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Fifteen years ago, at a time when I thought my life would be taken either by cancer or by my own hand, I wrote a bucket list. I’d been ill for several years due to tumours growing like trees in my body, their branches twisting my organs until they stopped working. Many surgeries later, the tumours had all been removed except for small pieces, which I had hoped would die on their own. But instead they returned, stronger and hungrier, consuming everything, consuming me.

My body was not owned by me during that time. I was only an anxious observer who worried about bills that lay unopened on the kitchen table next to printouts of platelet counts. Exhausted by medications, angered by doctors, I spent my days terrified, my nights in a dull, dreamless sleep.

Cancer is a lonely business. People don't really understand what cancer means: sometimes it means you will die. It's not popular to say so, but it's true. Everyone tells you "you will beat it", but no one wants to talk about the fact you might not. But you, you have this truth with you every day: you wake up in the morning and it is there. It follows you wherever you are, this unnerving feeling that you are rotting inside. It stares back at you in your mirror as you brush your teeth, making you cover all the mirrors in your house. It sits next to you as you drink your liquid meal replacement because you can't eat solid food. It crawls into the phone line as you try to talk to friends, contaminating the conversation until you stop calling anyone at all.

One morning, I realised I had to make a choice: end life or find life.

~

I remember that day so well. I was lying on the floor of my living room, and I had been lying there for a long time. Overnight. I was cold because the fire in my wood stove had gone out, but I didn't care. I was so ill that I'd soiled my clothes with urine. My hair was tangled and dirty since I hadn't showered in more than a week. I had on an ugly maternity dress that someone had given me, the colour of a Band-Aid, and I hated it. My tumours had come back and my abdomen was so swollen I couldn't wear any of my own clothes.

My dog was hungry and pawing at the back door and I made myself get up to feed him. Then I saw how he looked at me: his eyes were wide and alert to a stranger. Me. I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and saw someone in hell. Right then I knew I had to pull myself together. There was no one else to do it.

I cancelled my chemo. I threw away my medications. Driving to the countryside with my journal and a blanket, I stretched out in a field surrounded by sheep and sunshine. And that is where my bucket list was born, the list that kept me alive.

Seine Paris
Amy Gigi Alexander sails her bucket list down the Seine. (Candace Rose Rardon)

From the start, I knew my list had to be that of a visionary: impossible tasks, a maze of places and acts that required my full participation and a belief in the magical qualities of the universe. Choosing tasks that were far away or took a long time to accomplish meant promising myself to be healthy and whole again. I needed to be propelled out into the world, shooting like a cannon into a neighbouring country, soaring on the desire to have more time.

I wrote until the light dimmed, the grass buzzed with night insects and the path back to my car disappeared. But while creating that bucket list, my pain, aloneness, and fears were replaced with the gift of forgetting. I forgot who I was and decided who I would become.

~

Once home, I taped copies of my new list on the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror, the dashboard of my car. I tore the list into narrow strips, one task on each, and placed them in every book I owned, my wallet, the silverware drawer.

Soon slips of paper were everywhere, reminding me that I needed to live, scribbled with jumbled words, wishes:

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