Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

My Bucket List

It was a star-studded movie in 2007, starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, called “The Bucket List.” The movie was about two gentlemen, dying from cancer, who make a list of things that they want to do, before they die, and then proceed to do them.

I had never heard of this concept, a “bucket list”. I had heard it frequently following the movie, and still do today. When I hear those talking about their “bucket lists,” I hear of a lot of extravagant things that these people think are important to them to make them feel as if their life is complete. They are not necessarily dying, in fact, most likely, they are in great health. This fancy wish list is just stuff that they want to experience in their life, not just before they die.

I can admit, years ago, I had places that I wanted to visit, though I would not say that it would have to be as some sort of destiny pact. But, as a teenager, I had a school project to complete, about the stages of life. I had been given the stage of death. I needed to find someone to interview, and write about, their feelings of death. I ended up choosing the last person I ever wanted to even think about dying, my grandmother, hoping that she would assure me that she was not even thinking about her end. Well, it turned out, until that moment, having never heard her mention death before, it turned out, she had quite a bit of thoughts about it.

“I have had a great life. I had a good marriage to your grandfather. I was blessed with three children, all who grew up and got married. And I got to be a grandmother. I have gotten to travel and experience so much. But I miss your grandfather. And if today would be my last day, I am ready. I could not ask for anything more of my life.”

That paragraph is in quotes, because I remember the conversation from 1982 (I was a senior in high school). And while I loved my grandmother to the ends of the earth, and the last thing I would ever want to hear about, her passing, I found myself oddly comforted by her feelings. I know she was sincere in what she said. She passed a little over sixteen years later, and got to see her grandchildren get married, and even get to be a “great” grandmother to yet the next generation.

Back before my health went “kablooey” as a result of developing late effects from my cancer treatments for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I had lots of things that I had hoped to do. And it was clear that I had the ability and resources to do everything, as long as I stayed the course. My body had different ideas. Since my initial bombshell of a health event back in 2008, a “widow maker” heart blockage, and surviving that, I have had at least six more events that had the same severity and potential for fatality. And as many fellow survivors know, because of these health issues we have, our bodies are unable to deal with incidental events in expected fashion, because our health has been so badly compromised. Too often, I have seen a survivor get through an event, recover, to all of a sudden have a complication, and then succumb. The trauma, just too much for the compromised body to take.

So yes, some of us tend to have a hypersensitivity to our mortality. This by no means we think about dying. We don’t. But we do think about living, especially with the time we have left. And yes, that reminds me of, “The Bucket List.”

I need to preface my bucket list with the fact that, well, I know things. When it comes to the heart, I have had three surgeries since 2008. These are not permanent repairs, and as of right now, I would not be a candidate for a heart transplant because of all the other issues and risks I have. That means, I need to work with what I have, and make the best of it. But if all goes as planned, and there are no further major complications, I know how much time I am likely to have, before needing to be concerned again.

I have already approached the expected lifespan of my bypass, but the good news is, that currently, it is still holding up better than fifty percent. Needless to say, I am thrilled with that, because as the rate of the original blockage took eighteen years, I am still going to have another seven to ten years before this is likely to become an issue again. A stent I had placed in 2019, likely to last up to ten years, and the valve replaced late last year, is expected seven to ten years before it needs to be replaced.

For the average person, without my health issues, when the time would come, you would just have the surgeries to correct everything and that would be that. But with the long term damage from the radiation damage (still active after 32 years) and chemo damage, the risks from a second open heart surgery are not good for me. Bleeding out, infections, and death are at a much increased risk, and then even after those risks, the healing is difficult leading to other issues.

Now, while this may seem overwhelming, and as many close to me who still do not get me, I do not live my life thinking about my “end.” Quite the contrary, like “The Bucket List” or Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You Were Dying” or Bon Jovi’s “Live Before You Die,” I actually do have my list of things that I want to accomplish or experience before I face that level of heart surgery again. And as you can see, compared with what my grandmother stated, I would, and already do, consider my life a good life.

With that said, and knowing that I have time to experience all of this, I believe this is all possible.

  • Having seen my daughters grow into young ladies, I want to see them graduate high school (this one is right around the corner).
  • I would like to see both my daughters go through some sort of continuing education.
  • After having DJed so many weddings in my life, and played dozens and dozens of Father/Bride songs, you guessed it, I want my turn walking my daughters down the wedding aisle (if they choose to get married that is).
  • I would like the experience of being a grandfather, though the “title” or reference has yet to be determined. Grandparents get to have so much fun and I remember how much I loved mine.
  • There is one thing I would like to do one final time, perform one more gig. I already have it in my mind, accompanied by two acoustic guitars and a conservative drum kit, an intimate gathering for one final performance by me vocally.
  • And finish writing my book, based on my blog, “Paul’s Heart.” For crying out loud, after two and half years during Covid, I am still only 2/3 of the way finished.

And that is my list. It is not expensive, well, except for the college part. But it is all doable, as long as my body cooperates. My fellow survivors understand the suddenness that our issues have and affect our bodies, so I do not take anything for granted. Though my diet is not ideal, I do everything else I can, exercise and keep stress to a minimum, that I will have my best shot at achieving all of the above things.

Because to me, a bucket list means nothing, if it cannot be remembered by everyone else. And if and when that time does come, hopefully not for a while, there will be a lot to remember and talk about.

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