By: Alyssa Burkus Rolf
Many people are still talking this week about Alice’s Bucket List, a blog started earlier this month by Alice Pyne, a 15 year old Hodgkin’s lymphoma patient in the UK who is no longer responding to treatment. She has started writing to share with the world how she is spending her time “before I have to go”. It is an amazing story.
It has prompted me to think about my own bucket list. I’m a cancer patient – should I have one too?
If you aren’t familiar with the idea of a bucket list, the term was first coined in a movie of the same name – friends who each face a terminal diagnosis, spending time doing things they’ve always dreamed of doing before they “kick the bucket”. Mostly about motorcycles and skydiving, macho guys riding into the sunset.
Alice’s list is poignant, capturing her readers’ hearts with teenage dreams and acknowledgement of the current reality of her illness, as she knows a few things are already out of reach. It’s a shiny list of 15 year old wishes, yet she opens with a call to action, encouraging everyone to register on their national bone marrow registry, an important test that can provide cancer patients with a bone marrow match (the swab test is easy – go to https://www.blood.ca/en/stemcells/donating-stemcells/stemcell-eligibility-and-registration for the One Match program in Canada).
Up until now, it has never occurred to me to have a bucket list, or even to think about anything that might be being left undone or unsaid. While faced with an uncertain prognosis, I never wanted to entertain the thought that I was going to be anything but able to race past the possible end date I was given. I focused hard on being a regular person, with regular hopes and dreams, and tried not to think about the extraordinary things I might want to do if faced with only weeks or months to live.
But why should we wait until faced with a terminal illness or fixed timeframe to set larger-than-life goals for ourselves? Why is it only when we finally realize that life is precious, to be treasured and spooned out in measured doses without a drop wasted that we start truly living beyond what our daily life tells us is manageable or possible? Willingness to strive for new heights seems to be brought in sharp focus by the news that we might not have until “some day” to get it all done.
For me, life since my diagnosis has focused simply on living. Now, ten years later, I know that anything is possible. Impossible is nothing.
My challenge to you is this: if the blinders are off and reality can be faced head on by a brave 15 year old, are there realities or new goals you could be considering in your own life? How can we continue to settle for just ok? In the face of Alice’s fate, how can we not take a moment to breathe, to reflect, to start our own brave list?
It breaks my heart that she knows, at her young age, that it is unlikely she will ever get to Kenya or train dolphins, but I love that these are still on her list. Even as she faces what she believes is a certain outcome, she is not willing to compromise on her list of dreams. She didn’t just create a list of things to do, but was willing to be bold enough to keep even the unreachable ones out there. When is the last time you can honestly say you did the same? When did you create a life list that could capture the attention of the world with its lofty goals?
Alice, wise beyond her years, says it best: “You only have one life . . . live it!” We hear you Alice. Thank you for sharing your dreams with us, and showing us how to look at our own lives with a new lens, a new way of living.
Here’s to you, Alice!
PS – I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, or ideas. You can reach me via email at alyssa(at)lymphoma(dot)ca, or follow me on Twitter here: @alyssaburkus