The “What Are Your Wishes” Conversation & All The Feels

Part of having cancer is facing the inevitable question, “is it terminal?” In some cases, it’s pretty clear from the jump what the prognosis is, but in other cases (aka like mine), the doctors take forever to pin down a diagnosis. It took almost two months for them to come to a consensus about my cancer, and fortunately for me, the one they landed on wasn’t terminal. Unfortunately, that particular type of cancer was surrounded on all sides by terminal cancers, so the conversation about what I would want to happen if I pass inevitably had to happen.

"What are your wishes?"

“What are your wishes?” These are four words you’d love to hear if they were coming from a genie, or possibly someone a little scary you met on Tinder, or maybe even a billionaire whose life you just saved by performing the Heimlich maneuver to prevent them choking on a hastily cut piece of pheasant under glass (I have no idea what billionaires eat). Unfortunately, these words are not as much fun when they are spoken by your mother in a dismal hospital room on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday evening.

It was surreal. Having your mother, the person who brought you into the world, ask you what you want your exit from said world to consist of is an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Not even because it was terrifying – because surprisingly it wasn’t, at least initially. The feeling, instead, was more like when Marty McFly kissed his own mom in Back To The Future (how did we not freak out about this more at the time?). It was as if I knew, deep down, it was wrong – a paradox at odds with time and space itself, like I was somehow breaking the universe by even entertaining the thought at all. The primal wrongness of it all hit me like a punch in the gut and eclipsed all the other emotions at the time. Here was my own mother asking me what should happen when I die.

Talking about death can feel surreal

It’s difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t faced it what discussing your own death is like. I’m not talking about “OMG if he doesn’t ask me to prom ill totes die!” or “Dude that coaster was epic! I felt like I was gonna die!” I’m talking about a real, visceral, heart-wrenching, stone-cold-sobering realization that you are on a path that not only could, but is very likely to end in death, and soon. I think everyone, at first, sort of sees it from the 10,000-foot view.

You have this detached objectivity that sets in like you are discussing what to make for dinner next Tuesday, or what color you want to paint the bathroom – sea-foam green or pastel forest, or even how that damn Mrs. Newman your neighbor, let her Goldendoodle tear up your geraniums again. It isn’t solidified yet, something you can wrap your head around, so you just say “hmm, my wishes, well, let me think… I definitely want a tuba, I know that.” Of course, “I want a tuba,” doesn’t cut it when it comes to last wishes, so you eventually have to dig in for realsies.

Should I make a will?

The first thing I remember thinking was, “I have so much stuff, how can I decide what to do with it?” Then I thought, “ugh, do I need to write down all my passwords?” Then that inevitably led to, “actually, no, no one is getting any of my passwords, or my private messages, yikes or my browser history. Nope. Never. Ever. Ever. Everrrrr, everevereverever.” Funny, right? Well, I’m not kidding. Seriously. That is pretty much the first thing that went through my mind when I sat down to legitimately consider my last wishes.

Now, I’m definitely a weirdo and my mind is filled with mostly old Futurama episodes and SweetTarts, but I think that anyone who sits down to seriously consider their last wishes has thoughts like these. It’s unavoidable, I mean, it’s such a gargantuan thing right in front you, taking up your entire view. It’s like those statues on Easter Island where just the heads are visible above ground, there’s so much to uncover you don’t even know where to begin. Do I make a will? Do I record a video? Do I order a t-shirt that says “This Side Up” for when I’m in my casket? All of these thoughts went through my head and still, no real feeling of fear or dread.

What can I do with the time I have left?

After a few minutes of that nonsense, I started to think about what I would leave behind, the life I had lived, and the people I had touched. Would they remember me? Had I been kind? Did I do the best I could to leave the world better than I found it? I know it sounds like the greatest hits of inspiration porn, but I think everyone wants to be remembered and remembered for being a good person at that. It’s not an absurd thought to have, and frankly, when I answered that question, the best I could come up with was, “I think so?” Suddenly, bam, right out of left field, that’s when the sadness and fear reared its ugly head and hit me like a Mack Truck.

I couldn’t help it, tears streamed down my cheeks as I sat there, contemplating what came next, and what I could do with the time I had left. So many things left undone, so many things left unsaid, just so much of all the things in life left in the world, God I was going to miss it. I was going to miss being alive, that’s what I felt. Isn’t that crazy? I was upset, just so upset, that I was going to miss being alive so much that it was like someone had told me I had to stay home while everyone else in the world went to Disneyland, and they got to drive the Monorail!

Of course, as you probably guessed, I got extremely lucky and ended up with the one cancer they could actually treat, and here I am to tell you about it. It didn’t make the experience any less real, though. Has it changed me? Probably, but I can’t exactly say how. I just know that I won’t miss out on anything I don’t have to, ever again. Talk soon.

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