A Bucket List to a Survivor’s List
There are countless movies, blogs, and books dedicated to creating a bucket list. It has various names, but the idea is the same. To make a list of all the things you want to do before you die. I’ve had one for years. I didn’t necessarily go back and check things off, but it was fun writing it. Just thinking about all the things you want to do in your life. I had traveled to eight countries and visited eight US states. Not a lot but I slowly was seeing the world.
Then in November 2015, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Triple Negative breast cancer at the age of 41. It was really a shock. What I thought was a routine checkup turned into an event that changed my life forever. I didn’t have any immediate family history of the disease. No history of cancers at all. I wasn’t experiencing any symptoms. The doctors were optimistic I would come through ok, but I couldn’t think past the next appointment. My treatment lasted 8 months. When you create a bucket list, you never put a concrete expiration date on it. I was scared that I am getting close to mine.
In the middle of treatment, I took inventory of all the things I had done in my life so far. I had bungee jumped in Las Vegas, skydived twice, flew a plane. I’ve gone to Thailand and Rome. I have done things that people never got a chance to check off their list. I came to terms that if I was going to die of cancer, I was happy with how I had lived.
After several months I finished treatment and was declared cancer free. You are then given a 5-year survivorship plan filled with check-ups and test. It is very stressful having to go to get test every three to six months to make sure cancer hadn’t returned. Instead, I was going to spend my time in between visits planning trips and doing things that brought me joy.
This was when I created my blog Myles to Travel. Here I wrote a different list. My list is named Chasing 50 countries & Experiences in 5 Years. This was going to be my new survivorship plan.
The first countries I was going to visit on my list were to Australia and New Zealand for four weeks. This trip was a lot more emotional than I had expected. I couldn’t stop thinking that almost a year prior I didn’t think I’d ever get to experience this. I got to hold a koala bear, feed kangaroos and visit the movie set from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. It was really a life-changing experience. My one-year cancerversary was on my last day in Sydney, and I got to live it twice. Once in Australia as I was boarding a flight back to the US and again when I arrived in Los Angeles. Not exactly a groundhog day moment I’d want, but at least I was alive to experience it.
Unfortunately, a month later I fractured my ankle in a fall. Two weeks after that I was admitted to the hospital with deep vein thrombosis commonly know as blood clots. I was home alone, and suddenly I couldn’t breathe. As I was sitting on the couch trying to catch my breath, I remember thinking I was going to die today. This is the second time within a year I’ve had this thought. I caught my breath and started walking to my bedroom. Before I could make it there, I couldn’t breathe again. This time I called 911.
After the doctors ran some test, it showed the blood clots had broken off and were in my lungs. They said it was a good thing I came in when I did because I could’ve died. Your chance of getting blood clots increases when you’ve had breast cancer, then I flew for 14 hours from Sydney to Los Angeles, and then I fractured my ankle. A triple threat the doctors were calling it.
Starting Over Again
After a few months of rest, my ankle healed. I was on blood thinners for 6 months, and it cleared up all of the clots. Now it is was time to get back to my list. I am joining a group tour to India. Next a trip to Dubai. Then I’ll end the year with a yoga retreat in Mexico.
Before I go, I am trying to conquer one thing that was on my bucket list for years. To learn how to swim. I have taken lessons before and could swim a little, but I don’t feel comfortable enough to swim in the ocean. That is something I’d like to do. So I signed up for swimming lessons. I’m getting the hang of it, but I haven’t signed up for any swimming excursions just yet.
I’ve remained cancer free for one year. The goal isn’t necessarily to check off all 50 things in 5 years. The list was my way to recover. I needed something else to focus on besides cancer. Instead of things to do before I kick the bucket list. My list is things to do as I live and to survive.
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