Since my last post, Kicking my “Bucket List,” I remembered another reason why I’m not a big fan of bucket lists. I had meant to include it in that post, but I forgot, so think of this post as an addendum to that post.
People don’t always do what you expect them to do. In popular culture, in movies like “The Bucket List,” characters with supposedly terminal illnesses are expected to break outside of their normal lives and daily routines to live the life they’ve always wanted to live or to do the things they’ve always wanted to do. The specter of their imminent deaths is enough, presumably, to spur them to rethink their values, alter their personalities and embrace a grab-all-the-pleasure-excitement-adventure-etc while you can mindset. Good-bye boring old life and hello ashrams and sky-diving!
That’s the Hollywood perception. In real life, people with supposedly terminal illnesses just want to hang on a little bit longer to their old lives, boring and uneventful as they might be. They are changed, no doubt about it, but the changes are often more subtle. Instead of blowing through their life savings on whirlwind adventures, or leaving their friends and families behind while they “find themselves,” they just might become more introspective, re-evaluating their priorities, and asking the big questions like “why am I here?” They may reconnect with their spiritual beliefs and with friends and family. It’s important work, but it’s not the kind of stuff that makes blockbuster movies.
The other reason that real life doesn’t follow the Hollywood narrative is that in real life, people with supposedly terminal illnesses are often quite sick. They simply don’t have the strength to do those things. They might also be in a great deal of pain and they might be dependent on medical care. Also, they might be too broke because, in real life, serious illness can get seriously expensive. That’s the reality for most people. Who has time for sky-diving even if they wanted to, which mostly, they don’t.
You may have noticed by now that I have made multiple references to “supposedly terminal illnesses.” This is because, in my own case, I have stopped thinking of my cancer diagnosis as a guaranteed death sentence. The melanoma might kill me, or it might not. Right now, I’m in pretty good shape, I feel good and my last scans were beyond encouraging, as they showed No Active Disease. This doesn’t mean that I feel that I’m completely out of the woods. Melanoma may always be like a sleeper cell terrorist group hiding in my body, just waiting to strike when my defenses are weak. I’m always on the lookout for some ominous signs of recurrence, so it’s never completely out of my mind, but I try not to let it take over my life, which is mostly pretty normal these days. I’m not one of those really sick sick people, and for that I am grateful.
I hope that no one with cancer or any serious, life-threatening illness has to think of their diagnosis as a guaranteed death sentence. I know that I am fortunate to have the good health that I have. In spite of the specter of melanoma and the constant presence of diabetes, my life is good. I would like for everyone to have hope and to have that most precious of all commodities, a little more time to live their old lives, on their own terms.
Next post: What I have been up to lately with the gift of time that has been given to me.