Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Part 7 – A Revised Bucket List

Continued from Part 6

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
Later that day, Dad was transferred from the Neuro-ICU to a room on the Neuro floor of the hospital.  (I was so relieved that the doctors wanted him to be on that floor instead of the Oncology floor.  It seemed to me to be a symbol of Hope at the time, but we later found out the quality of care at that hospital was actually better in Oncology.)  Some of Dad’s tubes and wires were removed, and, with a walker and lots of assistance and supervision, including constant reminders to keep his hands on the grips of the walker, he started to be able to move from the bed to a reclining chair or the bathroom and back. 

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
Dad’s Revised Bucket Plan took many forms over the upcoming days and weeks; we spent countless hours talking to him and to each other about what he would be able to do for the rest of his life, with a particular focus on quality and fun and fulfillment.  Dad already had more than the average person under his belt as far as major life accomplishments (for example, he’d run the Boston Marathon twice, and he once ran a half-marathon down Pikes Peak - a.k.a. "El Capitan" - in the Rocky Mountains), but he had many more goals left to accomplish.

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
The focus of the second part of his Revised Bucket List was family.  He wanted to go on a big family vacation – at first to a beach (“Preferably to the Pacific,” he said.) and then that got revised to just going to a lake or a river nearby with the whole family.  He said he really wanted to go to an NBA game with his children, my two younger sisters, my brother (from my dad’s first marriage), and me.  “Long-term,” he said, “I’d like to be around to dance at my grandchildren’s weddings.”  I thought that was a kick-ass goal, especially since his youngest grandchild wasn't quite two at the time.

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

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