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The bucket list: Cancer as a motivator

Updated on December 3, 2012

There are certain movies that leave an impact and the bucket list is certainly one of them. I must admit I had mixed feelings about it. A comedy about cancer, how tasteless is that? But once I understood the underlying message I changed my mind quickly.

Two cancer patients share a hospital room. They come from opposite worlds. One is the average Joe Plumber and the other one an obnoxious rich bastard. Soon it becomes pretty obvious that even all the money in the world can’t buy health. They hate each other’s guts but in the end their illness, the only thing they share, brings them together. That’s when the rich guy decides that if money can’t buy health, at least it can provide fun - lots of it. He pulls out a list of all the things he wants to do before he kicks the bucket and off they go on their journey around the world. No stone gets left unturned, no challenge is too big, no danger too threatening. After all, why should you worry about your parachute not opening when the thought of death has already invaded your brain? Now here comes the part that separates the movie from real life. Once we are in this kind of situation, even though life might look miserable, most of us will do anything to prolong it.

Another question is, can you still have fun after you have received the bad news? So I’m thinking, shouldn’t we make a bucket list early in life and have fun while the going is still good? Too many people keep saving the best for last (their retirement), only to find out that they won’t make it. There are millions of excuses why we can’t live our dream now: Job obligations, financial worries, no time, no drive. All this gets wiped out in an instant, when the big “C” hits you. Suddenly you find out that you are not indispensable, that even the flashiest marble monument won’t lift your spirits, that time becomes a precious asset and cancer your prime motivator.

Now, I’m not telling you that cancer is a blessing and that we should all embrace it. Maybe a few examples from my personal experience can explain what I mean.

A small introduction to the movie

Challenge instead of resignation

Last year, after getting bad news for the 2nd time, one of our friends decided that he wants to cycle from Vienna to Marseille. This shall be the cherry on top of his life. Hey, we are not talking about a little Sunday drive here: In order to fulfill his goal, he will have to cycle 2’000 kilometres, cross 43 major mountain passes and climb 42’900 altitude meters! We would describe him as a keen cyclist but certainly not a sports nut, and the fact that he is 70 years old and a prostate cancer patient won’t make it any easier. The idea seems to have had an amazing effect on our friend. Much to the surprise of his doctors, his health has not declined but improved tremendously and he is very close to making his dream come true. The mission will start this spring, as soon as the snow melts. Given his spirit, he should definitely make it. His wife has changed her priorities as well and will accompany him. After all, her job can’t buy time and that’s all that counts now. And who knows, maybe we will see them both cycling the world at age 90.

PS: Our friend and his wife have recently finished their bicycle trip from Vienna to Marseille over 43 mountain passes. Another thing ticked off their bucket list.

Take more time for the things YOU love

At age 64, one of my work colleagues had just undergone surgery and treatment for cancer of the mouth and throat. After the initial scare, he decided to make more time for himself and declared Saturday his personal day. As an arts and architecture lover he travelled the whole of Switzerland with a list of all the places he still wanted to see. Sadly he died a year later, just a couple of months after his retirement. Even though his last year consisted of tremendous suffering, he felt that it had been the best of his life, mainly because of his personal bucket list. Sometimes he regretted though that he hadn’t started it before.

Live your life NOW

Another friend was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after her retirement. Everything went well and what she learnt from this experience was never to take life for granted. Together with her husband she is traveling the world and given the length of their list, they probably won’t get bored for another 100 years. Last year, she nearly lost her husband to an aneurism, it was a close call. He now celebrates two birthdays, his official one and the day he nearly succumbed to death. He has fully recovered and his motto is “live life to the fullest – NOW”.

It's never too early to make your bucket list

My husband and I have both been touched by cancer. With a melanoma in its 4th stage, his odds of survival were slim. He didn’t accept his death sentence, after all he was only in his early 30s. Cancer doesn’t have an age, race or gender. My husband was lucky to survive 22 years ago, for some doctors it was a miracle. The cancer has left a few deep scars. He doesn’t believe in a healthy tan anymore and never wears shorts or T-shirts, especially in the peak of summer. Sometimes people make funny comments and call him Lawrence of Arabia, but he just shrugs it off. Better to look like an albino than to get killed by skin cancer.

I was wrongly diagnosed with breast cancer 4 years ago in my early forties. After 3 worrying weeks of mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy I finally received a clean bill of health. I now go for regular check-ups and appreciate the health that I always took for granted.

We have made our bucket list years ago and are busy working it off. Of course we will never get to the end of it as we keep adding on. There are some items on our list that will probably remain a dream, as we don’t have a millionaire friend or play in the lottery. I have learnt to enjoy the smaller things in life and if I had to die tomorrow, I wouldn’t have the feeling that my life had been empty or unfulfilled.

Have you made your bucket list yet?


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    • Sembj profile image


      8 years ago

      Nice hub and I am pleased to hear that both you and your husband have been able to survive adversity and potential tragedy with what appears to be grace in life as well as in your writing.

    • dearabbysmom profile image


      8 years ago from Indiana

      I love your bucket list philosophy, and I agree that when you accomplish something, the thing to do is just add another. That way you are really never "done"! Very inspirational hub, thank you!


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