as I imagined all the things I would miss; seeing my daughter dressed for her first dance, my son graduate high school, seeing them get awards, and chaperoning field trips. I felt such loss at the thought that I would never see them to adulthood, and get to have adult-like conversations with them about the complexities of the world. I imagined I might miss seeing their weddings and my grandchildren, and helping my daughter pick her wedding dress.
I worried I wouldn’t be there to have their backs for all of their heartache and joy and to see to it that one day, they could confidently set their boats out to sea. I just wanted to live long enough to see them figure out where they belong in the world. This anticipatory grief stretched into all the things I anticipated I might miss because of cancer.
As I think about post cancer life, it occurred to me that some of the things I am talking about here are the things that people kvetch about that they have to do in life, like say, chaperone a school field trip, or take their kid dress shopping for prom. These things were magically morphed by cancer to things I now get to do, that I am lucky enough to get to do. So much gratitude indeed.
There’s an old saying, “get busy living or get busy dying.” Just to clarify here, the cancer bucket list is about the former, and the regular old bucket list is about the later.
As I drove this week, I thought about the oh so many tingly wonderful things I have lived to see; all of the cancer bucket list items I have knocked off in the last five years of living. Things I have not only seen but “seen to.” Seeing my daughter find her passion in photography and crossing over into womanhood, seeing my son perform Shakespeare and seeing the very cool and compassionate and funny adult he has become. Seeing them get awards and honors. Seeing how they have been illuminated by being in the right schools; schools that I have seen to that they got in. I have “seen to” it that they act with compassion to friends, that they don’t become that girl or that guy, that they have manners and push themselves and reach higher than they think they can. But more so, it is what I have seen; gosh I have seen so much, so many many things both ordinary and extraordinary, things I thought I would never live to see.
I have had, as my Facebook friend said, “the ability to live my bucket list.”
It is grand and satisfying for sure, taking that mental pencil and crossing off cancer bucket list items. But don’t get me wrong, the other bucket list is still a blast to knock off too. In fact, it’s even better after cancer because somehow all those things on that list, when we finally get to do them are even fruitier and sweeter; it’s like they taste even better.
So last night, tired and spent from days of touring colleges, I found myself in box seats behind home plate at Camden Yards, Esskay frank in hand. I turned to my right to see a 17-year-old with a two day old beard, enjoying the game and soaking up the experience. As I secretly glanced at his profile, (trying to imprint it in my mind’s eye forever) I said to myself, “Yes…….yes.” Cancer bucket list item # 1 is done. I have lived long enough to see him to figure out who he is and to see him figure out why he is here. I have seen to it that he gets there. I am here to give that reluctant push of his boat out to sea and to see him closing in on the man he will be.
Thank you God.
It is sweetness and satisfaction and completion and relief like I have never known. It is a new and fresh grief I never imagined I’d live long enough to know; yet it too, is sweet.
Golly, that hot dog last night tasted better than ever, and so does this life.
“I have more memories than if I was a thousand years old.”~Charles Baudelaire