The Lessons of Cancer…Bucket List

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie “The Bucket List”.  In it, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman portray two terminally ill men who are total opposites.  They escape from the cancer ward and embark on an around the world trip with a wish list of to-dos before they die.  I saw that movie before I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer.  While watching it, I remember thinking, “Oh that’s what I would do if I ever was told I had cancer.”

Well, this lesson of cancer has been quite the contrary.  I have always had a love of travel. My discretionary spending has often gone towards travel as it has been a priority.  I’ve visited 49 states (North Dakota is the missing state) and have traveled extensively in Mexico and the Caribbean.  I have been fortunate enough to travel to Europe on numerous occasions.  But since cancer, I find I am more satisfied with the smaller things in life.  No longer do I have to have that big trip looming in the future to get me through “ordinary” life. Now I am overjoyed with ordinary life.  In my new world as a cancer survivor, I notice I have that same joy and excitement I used to get when I traveled to a foreign land, but now I am finding it every day close to home.

Recently I had the privilege to take my oldest friend (we met in kindergarten) for a medical test at her local hospital.  She lives 45 miles north of where I live.  She and her husband had recently moved into a new house which I had not seen as yet.  So this was the perfect opportunity to help her and see her new home.  While visiting her home, I had a greater appreciation for my friend’s ability to create a warm and cozy home, and for her gift of decorating.

Now that I am a pro at hospitals, I have learned how to make visiting a hospital an excursion!   At the hospital gift shop, I truly marveled at the eye of the buyer who had amazing taste and diversity in such a small gift shop.  When I spoke to the nurses who were attending my friend, I felt real joy in listening to what they had to say.

After my friend’s test was over, we had lunch at a delightful, quaint restaurant and visited some local shops in the charming town where she lives.  Had we been in France, it could not have been more inviting.  Now I so much appreciate small things like picturesque towns close to my home and new restaurants that don’t have to be a world away.

So often in my “old life” I would think, “Oh, if this would happen, I would be happy.”  In cancer survivor mode, I wake up and I am happy. The details don’t matter as much.


  1. How beautifully put. There’s no place like home. It is a Wonderful Life Denise. Thanks for the reminder to all of us.

  2. This is wonderfully refreshing to hear! You are so right. Whenever I feel myself taking advantage of life, I think back to being back in hospital on a drip and not even being able to open a bottle of water by myself and I appreciate the simple things like just being able to make a cup of tea! It’s a shame it takes something like cancer to make us appreciate the simple things though.

  3. So beautifully stated. Here in Florida I find myself moving slowly to catch a glimpse of the travels of our resident gheckos. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some have curly tails some not but what a treasure!

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