Before the 2007 film, of the same name, I’d never heard of the concept of the bucket list. While I never actually saw the film, I understand that the premise is: a couple of terminally ill cancer patients decide to tick off a list of things they want to do before they die. Or, in context; a list of things to do before they kick the bucket…

If memory serves, the idea of the film really resonated with a lot of people. There were tales of bucket lists popping up all over the place. Quite often from perfectly healthy people, in the flush of youth, using the idea to go out and live their lives to the fullest. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. More power to them.

Unless it spawned the phrase YOLO, in which case; damn them all to Hell…!

Anyway, when I was first diagnosed with cancer, I wasn’t sure how much time I would have left. This got me thinking down the bucket list route. Which, in turn, reminded me of the phrase, ‘Live every day like it’s your last!’

Well, it doesn’t take long to work out that living every day like your last, lacks something in the practicality department.

So many things are.

Ultimately, living every day like it’s your last has the potential to blow through an awful lot of money. In a remarkably short space of time! And while doing this will leave some amazing memories for the people left behind, there’s a reasonable chance that said memories will be swamped by the hardships of paying back all that debt.

That said, if it had turned out that I was short on time, I really liked the idea of spending it with Julie and the girls on a round-the-world cruise. At least, that is, until I gave it an extra minute of thought…

Firstly, we’d have had to take the girls out of school for a year. Presumably meaning that they’d have to drop a year? Thus resulting in the loss of all their friends, who would remain in the year group above. Alternatively, I suppose, I could’ve ‘home schooled’ them from the ship. I did, after all, graduate as a maths teacher that one time. But that would hardly make for a relaxing, care-free environment, where only happy memories were formed.

Secondly, we would have had to leave work to take care of itself. And we do have managers in place who are more than capable of making this happen. Plus, calls and video conferences could take place from any port of call. But, again, this is a far from relaxing prospect.

Thirdly, there is the cost. Actually, this is of least concern, mainly because there’ll be a reasonable payout on my death that would cover this. Still, it’d be a huge amount to blow through, to get the four of us around the world.

Fourthly, there’s the impact on the rest of the family. It’s all well and good spending months on a cruise ship on the other side of the world, but what about my parents? Their eldest son would be seriously ill and a very long and costly journey away. Likewise my brothers. And Julie’s family. And what about the kitties?!

Finally and, perhaps, most importantly, Julie and the girls had no interest in spending a year in a ship, thousands of miles away from their lives…

But that was a thought process that I genuinely went through. If those were to be my circumstances, I wanted to make as many memories as quickly as I could, to offset the ones I’d be missing later.

At least if I’d ‘Home Schooled’ the girls, I’d have actually got some use out of this qualification…!

But it doesn’t work like that. There really can be, ‘too much of a good thing’. Or, to put it another way, the Law of Diminishing Returns would quickly ruin the experience.

So, despite my plans being ill-formed and wholly impractical, I still experienced a very real sensation of disappointment when I worked out all of the above.

And this, I think, is the potential danger of the bucket list.

It is said that, come the end, you’ll be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do, than by the ones you did do (to paraphrase Mark Twain).

This seems to indicate that those memories of the stupid things you did during your life aren’t that important. You know, the ones that pop into your head when you’re driving, and make you swear out loud. Or when you’re in the shower. Or when you’re in the supermarket…

Look, it doesn’t matter where you remember them. Or whether or not they cause you to add another one to the list by inadvertently swearing in a public place. What matters is that, apparently, these memories of what you did do, pale into insignificance in comparison to those that you didn’t do.

If this is true and, frankly, that’s a big “if”, then that’s definitely something I want to avoid.

To which end, if there are things that you’ve always wanted to do, you should absolutely try and get them done while you can.

However, I really don’t see the point of sitting down and dreaming up a whole new list of things you feel you need to do before you die. That’s not really a bucket list, that’s more a wish list. A new list of things you wish you had time to do. Instead of existing dreams that you’ve always wanted to fulfill.

Because, by drawing up a new wish list, you’re potentially setting yourself up for a huge sense of regret, when your time comes. Particularly if Mark Twain was right…

Mind you, there’s no guarantee that he was right…
By A.F. Bradley, New York – steamboattimes.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11351079

To put this into context, and having thought through my own reality, I originally came up with the following bucket list:

  • Living to where I’ve been with Julie longer than I haven’t: 3 years
  • Seeing my daughters out of secondary school: 5 years
  • Seeing my daughters out of college: 7 years
  • Watching my daughters graduate from university: 10 years
  • Seeing my daughters married or settled: 15-20 years
  • Meeting my grandchildren: 20-25 years
  • Growing old with Julie: 30-40 years

This was written on 13th October 2014, when I had done the first three months of my chemotherapy. My liver resection had happened the month before and I was waiting to have my bowel surgery. Additionally, I’d just been given my five and ten year prognoses by the liver surgeon…

As you can see, my ‘Bucket List’ isn’t really a bucket list at all. It’s simply a list of key dates that I’d like to get to. At the time, the only one that it was statistically probable that I’d reach was the first one.

I’m currently 16 months away from ticking off the third one.

