If you were dying, but still felt healthy now, what would you do with the time you had left?
This question is the premise for two films entitled Last Holiday.
In the 1950 version of the story, Alec Guinness plays George Bird, a salesperson of modest means and ambitions. During a routine physical, his doctor delivers a terminal diagnosis: he has Lampington’s disease, rare and very deadly — and he will die soon.
Bird wanders into the street in a daze, winds up in a second-hand shop where he purchases a Duke’s wardrobe, then takes himself off to a posh seaside resort. No longer hampered by his “keep-my-head-down attitude,” Bird starts to say exactly what he thinks.
The wealthy are charmed. A captain of industry seeks his advice. Bird finds himself the center of attention, and his whole life begins to change. Near the end of the film, his doctor discovers he’s given Bird the wrong diagnosis.
The plot may be familiar to you, even if you haven’t seen the Guinness film. Last Holiday was remade in 2006 with Queen Latifah in the lead role, playing Georgia Byrd, a mild-mannered salesperson selling cookware in a New Orleans department store. Her boss is rude and thoughtless, and he regularly demeans her.
Georgia spends her evenings cooking complex recipes and dreaming of being a chef. When she receives her terminal diagnosis, she heads off to the Grandhotel Pupp in Czechoslovakia where her hero Chef Didier works. Freed from her regular constraints, Georgia blossoms.
I like both versions of the film. I first saw the original film over thirty years ago; I have to admit, I’ve always thought about it as Obi Wan takes his last holiday . . . since I was twelve when Star Wars came out, Guinness will always live in my imagination that way.
When Latifah’s version of the film came out, I went to see it. I love the re-make. It’s positive, it’s fun — and I love the premise, the “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
Little did I know I would get to live the plot line myself.
SO . . . if you were dying, but still felt healthy now, what would you do with the time you had left?
The answer is different for each of us.
I have always dreamed of traveling the world and writing. There were so many years that I couldn’t — no money, then no time, job constraints, a small child at home. But I always thought that one day I would, that I had to, that I wanted to with a large part of myself, my soul.
2016: My Year of Last Holidays
I should mention that my husband Drew, love of my life, died in the summer of 2013 after a 2.5 year fight with terminal cancer. We managed his last holiday — his dream, to go to London and Paris about six months before he passed.
In 2014, I had emergency surgery for a fully obstructed bowel. The Stage III colon cancer had spread to one of eighteen lymph nodes removed along with the tumor.
I started chemo in September 2014, and finished at the end of March 2015. As anyone who has had cancer knows, we live scan to scan.
My oncologist, my surgeon, and I spent the first half of 2016 thinking my cancer had metastasized, but could be cured after two lung surgeries and chemo.
Following a scan in June, things were worse. Based on conversations with my doctors, I expected I might live two years, and none of it was going to be pretty.
In March, I downsized from a large house to a two-bedroom condo; I figured I’d better do it while I still felt strong enough to do the work.
After the bad scan, I quit my job of 24 years.
My daughter and I watch Joe Versus the Volcano that night, another film in keeping with the Last Holiday theme. It’s one of those that people either really, really like or really, really don’t. I kind of love it. Catherine and I kind of loved it together.
I took five last holidays in 2016.
The first trip was impromptu. I got the bad news, and took my daughter Catherine on a first-class Delta flight to New York for New Year’s Eve. We museumed, and shopped, and walked, and ate amazing food, and saw Broadway shows from the very best seats.
Afterwards came two last holidays before what I expected to be a very bad year of surgery and chemo.
The final two were the last holidays I ever expected to take. Where were these five trips? You know about the Big Apple. Three journeys involved tall ships. One was a trip to Alaska and Puget Sound.
And then something magical happened.
The spots in the pleura of my lungs disappeared.
In January of 2017, I quit worrying about cancer. I’m staying on my path, to turn my writing and my blog into something bigger.
And you know what? If I hadn’t had the living daylights scared out of me last year, I wouldn’t be here . . . I’d still be sitting in my office, afraid to leave.
There are two posts having to do with my cancer, you’ll find them here. I’ll post another shortly, for those who want to know more about the scans, etc.
You’ll find four of my “last holidays” here, broken up into six different blog posts: