Friday, September 26, 2008

How Would You Live?

If you had limited time to live, how would you spend that time? Let's say you had six months. What would you really do in that time? Travel the world? Do something crazy that you've always wanted to do but never had the courage, means, or opportunity to do? Something like sky-diving, auditioning for a play, asking a hero of yours out on a date, quitting your job by telling your sadistic boss just what you think of him, marrying your husband all over again, learning to dance the tango... anything!

Have you ever thought about what you'd do with such a short time left? I never really saw myself getting cancer and dying so young, but I had thought about what I'd do if I had a terminal illness. I thought I'd want to travel the world. There are many places I'd still like to see: the pyramids in Egypt, the Grand Canyon in the U.S., the ancient ruins in Greece, the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu, Prague, Turkey, the Maldives.

But as much as I'd like to see those places, I don't want to trade in the time I have with my family to do it, so I've given up on that.

I never really had any dreams growing up. I occasionally fantasized about being an aid worker in some remote village in Africa and saving lives somehow. Or being a hotshot lawyer in New York and putting the bad guys away. But I don't recall having an answer to the question adults like to ask kids about what they want to be when they grow up. I can't think of anything I wanted to be growing up. I think my answer was just simply, "big".

Now I do definitely have a dream. I dream of watching my kids grow up. Nothing so ambitious as seeing my grandchildren or anything like that, but just a little step at a time - watching Toby and Josie learn and blossom in front of my eyes, day-to-day. I guess every day that I see them, I'm seeing a bit of my dream come true. I love that.

But back to you... tell me what you'd do with six months left.


Anonymous said...

I'm with you Shin, I would ask for nothing more than to spend time with my 2 girls and my wife - my life has changed sooooo much since becoming a dad that anything I may have thought of when I was young would be very different now.


Anonymous said...

Hi Shin,

I have always wanted to be a teacher. I have been blessed to see that materialise.

If I had six months to live ?

I would like to meet up with all my classmates/school mates , people I was close to before. I would like to see them and reminiscence. I had great times in school. I think they were the best years of my life.

I would like to also meet up with the colleagues I worked with in all the schools I did teaching practise in and taught in. We really had great times.

I am a collector of all sorts of things - I would like to start giving them away - my collection of mugs, spoons, timbles, magnets, old english transport toy vans, tins, boat-shaped glass baby feeding bottles, recipe books, etc.
Not just to anybody and alot of thought will have to go into who will get what.

And like you, I would like to be with my family.


Larry Sopala said...

A quandary, to be sure. Spend all the money we have traveling with the family, or just spend each day with the kids. You're living in a pretty nice area (maybe comparable to California weather), so vacation isn't as big a draw as people like me in Chicago. I'd probably do the same thing - hang out with the kids as much as possible, and maybe take some simple, educational family vacations as time allows.
Take care!
-Larry Sopala

Shin said...


You were a teacher? So was I! That wasn't really my dream, but it was the most meaningful and fulfilling job I ever had.

I also wanted to see old friends again. Luckily, I recently got to see two friends from university - one whom I hadn't seen or spoken to for 18 years. I would've been very sad if I had to go to my grave without seeing him again.

I've tracked down some old friends from university and ex-colleagues who were very important to me. I've re-connected with some of them and am pleased to have found them again.

From these trips into my past, I've learned some things about myself and the impact I've had on people I've known.

It's a bit weird to contact somebody you haven't talked to in twenty years to say, "Hi! I have cancer and just in case I die of this thing, I thought I'd get in touch to see if you - a) are happy, b) still hate me, or c) have any fond memories of our time together."

Maybe people are being artificially kind because I have cancer, but for the most part, it seems I wasn't as awful a person as I'd thought I was. That's definitely worth finding out before going to the grave.

Leighbee said...

SUCH a difficult question.....the first thing I would need to consider is at what point I needed to "take a step back"....(if I could make that decision?!) My concern is that given a time allocation I would waste it searching for a cure or even a way of merely extending my 6 months...I suppose I'm more of a quality than a quantity person but thats just personal opinion! I think that opinion stems from my loss of a child and the way in which I lost some ways I am grateful she went so know she did not suffer like some poor souls helps me to feel better in some way?! May sound odd but quick and painless at 15 months vs slow and painful at 30 years???? I am no "God" its not down to me to decide on length, quality of personal choices! I think I would need to make peace with many (perhaps I should do that anyway now I have considered it?!) soften my opinions and out looks and dissolve in to a huggle bunny!!! Having sat a reread what I just wrote it sounds like complete beloney - but I am going to leave it like that as I wrote what came in to my head first and FORTUNATELY right here right doesn't matter...I am in the fortunate position of not having to make such lousy decisions .....
I AM however going to set about settling a few "forgotten situations" that I have ignored for far too long and need to pack away should I "get run over by THAT bus" one day soon ;-)

Shin said...


