What’s On Your Bucket List

undefinedWhat would you do if you found out your life is ending sooner — much sooner than expected? What would you do with your time? What’s on your bucket list?

That’s exactly the situation that Tom Allison found himself in when he was diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer in his 30s. Tom had already been working on a bucket list, and now he stepped into overdrive, checking off items, determined to enjoy as much of his life as possible.

Tom wanted to go skydiving. Visit Washington, DC. Ride a mechanical bull. Have a Celebration of Life party. With limited time, Tom needed help. That’s when his good friend Valerie Anderson stepped up to the challenge and stood by his side to ensure that the rest of his life was filled with love and happiness.

To do this, Valerie had to be committed to completing the bucket list and supporting him throughout his illness, as each week grew harder and Tom became sicker.

Valerie and Tom’s families met through their church, and they became close friends as their children were around the same age. They all watched 24 together, went bowling and participated in volunteer activities. “Our favorite thing was to serve, all of us together,” remembers Valerie.

While many cancer rates are dropping in the U.S., kidney cancer has actually increased over the last decade, leaving many people sick and many caregivers, like Valerie, unprepared for the illness.

Blindsided by the diagnosis, Tom and Valerie sought professional help. “We didn’t know anything at all about hospice. The doctor recommended Crossroads,” says Valerie.

Valerie, along with the Gift of a Day team, went to work planning one of Tom’s bucket list items: the Celebration of Life party. Along with area churches, Crossroads and Valerie made the day a success. The party included Tom’s favorite food and games, plus re-enactors in costume from Tom’s favorite movie, Star Wars. With 150 friends and family from across the country in attendance, Tom was able to have the party of a lifetime.

Tom passed away in 2011. Valerie and the Crossroads staff maintained a strong relationship, having bonded over Tom’s end-of-life care and keeping him as happy and comfortable for as long as possible.

From the experience, Valerie was inspired to volunteer at Crossroads. “I had coordinated Tom’s care and was pretty unflappable. I had a knack for it, so my daughter and I trained to become volunteers.”

She has become an invaluable resource as a volunteer. As an event planner, her skills help organize Gift of a Day events, so that she can help others complete items on their bucket list, like Tom did.  She also uses her talents as a photographer to capture the special moments of Veteran’s Recognition ceremonies.

Valerie’s experience as a caregiver for Tom highlighted her natural talents, and made her realize that she can volunteer and help others using those same skills. “It’s important to figure out your niche,” Valerie says. “As we say in my church, ‘We’re not asking everyone to do everything. We’re asking everyone to do something.’”

Her advice for those interested in volunteering: “Talk to the Volunteer Coordinator. See the need and match your talents to that need.”

Valerie is the epitome of a volunteer. She uses the skills she already has as a way to give back. You can volunteer your time and talents, too. By volunteering, you can make someone’s bucket list a reality, and help make the rest of their life a celebration.

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