If You Had Cancer, Would You Do What You Want?

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Is it selfish to do what you want? Is it better to wait until later, when people don’t need you and you have fewer responsibilities? I don’t think so.

When people ask me why I do the things I do, why I’m so obsessed with being happy and doing what I want whenever I can, my answer is always the same:

Because I could die.

Of course, it’s not just that I could die, it’s that I will. We all will. The question is only when and how, and it’s that unknown that keeps me pushing myself to seek out new opportunities and saying yes when the scary ones fall into my lap. It’s because we are always one freak accident away from death that I keep saying you should do what you want today, that we all should.

I realize I have the luxury of using the philosophy of death to motivate me to live. Jenny Meyerson is inspired by reality.

jenny meyerson inspires us to do what you want

Photo from JennyMeyerson.com

Jenny is a wife and mother of three and she used to have cancer. Thankfully, she underwent treatment and is now healthy and cancer free, but something happened when she was undergoing treatment.

From Jenny’s blog:

“When I was going through treatment, I was challenged by a former chemo buddy of 70 years of age to write down everything I wanted to do in life and “Go for it”. It was a bucket list- long before the movie. He wasn’t going to survive and knew it and told me his only regret was talking himself out of doing things.”

I suppose it makes sense that staring death in the face would give you a new perspective on life. We’d almost expect Jenny to become more inspired than the rest of us, wouldn’t we?

When you almost die, you should get to do what you want.

Except Jenny, like the rest of us, proved to be human. She got better, she survived, and she went back to working as a nurse. Like the rest of us, Jenny found she was not immune to the trappings of day-to-day life and the rut of routine.

“…fast forward 6 years and I was standing over a young patient that had died (I’m a nurse), and suddenly I felt flush and realized that I had done very few things on my bucket list. I was granted 6 more years yet hadn’t done all that I could have done. Not to sound like an old Army commercial with “Be all you can be” but I was granted 6 more years than my chemo buddy and I hadn’t done much of what I promised (him or myself) I would.”

It’s hard to imagine that someone could come so close to losing their life and still take time for granted.

And yet, don’t we all? How many times do you read a story about a tragic accident and run home to hold your family tight, only to go back to bickering and mindless, group TV nights? How many close calls have you had in a car, and how soon did you forget that every day is merely borrowed?

How often do you promise you’ll do what you want someday… when the kids are grown… when you have time?

Jenny has decided to make that list, and it’s epic. It is a premium life list that covers ultimate dreams (own a lake house and a boat) and simple pleasures (take the kids to feed the giraffes), over 1,000 items in all.

Yes, 1,000. Actually, at last count there were more than 1,300 items on that list. And if that seems a bit insane, well, Jenny doesn’t care.

“No longer am I going to stand in the way of myself accomplishing these 1300+ items. Will I accomplish them all? Perhaps not- but not on the account for lack of effort, money, or self-doubt. Will I be accomplished in all that I set out to do? No- but I have a great sense of humor and ability to laugh at myself along the way. Will I add more and take some things away? Yep. Why? Because it’s my list. I’m in control of my choices, actions, experiences, and attitude.”

Amen, Jenny.

Go on, do what you want today. Then, if you’re lucky enough to see another day, do what you want tomorrow. Because you can. Because you can die. Because you and I will die; it’s only a question of when. Do what you want.

Not sure what you want to do?

Maybe you should make a list.

Get Happy Updates!

Join the Pursuit of Happiness newsletter and get happiness updates straight to your inbox each week!

  1. Christina says:

    My parents both died of cancer. My dad was only 46 years old. My mom always said, that the moment that broke her heart was when my dad got the diagnosis and asked “That was really it?”

    He was sad and dissapointed – so many things not done.

    And my parents were not even the work-around-the-clock people. They enjoyed life but like all young parents they had put their own needs on low priority and “on hold” but that day to change from “on hold” to “now” never came.

    It was one of the biggest learnings I took away from seeing both of my parents suffer, that I try (although I do work too much as well) to make as much of the things I want to do as possible – NOW. People often think that things I do make no sense or are kind of crazy. I don’t care because this judgment is not relevant when I look one day back on my personal bucket list.