You didn't have any dreams growing up that you'd like to see come true before you go to your grave? No wild and crazy fantasy?

Anonymous said...

Hi shin, I think I would spend the last six months with my family. I probably would blog something every day, a note to all the people I love and care about and respect but for the most parts I would post entries for my kids and husband so they can go back and read them after am gone. I think you gave me this idea of writing notes to the kids. I am starting to do that on some level anyway. I would also spend time with my parents and brothers and make every moment count. If I have anytime left I would write a novel. A romantic comedy. Then I would make sure I tell my kids every day I love them and I would read to them everyday and watch them play. So keep it pretty simple I think. If I only have six months I wouldn't travel but spend everyday with people I care about. And write, listen to music, watch lots of movies, and eat lightly and well.

Shin said...


It's pretty interesting to me that most people seem to choose simple things like family time for their last six months. Nothing big and dramatic, like in the movies. In a way, many of us are living our last six months already, aren't we?

Anonymous said...

A couple of related thoughts:
1. It's not the fear of death per se but how we die eventually.
2. And if you have a choice would you want a quick death or a drawn out one? The later you have time to tie up loose ends and say good bye and I love you. But if ur suffering than a long drawn out death may upset the people who love you.
3. What is worse than you yourself dying but watching your loved ones die. I know many mothers whose worse fear in the world are if their kids should go before them. See I can't even say the word as that would be the worse thing.

Hope I have not depressed you or anyone after the above!:)

Shin said...


1. I agree. I'm more worried about the actual process of dying than I am of being dead. Dead is dead. What's there to be worried about?

2. I'd rather have a drawn-out death over a quick and sudden one so that I can prepare my loved ones for my death. I think a long drawn-out death might upset my loved ones, but a quick death would upset them even more because we wouldn't have the time to say all the things we wanted to each other.

3. I agree. I'm glad I'm the one who's going to die and not Tony, Toby, or Josie. If this were happening to any of them, I'm not sure I could be as strong.

lw said...

My situation is different - I'm old enough to be a grandmother, but have never married and have no kids. I do have an 'other half' who I met 7 years ago and he's brought me two wonderful step children.

If I had 6 months to live, which possibly I do (since we never know), my first question is - is this six months of living or six months of not dying? For now, I see this question as about living (maybe because I can't imagine the alternative.)

My first act would be to persuade my partner to take a holiday of at least a month. This would be very hard for him, but critical for me. The second month would be spent with my family and long-time friends in Minnesota. I would then need a month to visit various important people around the world with whom I exchange the occasional email but haven't seen enough of. At the end of this trip, I would visit macchu picchu (or however it's spelled) just to fulfill a forever dream.

In my three remaining months, I would read the bookcase of books I've long meant to read, persuade my dear sister and her husband to FINALLY visit me in Asia (it's only been 18 years!), take another month's holiday with the love of my life and say good-bye to the very short list of those who really matter.

Then let the bus hit me ...

On the other hand, if I knew I had six months to fight for my life, I would probably make different choices - in fact, most of that time I planned to spend traveling or seeing family and friends would be spent having chemo and other treatment.
This would leave maybe two months to do as I pleased.

My choice would again be easy - ask that dear man in my life to hold me for an hour a day and tell me I've made his life worthwhile.

Didn't I read here that the greatest of these is love...

Anonymous said...

shin, an old friend of mine's wife died last week - she was 31 and has a 1 year old daughter. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was 5 months pregnant. she had the baby at 29 weeks and started chemo and steroid treatment. The baby is fine and beautiful and she was told she was in remission about 12 weeks ago. 6 weeks ago she began to ache and she found out she was terminal and the cancer had come back more aggressively than ever. Her husband said to his friends who have been there to support him - there wasn't enough time - there was so much she wanted to do for her baby - she wanted to do albums, write letters, make videos etc.. but she never got the chance as her decline was so rapid. Since learning this, I hope and pray it will not happen to me, but if it did I would spend my remaining 6 months purely with my family, and writing letters to my children and making mummy and me albums for them so they have something to cherish forever after I'm no longer physically there. I believe a lot of our childhood memories are based on what we see in photo's - so at least if my kids have photo's/videos of us together those memories will always be alive. And the letters to tell them in my own words how much I loved them and how much joy they brought me.
That's what I'd do if I had 6 mths....

