Last updated: January 2022
Writing a bucket list after you find out you have a terminal illness is an entirely different exercise than doing it before you are sick. I had always lived my life on the edge and dreamed of traveling afar. I loved photography and thought I would spend my days taking photos of the farthest reaches of the planet. Those would have encompassed my old bucket list.
Life before MBC
I was a photojournalist for 20 years in my past life which was the job I had dreamed about since I was five years old. Even as a kid, I never read the comics in newspapers. I just looked at the pictures and imagined the person taking them. They got to be in action, too. I got my first camera when I was ten from my dad, and I never looked back. I worked hard, to get myself through college and to find a job that was in short supply, and then another and for twenty years, I was that person on the other side of the picture.
However, by the time I was diagnosed, my body was already pretty messed up. I couldn't even pick up a jug of milk, so when I was told I had mets, I knew that my life had changed forever.
If you know Curly's Law*, then photography was my one thing. I was a poor kid, doing a rich kid's hobby, and I was able to make my way in. I had lost relationships for it, I had spent my life savings and more on it, and yet, with a whisper, it was gone.
One could say that there are very few positives to getting diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. In general, it's numerous doctor's appointments, pains of every kind, surgeries, then healing, followed by saying “no” to hanging out with your friends. And for someone like me, it's not being able to do the one thing that has defined you for your entire life. But I didn't care. I no longer care to document the colors of the world. I wanted to spend every moment I had left looking at them with my own eyes. I want to live.
With a deadly pandemic stopping travel, especially for the sick, the farthest reaches are out. The funny thing is, those places don't do it for me anymore either. What I want to do with my time is mend an old friendship or two. I want to work on myself now more than ever, to be the best version of myself I can be.
Real life moments with MBC
Take clutter, for example; looking around my house, I see a life's worth of accumulation, things that I have carried with me from apartment to apartment, and I think, "Who is going to want all these coffee table books?" I need to find homes for all of my things.
I have no kids, and I don't have much to leave anyone. I am 42, and up until last year, I still filled out the 1040ez. But when I pass, I don't want to leave a pile of boxes that becomes someone's problem. I want to watch others enjoy the small things I do have I don't need, enjoy them or get rid of them.
I want some IRL* moments, like the one that happened the other day when my friend dropped everything to walk on the beach with me because she knew it was going to be the last chance she was going to have for a while.
To fill the artistic void left without photography, I have taken up jewelry-making in my spare time, and I want to make things for my friends and family, custom pieces so their hands can touch the nicks and mistakes I labored to get out and see my handwork, a divining rod to my soul long after I am gone.
Living with MBC
I know I am early in the process, but I feel privileged to have this time to think about these things. I get to try to resolve old wounds and make up with old friends and family. People with metastatic breast cancer are living longer and longer, 8-9-10+ years. Unfortunately, not everybody gets that kind of warning. Look at those who passed during Covid-19. They had no clue in 2012 that they would die in 2020. If they had the time, how would they have lived? Would they have wanted to know? What would they have done differently?
We have two choices; we can sit and stew on how unfair this is and burn through all our bridges one by one. Or we can use this time of forewarning as a gift to settle our life, and if we play our cards right, we may be able to go out in peace.
New bucket list
So the new bucket list I have created for myself is full of things I need to get done before I kick the bucket to satisfy myself rather than a list of dream adventures. Don't get me wrong. I would love to go on one or two of those. But if it never happens, it never happens. And like they said in The Shawshank Redemption, "Get busy living or get busy dying" - I am going to do my best to live.
*City Slickers: Jack Palance playing Curly in City Slickers say's the meaning of life is one thing, and you have to figure that out.
*IRL: In Real LIFE
Editor's Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on September 6, 2023, Vicki Thompson passed away. Vicki's advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. She will be deeply missed.
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