    It’s important to enjoy life – today, every day. It sounds easy but it’s not. Take your chance.
    Christina’s most recent post: My book in February

    • Miss Britt says:

      This comment just blew me away when I read it this morning. I can’t even imagine losing both parents.

      I think you should be proud of what you learned from them; I think there are a lot of people who would have learned bitterness instead.

  2. I love Jenny’s blog, she’s a great storyteller. When my first husband died at age 33, I spent the first year after scared all the time. All the time. I don’t have a bucket list, but I do tell people what I feel. You never know when it might be the last time you talk with someone. And I’m generous with compliments.
    Sherry Carr-Smith’s most recent post: Conversation With A Fortune Teller

    • Miss Britt says:

      I didn’t know you’d lost a spouse so young. I can imagine that would make you scared. You bring up a good point, I think: there has to be a balance between knowing that we could die any minute and not being afraid of it.

  3. Lana says:

    How true that we take so much for granted even after a something tragic happens. My brother was 31 when we lost him to cancer a year and a half ago. There was so much he had left to do as he never got the opportunity. However, what my brother always did when he was alive was live life to the fullest. He was happy with everything that life handed him. He never complained and always accepted the cards he had been given. It was no surprise that when he was told he was terminal that he accepted his fate with more dignity and humility than anyone I have even known in my entire life. He taught him throughout his illness to not take life so seriously and to enjoy every moment of every day. Losing my brother forced me to stop and smell the roses and to live my life as if tomorrow wouldn’t come. After all, life is too short to let petty things get in the way of our happiness. Sometimes, when I find myself stressing over things aren’t worth it, I remind myself that my brother wouldn’t have wanted me to do that. He would have wanted me to live my life to the fullest and to not stress over the things that I cannot control.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I lost a cousin who was my age about five years ago. At the time I thought it would change me, but I’m not sure it did. Maybe it was a brick or a seed or something metaphorical that suggests it was one of many nudges.

  4. Rachel says:

    Oh, I think about this every day! You are so right. That brush with mortality totally changes your worldview when it comes to accomplishments. It also helps me prioritize the important things in my life.

    Because of my experience in losing Charlotte, I take more time to smell flowers, eat chocolate, and be spontaneous.

    Roger and I were admiring a beautiful sky the other day. Roger said, “The skies seem to be particularly beautiful lately, don’t you think?” At that point, I wondered out loud: “Does the sky really look more beautiful or do we just appreciate it more?”

    I think about stuff like this all the time. Thanks for a great post!

    • Miss Britt says:

      You both inspire me so much. I don’t know if you saw where I wrote about you guys showing me that happiness is always an option, but I was really affected by the way you both still live – LIVE – the best way you know how.

  5. This year, I’m selling off most of my stuff and going to my dream art school in France for 18 months. It’s a big, big dream. My boyfriend is coming with me, and I’ve been debating all day whether it’s worth spending the extra $800 so that we can have some fun time in Paris together (away from school), and spend our anniversary in Venice. I felt like I was being rash and selfish, especially when I have so much else to pay for.

    But if we don’t take the opportunity to travel now, when we’re young and it’s cheap & easy…when will we? If we don’t take the chance and make memories together today…when will we?
    Sarah Marie Lacy | Artist’s most recent post: The only thing I want for my birthday is…

    • Miss Britt says:

      You will never forgive yourself if you pass up an opportunity to enjoy Paris (or Venice, or wherever) for just $800.

  6. I came out of a work meeting to reading this on my phone! What a treat. Thank you for the nice words Britt. Even now I still fight the trap of falling back into the rat race. That’s what work and raising a family can do to anyone (if you allow it).
    I will say I am now more intentional about how I spend my time, who I spend my time with, and living with a more grateful outlook. I haven’t regretted my decisions one bit the past 8 months.
    I’m so glad to have found your blog. I gravitate towards people who are crazy enough to embrace those fears and tread in the deep waters despite them. I love your adventure and the fact that your family is a part of it. What a blessing. Thank you again. I’m humbled.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Thank you for introducing yourself (and your story) to me and letting me share it here!

  7. Jennifer says:

    My husband’s mom died of breast cancer in her 30′s and she had never seen Hawaii. We ended up spreading her ashes there so she could have her dream to visit. But it definitely taught us to live!
    Jennifer’s most recent post: A Snowy Reindeer Sleigh Ride in Tromsø, Norway

    • Miss Britt says:

      Oh, man. I pray my ashes don’t have to be scattered in Thailand for me to experience it.

