Crossing Wishes Off Bob’s Bucket List in New Zealand

by Sandy McFarlane

Sandy and Bob crossing wishes off Bob's bucket list aboard Dawn Princess
Sandy and Bob crossing wishes off Bob's bucket list aboard Dawn Princess

How do you react to catastrophic news? We were reeling when my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Our thoughts galloped…in his 60s, Bob was too young for this! And after the operation, the doctor delivered the knockout blow:  A few cancer cells had settled in the lymph nodes, leaving Bob with only one to five years left to live.

Bob has always been a positive person and he drew on that to stay aloft. His voice firm, he told me he wasn’t going to let this news destroy him and that the years he had left would be his best ever. Between our seven children and me, we vowed to make that happen. I wanted to spend every possible minute left with him, so I quit my nursing job to look after Bob.

One night a year later, as Bob went to bed, I took a few minutes to straighten up the house. Under a pile of magazines, I found a scrap of paper; it was Bob’s bucket list. Hands trembling, I read it:

   Go on another cruise (the last had been 15 years ago)
   Do a skydive
   Take Sandy to see where she was born
   Do a bungee jump
   Renew our vows
   Travel around Australia

We’d been talking about taking another cruise vacation because the one we took in 1993 had been absolutely magical. With Bob soundly asleep, I went online and found a sailing of the Dawn Princess that stopped in Wellington, where I was born. We could renew our vows onboard, I thought, granting three of Bob’s bucket list wishes in one.

Then and there, I secretly booked the cruise for February 2009 and gave it to Bob for Christmas. He was ecstatic to receive it. As we boarded the cruise ship, we were a year and a half into Bob’s diagnosis. As happy as we felt, there were times we looked at each other and wondered if this would be our last great adventure together. But we made every effort to put that aside and enjoyed the trip.

The vow renewal was beautiful. The captain performed the ceremony in a beautifully decorated room, fragrant with fresh flowers. We ate canapés, drank champagne and allowed ourselves a small cry. Even the captain remarked it was the most emotional ceremony he’d ever performed, as the Princess crew knew our story and the significance of this cruise.

Four years into Bob’s shocking diagnosis, we took another cruise to New Zealand. I managed to surprise Bob again. This time, Bob’s best friend, Ian Munro and his wife Mae, who were in Australia on vacation, surreptitiously joined us on the cruise. That’s saying something, as they swore they’d never take one.

As Bob and I settled into our cabin, the Munros rapped on the door. “Room service for McFarlane,” they said. Puzzled, Bob answered, and the look on his face was priceless.

If Bob and I could spend 10 out of 12 months onboard, we would. But as it is, we are saving for a cruise for later this year–Year Five– and another in 2013 with the Munros, who quickly flipped and are now avowed cruisers.

Perhaps Bob’s bucket list did get stuck on “Go on another cruise.” Skydiving and bungee jumping are on hold while we anticipate the luxury and peacefulness of another at-sea vacation. I like to think that the power of Bob’s positive attitude, supplemented with an occasional joyful surprise, keep our lives moving optimistically and thankfully moving ahead in a forward trajectory.

Sandy and Bob live in Turosshead, New South Wales, Australia. They’ve enjoyed two Princess cruises and plan to become Elite cruisers!