Shin said...


That's a very interesting twist on the question - whether it's six months of living or six months of not dying. If it were the latter, there might be some limitations on how you could spend your time due to quality-of-life issues.

Sounds like you and I would make, or are making, very similar choices.

Excuse my fuzzy memory, but... is this all hypothetical for you or are you also a breast cancer patient or survivor? I know I've heard from you before but I cannot track down your previous comments and cannot place you in context. I guess it's that short-term memory loss my doctors warned me about.

lw said...

Hi Shin,

I'm not personally a cancer patient or survivor, but a couple of years ago, I partnered a close friend through the experience. I've also lost a couple of close family members to this horrible disease.

My comment about the difference between living vs not dying comes from the guidance my 86-year-old mother has given us regarding extraordinary measures to keep her alive - specifically, she's said "Please do everything you can to prolong my life but nothing to prolong my death."

This isn't as simple as it seems, of course, because it doesn't answer the ultimate question of when we cross the line into dying, but still, I've found it helpful in discussions with other family members about decisions about my mother. It's also become my request to my partner - and his to me.


Shin said...


I like the way your mother put it, but I agree that it's hard to know when you get to that point when you go from living to dying.

For me, I think it'll be when there's nothing left of the mother my kids know and the wife my husband knows, due either to the pain or the drugs given to me to control the pain. And if there's no chance that my condition will ever improve, then we can say it's time to say good-bye.

Anonymous said...

Did you read in the Straits Times about a month ago about that woman in Holland who decided she would die by euthanasia? She had incurable cancer (but I can't remember exactly the type, but that's superfluous for this discussion) - I do know that she metastatic brain tumours and she was a bit anal about cleaning. From the article that was written (which wasn't terribly good) it transpired that her sons were unhappy by the way she chose to die (date and time) and they felt left out, somehow. It meant that they were manically cleaning the toilets just before their Mum died. (Because that's what she asked them to do, and they did it to make her happy) They were grown up sons, but it just seemed so sad to me. But, living in Holland, she had the choice. I'm not sure that's a good way to go. What do you think? Interested. E x

Anonymous said...

Shin -- It's a tough question, but a good one. I think when I say I would spend the time with my children, I would modify it slightly. I think I would want to share one of my dreams with them.

I think I would want to take them on a sailing passage across a major ocean to somewhere remote...perhaps the Galapagos or maybe Tahiti or Fiji.

Give them the chance to share something they would remember...not the disease.

Then I would do my damndest not to wallow.


Shin said...


Have my kids clean the toilets just before I die? No, that's not the choice I'd make.

Euthanasia? I wouldn't rule it out.

Shin said...


I thought of the same - going on a trip to one of those places I'd always wanted to visit and take the kids along so I could leave them with an incredible, indelible memory they can keep forever.

The problem is, Toby and Josie are too young right now to appreciate something like the Lost City of the Incas or the Pyramids of Egypt. And Toby will definitely be too young to remember it.

So I'm holding out for a few more years and then maybe we can take a trip together. Wishful thinking, at my stage of the disease, but I can still dream.

Anonymous said...

I think you are right on with your answer. I would take my family (wife and 2 kids) to experience what we could together. We have the goal of stopping work for a year when the kids are 10-12 and traveling around the country visiting Nat'l Parks and other spectacular places. I think we would just move that up to do it right away. The kids are so happy spending time with us when I don't have to go off to work, that it makes it the happiest time for me as well.


Anonymous said...

I'll do exactly what you'll do. Spend more time with my family.. and do whatever I can for my son. Being a mother changes everything.. nothing matters as much as your children. Your blog will be the best present for them. Maybe you can just print it into a book, just 2 copies for your kids to read. Share with them your courage and strength. I'm sure they'll appreciate lots when they grow up. :)


Shin said...


Thanks for your suggestion. I'm planning to print out my blog entries for the kids, but also as back-up, in case Google Blogspot loses everything. It's on my list of things to do before I die... So much to do... so little time...