      Or Hawaii for that matter.

  8. naomi says:

    The comments are just as inspirational as your original blog post. Thanks for sharing YOUR thoughts Britt, and allowing the rest of these amazing people to in turn, share their stories!
    naomi’s most recent post: DILLI HAAT

  9. martymankins says:

    For me, if I had cancer, I would do what I wanted and make the final days of my life count. Not so much a bucket list, but doing things that made me happy and proud of my life. Things that I enjoyed and now doing without worry or concern for anything else in life.

    I recently had a long time friend die sooner than he expected of lung cancer. He wanted so much to have those 3-6 months he was given to live and do things. Granted, he lived and did things before he died at the age of 50 (just weeks shy of his 51st), but he wanted to go out with a bang.

    My mom died of melanoma and one of my wishes for her would have been to travel more and do more things for her in her life. She lived to be 83, which is a long life, but for me, I wish she would have lived more.. done more for her self.. traveled more.
    martymankins’s most recent post: Music Monday: Randy Rhoads – 30 Years Gone

    • Miss Britt says:

      I am so sorry to hear about your friend. Stories like that make me wonder if I’d want to be given a timeline or if I just want to be surprised – preferably when I’m really, really old.

  10. Lesley says:

    Like Jenny, I survived a close encounter with cancer although mine was only 4 years ago. And I too came to the realization last year that I needed to do more living and less surviving in 2012 – and I have to say, I am having the time of my life!! I turned 44 just before xmas last year and made a list of 44 things I was going to do before my 45th birthday and now I am working my way through the list and having an absolute blast! People around me cant work out why I am so happy and content, and when I tell them what I am doing they scoff and make jokes about it – but as I said to my husband the other night, I feel sorry for them because they are missing out on all the joy and all the fun! I never could figure out why I got cancer, but now I am kinda glad I did because it has brought me to this place in my life that is really amazing. So for those of you who haven’t tried it, make your list, check it twice and then GO FOR IT!! (PS Jenny and Britt, love both of your websites, dont go changing!!!)

    • Miss Britt says:

      OOH! Another woman I know made a similar “50 before 50″ list. Maybe I should do that every year – what a fun idea and encouragement not to put the life list off for “someday”.

  11. Perfectionism has often held me back from following dreams, and I usually have to make myself push beyond it. If I had waited for things to be “just right,” I would be missing out on so much: marriage, kids, creating, connecting. We need jolts and stories like Jenny’s to remind us to reset our priorities. Thanks for sharing!
    Heather Koshiol’s most recent post: Learn: 10 Truths of Creativity

  12. Lisa says:

    Ok, ok. I’ll make my life list. Jeeze! ;-)

    When my Dad died it changed me. I thought I needed to do certain things to make sure everyone I loved knew I loved them, and that they were important to me because he died with this left unsaid with several people. It turned out it wasn’t as important to the people I was making a priority. Now I’m adjusting my focus to doing the things important to me. I’m still figuring out how to do that, and I think some big changes need to happen in order for positive things to start to happen.
    Lisa’s most recent post: Avoidance

    • Miss Britt says:

      I hope you get whatever positive changes you need.

      And yes, make a life list! Even if you don’t publish it, I think it’s an awesome idea that I am totally shoving down your throat.

  13. kateanon says:

    Funny you mention Jenny – because you’ve both been a part of my life list. When I was undergoing chemo, I had all these ideas about the stuff I was going to DO. Nothing was going to hold me back, I was after the life I always wanted. I didn’t know how much time I had left, but I wanted to make the most of it. Then, I was getting divorced and my list got put aside. I’m trying my hardest to get back to it. Especially as my dad is now battling cancer. I keep thinking to myself that I don’t want to be down this path again in my 50′s – thinking about all the what ifs and might have beens.

    Like Jenny, I know I won’t hit everything. Things will get in the way. Money, physical limitations, work; but I’ll try harder to life a life I can look back on without regret.
    kateanon’s most recent post: various versions of sick

  14. GO JENNY!
    and GO BRITT!

« « Happiness Highlights: Birthdays and the Importance of Blog Comments | Salt Lake City Through the iPhone Lens » »