Recently, I lost a cousin of mine. He was a father of four, happily married and still young at age 45. He suddenly passed away at home while watching a Blackhawks game with his family. After tragic events such as these, thoughts of death and “the end” are fresh on the mind. In the sermons and speeches that followed, we heard reflections of a man’s life with underlying messages of “live life to the fullest” and “you never know when it will be your time.”
People walk away with the promise of doing the things that have always dreamed of, or changing life for the better. The death of a love one shocks you into the realization that life is short. As time passes and hearts heal, life moves back to the daily grind that it had before. Dreams once again move to the back of mind. I am bringing a message today….don’t wait. Our message is dramatic, but is in no way meant to be insensitive. (Harry and I have lost many to cancer and have been a part of many others’ fight against it.) We have been blessed to live what we have thoughtfully deemed…”our cancer days.”
A few days ago, Harry and I were reminiscing about one of our past trips. After so many years together, sometimes I like to bring up past memories over a glass a wine or dinner. Reflecting always seems to get us through the days of grey, until once again we can embark on another journey to bring the color back into life. My “cancer day” takes us to Vietnam.
As part of our tour with Indochina Travel, we signed up for a multi-day cruise through Halong Bay. In route, our guide received a phone call which brought us a stroke of luck! We would be the only passengers aboard a traditional Vietnamese junk. For the next three days, Harry and I would have the entire ship to ourselves with a crew of 5 to keep us company.
Our first evening on-board we were treated to a fantastic welcome dinner. As the only couple, the crew provided a superb, but extremely formal dinner service. Classical music played, setting a lovely ambiance, however it just wasn’t us. We tried to make jokes to show we didn’t need all this pomp and circumstance, but everyone continued to be stiff. As dinner ended, Harry finally broke the ice by asking the crew to play music that they would normally be listening to if we weren’t there.
With extreme hesitancy, but our persistence, the music changed from classical to Vietnamese pop. We hung around the bar, listening to tunes and enjoying drinks with crew that slowly opened up. This is where we first heard < this song > which became the theme song of our trip. Next, the crew encouraged us to play some American music. At the time, Foster the People had just released their first album and had become one of our favorite bands.
This is where you look back and you wonder how this life moment ever came to be. I get emotional just thinking about it because it couldn’t have been any more perfect. Somehow the night found us all dancing to songs like Helena Beat, strobes flashing (still not sure where they came from!), and laughing as friends. We had successfully turned our Vietnamese junk into our own private dance club on beautiful Halong Bay. Leave it to music to break down barriers.
My cancer day starts in Port Douglas, Australia. We were ending our two week stay in Australia and we didn’t feel like we truly saw the Great Barrier Reef. Most visitors visit the reef by way of a group tour. With that in mind, we were planning on taking a catamaran cruise but the waters were too rough and so for that day it was cancelled. The following day we were warned that if we decided to take the 2 hour trip out to the reef that it would be extremely bumpy and that we’d most likely get sea sick. With 1 day left, we decided “screw-it” and we chartered a helicopter for 3 hours with Skysafari. Skysafari has a package called the Castaway. It includes flying out to Undine Cay [this was our own private island for 2 hours because only 1 aircraft at a time can occupy the island] where we snorkeled, had a picnic lunch, and enjoyed a bottle of white Australian wine <Tempus Two – Pinot Gris>. Following Undine Cay, we flew over the specific reef where Steve Irwin was killed by the infamous stingray. We also saw Low and Woody island, aerial views of the Daintree Rainforest, and the Port Douglas marina. It was an amazing experience, and to this day I still can’t believe we were lucky enough to do so.
In fact, the idea of “cancer days” evolved from this trip to Undine Cay. As we were enjoying our wine on the beach, we spoke of how fortunate we were to be sharing this unbelievable moment together. We decided that if we had one last day on earth, that this was the way we’d want to spend it.
If you have something you want to do or somewhere you want to go, don’t wait, make plans now and go. I’m not recommending that you go purchase plane tickets right this second and leave this afternoon. I’m suggesting that you start building the plan. Slowly (or quickly) begin removing the barriers that are impeding you from making your dream a reality. Life is too short and the obstacles preventing you from living out your cancer day(s) are too small. When I look back on my life I don’t think about my career, my car, my house, my bank account. I think about the time we walked the Milford track, went on a hot air balloon ride above the Serengeti, looked down at Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu, or went sailing through the Whitsunday islands. Those are my memories and represent some of the ways I would have spent my “cancer days.” With absolutely no regrets.
We read an article today about a woman who after fighting breast cancer finally decided to take her family on a yearlong trip around the world. Why do people wait for the sadness and death scares before seeking out the dream?
Our advice? Don’t wait. Live your “cancer days” now. Complete the experiences that you want to do before your time is up on this world. It brings us comfort to know that at the hour of our deaths (Amen), we will have lived these amazing days with each other and lived like we were dying.