Bucket Lists and Paris

The Eiffel in February
The Eiffel in February

Popular culture has a romantic notion that people with a terminal diagnosis should construct a bucket list – a list of goals to achieve before the end of life. Movies like The Bucket List (2007) seem to feature cancer victims. This is probably because persons with cancer often get a potentially life-ending diagnosis, followed by a period of improved health following treatment. 

I didn’t want to make a bucket list after my diagnosis, but my buddy John Wish was adamant: “You need a list of the things you’ve always dreamed of doing so you will make the best of the rest of your life.” I think John secretly believes that committing a list to paper is a form of therapeutic honesty, which leads to taking the whole affair with appropriate seriousness. I relented and wrote a bucket list, pictured below, sitting on the sofa with John.

My list - first page
My list – first page

I hope you won’t fault me for adding Paris to my bucket list. Paris is the most visited city in the most visited country in the world. I have been influenced by francophile friends and family, and am interested in design, urban design, architecture, art, and french culture. And we still have air miles to use or lose.

Fast forward to December 2014. Following my encouraging CT Scan — tumors slowly shrinking and no new tumors — Eddy had an epiphany. “Let’s go to Paris for St. Valentine’s Day! Think of it as a second honeymoon after 19 years of marriage.”

“Sounds like a plan, let’s do it,” I replied.

Then came Charlie Hebdo, Je Suis Charlie, and the 2-million-person solidarity march in Paris on January 11. Riveted by events in Paris, Eddy developed serious doubts about whether traveling there this winter was sensible. I was sympathetic at first, and gradually grew more restless with the idea that we were intimidated by terrorists and might never go there. At one point I recall arguing: “the probability of mortality that we will face from being in Paris is far less than that posed by cancer.”

After a couple of sessions with our counselor, Edward Shea, encouragement from friends, and special encouragement from our Paris blogger friend, Lisa Taylor Huff, we found ourselves at Charles De Gaulle airport on Feb 12, 2015.

Our trip to Paris turned out to be a memorable adventure and we are both glad that we did it. I hope to publish a slide show that Eddy is preparing for the francophiles among you.

Here’s the wisdom I want to pass on: bucket lists are not for all cancer patients. They may become dangerous because of pursuing goals that are not appropriate for a cancer patient or his/her family. We cancer patients tend to overestimate our physical stamina and ability to cope with unfamiliar people and circumstances, especially in the presence of pain or chronic fatigue.

Our trip could have easily gone gunny-sack. We were lucky in that no dangerous or unmanageable side effects of cancer or cancer treatment popped up in Paris. With help, I was able to manage the serious discomfort of air travel, rigors of site seeing and foraging in a major city with only a few humps … nothing requiring a doctor or hospital.