A list for living, not a bucket list

Many people now make bucket lists. The BBC’s Helen Fawkes shares her own “list for living”.

What would you do if you found out that your time was limited? If you were told that you could be dead within months, you certainly had no more than five years to live?

Well, that’s the situation which I’m facing. On Christmas Eve last year I found out that I had incurable ovarian cancer. I felt waves of shock, sadness and anger. But I also knew that once I’d come to terms with the devastating news, I was going to make the most of the time I had left.

A few days before the diagnosis, as I waited for one of many medical appointments, I thought about the things I might never do. I started to write down some of the stuff in my reporter’s notebook. This was the start of my bucket list.

Getting a dog, exploring the ancient ruins in Rome, taking a speed boat down the Thames, having my book published, learning to play poker and seeing penguins in the South Pole are just some of the 50 things I want to do.

This has become known as a bucket list because it’s all the things you want to achieve before you kick the bucket. But I don’t like the term. I’d rather focus on the living, not the dying. I prefer to call it my “list for living”.

My bucket list has given me some kind of a structure. There are no excuses anymore. You have to get on and do things rather than thinking you must do it someday. It’s almost like giving pleasure a priority, in doing so you create powerful memories. I have one friend who must have spent hundreds of hours at hospital with me so it was really special to be able to do something totally unconnected with cancer and go glass-blowing.

My list for living has made me realise that when I’m taking part in something I enjoy I feel so much better. It gives me a real boost. In May, I went to see Stonehenge at sunrise with a friend. As soon as I stood inside the ancient stone circle it was like my chemo fog lifted.

For a magical hour, just the two of us watched night turn into day. As we left, the spell was broken. Not long afterwards I felt so chronically ill that I was barely able to walk.

This was near to the end of some very toxic treatment. What helped to get me through it all was my plan to recover afterwards on a ridiculously perfect beach. It was so chilly and wet at times that I needed my coat but I had a blissful time in Cornwall. It was number five on my list so this shows you how badly I wanted the holiday. It’s so vital to have something to look forward to. I may be fighting a killer disease but I still need some hope in my life.

My aim is not just to have things to tick off but to be left with a whole load of special memories with the people who mean the most to me. I know that when I’m dying and I’m too sick to do anything else they will be at my bedside reminding me about our adventures.

Helen’s list for living: 1) Live in my own house (almost done), 2) Move to the country (almost done), 3) Get a dog, 4) Play a netball game, again, 5) Recover from chemo on a ridiculously perfect beach (done), 6) See penguins in the South Pole, 7) Go to Paris by Eurostar just for lunch (done), 8) Visit Pompeii and drive along the Amalfi coast, 9) Explore the ancient ruins in Rome, 10) Snorkel on a coral reef, 11) Trek in Nepal, 12) Go to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, 13) See the Northern Lights, 14) Ride a camel across a desert, 15) Drink a mojito in Cuba, 16) See Stonehenge at sunrise (Done), 17) Go into space, 18) Get married, 19) Get my book published, 20) Present a BBC Radio 4 programme, 21) Hold an exhibition of my cow photographs, 22) Do voluntary work, 23) Run a 5K, 24) Skydive, 25) Go gliding, 26) Ride a horse through Hyde Park, 27) Try kite surfing, 28) Zoom down a zip wire (done), 29) Surf somewhere hot, 30) Go coasteering somewhere cold, 31) Take a speed boat down the Thames, 32) Swing on a trapeze, 33) Fly in a hot air balloon, 34) Take a private jet over London, 35) Fly in a stealth airplane, 36) Be driven very fast around a race track in a sports car (done), 37) Sleep under the stars, 38) Get a tattoo, 39) Have a henna crown painted on my baldy head once the hair falls out, 40) Grow my hair long, again, 41) Be a model and work the catwalk (done), 42) Learn to play poker, 43) Pull a pint in a proper pub (done), 44) Hold a party in a castle, 45) Go glass-blowing (done), 46) See puffins in UK, 47) Swim with sharks, 48) Sail alongside a pod of dolphins at sea, 49) Catch fireflies in a jar, 50) Drink champagne in one of the best bars in the world just before Christmas to celebrate still being alive.

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