When people talk about having a Bucket List, they picture themselves in the same physical and mental condition as - and usually in better financial condition than - they are at the time, being able to do things that they want to complete in their lifetimes. We thought of a Bucket List in that same way, until Dad couldn’t.
Two days after Dad’s surgery, the oncologist came to see him in the ICU and, with my mother and my youngest sister there, told him about the cancer. Dad asked what would happen if he didn’t have chemo or some kind of treatment, and the doctor said, "Your lifespan would be shortened considerably.”
In what Dad seemed to consider to be the worst part of the news, the doctor told him that he would not be able to drive a car or to go to work during the treatment period, which he said he anticipated to be about for six weeks. The oncologist said that, if they could get the cancer into remission, it was highly likely that the cancer would recur despite treatment but that there were different options including clinical trials that could be considered at that point. Dad asked how soon treatment could be started ("The sooner the better!" Dad said.), and the oncologist told him he would need more time to recover from the surgery but that chemo would probably start before Thanksgiving.
|Dad, working on his Original Bucket List, in better days|
The no-sleep persisted, and so we had lots of time to talk to Dad. With the tentative plan for chemo in place, he began to think about other plans for the future. We all desperately wanted to have something for him – and for us – to look forward to, and thus Dad’s Revised Bucket Plan began to take shape. There wasn’t going to be any skydiving or mountain climbing for him, but there were still things he wanted to do, and we wanted so badly for him to be able to do them.
|Another thing ticked off the Original Bucket List|
One of his biggest original goals was happening one week later – the Ironman Triathlon – and it was evident that he wasn’t going to make it. Right after his surgery, he asked if I would call and see if his registration could be deferred; he thought he could do the Ironman the next year instead. Cruelly, though, he gradually realized that wasn’t going to happen, and, over the course of the next few weeks, he kept having to change his ideas about what would be possible for him. Finally, he ended up focusing on wanting to be on a relay running team for a long-distance event; he and I spent hours one night looking up such events and finally settled on one called the Illinois River to River Relay in which an 8-person running team tag-teamed to cover a distance of 80 miles, with teamwork and covering the distance being more of a goal than speed. He said, “I could tell the team ahead of time that I might have to walk a little bit, just in case.”
|Dad and one of his best friends Bob at the 100th Boston Marathon|
|Dad with one of his best friends Wayne after they finished the 100th Boston Marathon|
And last - but certainly not least - on his Revised Bucket List was to get a cat. He saw this as possibly the biggest challenge of the things on his list; my mom isn’t a big fan of cats, and so he knew he would have to convince her that it was a good idea before he could execute his plan. We spent lots of time debating about how he should approach her and then, after he said he thought she was “starting to cave,” we talked and talked about what the cat should be named. It took him several days to decide on a name, but he was clear all along about what he wanted in a cat: “one that's not too young but not too old, that will be friends with the dogs [their two greyhounds] and that will be a lap cat.”
What I learned from watching my dad revise his Bucket List so quickly and so drastically is that there is little difference between something that makes you happy and something that doesn’t; the trick is to convince yourself that they are the same. On one hand, it ripped my heart out to see a man who was so enthusiastic and energetic having to resort to modifying his Bucket List, but on the other hand I was so incredibly inspired and touched that this same up-for-anything guy was so humble and willing to make those sacrifices so as to become satisfied with a Plan B, something different and ultimately less but fulfilling and sweet all the same.
Up next … Part 8 – Safety First