Which is nice.

In fact, it’s only in the very recent past that I’ve actually succumbed to the temptation of formulating a bucket list. Until the last six months, or so, I’d been having recurrences on such a regular basis that making any form of long term, or substantive, plans just seemed to be asking for trouble. But, last summer, I decided that if my imminent scan results were clear, I’d crystallise my bucket list.

They were!

So, I did:

  1. Get a book published
  2. Play hockey for Wales

Not a huge list, admittedly.

It turned out that I was eligible to play this year. Despite being 49. So I went to the trials but I wasn’t good enough. Not that I expected to be; being only one year into a two year plan. It was good experience though.

But these are the things that I really wanted to do. And, providing I put in the time and effort (and with a bit of good fortune) they were things I could do.

So, that was my list and I was already working towards it. The incentive for the weight loss that I made last year was primarily driven by the need to get in shape for selection for the Wales, over 50s side. The masses of painting and decorating I’ve been doing over the past few months was to clear my diary for the six months following the scan results I got last Wednesday.

Providing those scans were clear, it was full steam ahead on the bucket list. Six months of uninterrupted diet, exercise and writing.

Unfortunately, the scan results weren’t clear.

There’s a new tumour in my liver.

And the thing that’s hit me hardest, from this news, is the impact it’ll have on the carefully laid plans for my bucket list.

Now, it’s not to say that either of the items on my list have become impossible. Just that they’ve become that much more difficult.

In terms of preparing for selection for the 2021 hockey season, which runs from November 2020 to January 2021, neither radiotherapy or surgery is going to help my chances. Chemotherapy would end them entirely. And that’s assuming it’s a single course of treatment and then recovery. I won’t go into the scant details of my latest recurrence at this point. I’ll do a roundup at the end of the month. But it’s clear to see that this development is an obstacle to be hurdled, at the very least.

It doesn’t matter how you clear the hurdle, just that you do.
By Paolo Camera – https://www.flickr.com/photos/vegaseddie/3310049476/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8333269

For the writing, at least I have options.

I’d been planning on writing a novel and figured that the six months between scans was enough time to do so. But I no longer have six months between scans, I’ll be back to three. And the problem with that is that it only gives me two clear months. This is because I struggle with my mindset for the week after I get the results, whatever they are. And there’s a good three weeks of scanxiety in the build up to getting any given set of results.

That’s a month of wastage, in total. When the scans are six months apart, that’s ample time to get stuff done. I’d planned to limit myself to 1,000 words a day, to maintain focus and quality. This meant that I’d easily achieve a novel of 100,000 words in the five clear months. Also programmed into this routine was time to proof read the 1,000 words from the previous day, before writing anything new. I’d even allowed time to do a couple of hours of painting and decorating each day, between proof reading and writing, to digest and foment.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that it’s a saturated market and there was no guarantee that I’d get anything published. I do, however, have a great many book ideas outlined, in case a potential publisher or agent could be tempted. However, publishers and agents are fully aware that novelists who write a series of books offer better return than those who write only one. Consequently, given my history of recurrences, even if I do get one publishable book out, it may be the only one.

Far better, from the industry point of view, to give a chance to an author who it’s probable will get multiple books out.

Not that I’m going to give up, of course. There are now plenty of self-publishing options that might very well fit the bill.

Additionally, technically, it doesn’t have to be a novel. Maybe three months would be enough to collect the thoughts and experiences of the first year of my journey with cancer. Admittedly, the vast majority of that is already on my website…

But, because of this, it’s probably doable in the two clear months between scans.

Not that I plan to get ahead of myself again. I need to know exactly where I am with this recurrence first. And I won’t know that for a month, or so.

I know that I’ve gone into a lot of personal detail here but, hopefully, it illustrates my point.

Having come up with a bucket list, and then been hit by a set-back, I’m scrabbling to make things happen. Already I’m having to compromise on my list items, to increase the odds of them happening.

Scrabbling… get it?
I’ll get my jacket…!
Photo by SOULSANA on Unsplash

Would I be better to just forget the whole bucket list idea? Before I get too attached to the two items.

Would this inoculate me from a sense of regret, on my deathbed, if I don’t get them done?

On the other hand, would abandoning my bucket list be a way of giving up hope, leaving me demoralised?

Would I have been better off, not not having written a bucket list at all…?!

The problems with illnesses like mine is that they are subject to unexpected twists and turns. These can catch you off guard and floor you. And, at some point, you won’t be able to get up again…

And if, at such a point, you have unticked items on your bucket list, you’re going to be open to serious regrets.

So, is a bucket list worth it?

On balance, I’d say yes.

But only if it’s sensible.

My advice is to only list things that are genuine dreams that you’ve held for a significant period of time. Things that excite and inspire you. Things that give you drive and motivation. And, of those, only choose things that you have a realistic likelihood of achieving, given whatever your circumstances are.

To my mind, the best thing about a sensibly ambitious bucket list, is the happiness it brings. Working towards, and through, the items on your list will keep you feeling positive. And positivity is key in situations like this.

Besides, if you get to the end of your list, you can always add more…