About 7 years ago, my closest friend from college - Sasha- was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and had radical neurosurgery (during which she was awake) to remove it. Her story is incredible, and has been featured in commercials, print ads and on UCSF's website.
I remember Sasha going through the agonizing process of deciding whether or not to have the surgery. The tumor was under a major artery in her frontal lobe (part of the brain that controls movement, language, memory and personality). Even if they were successful in removing the cancer, there was a strong likelihood that they would fail to preserve "Sasha" as we all knew her. It was an incredibly courageous leap of faith to go ahead with the surgery; but even braver still was the fact that Sasha postponed the operation until she first took a trip to Europe - something she had always wanted to do. I am happy to say that the surgery was a complete success, and today she is alive, and beautiful, and healthy, and very much her same, incredibly spunky self.
Six years after Sasha's cancer diagnosis, mine came. My right hemi colectomy and lymph removal last year wasn't a dangerous nor life threatening surgery... certainly nothing like what Sasha went through - but I still wanted to follow in her footsteps and do something (on a small scale) that I'd always wanted to do before they gutted me like a trout. Only one problem - I couldn't think of anything.
I had no bucket list.
Since carcinoid's "mascot" is a zebra, I thought it'd be cool to do something with an "exotic" animal - so I decided to try and find a place that had beluga whales. I love these ridiculously cute, bulbous, smiling, iceberg-white creatures... if you have never seen one, this is a beluga:
As I was researching aquariums, I came upon the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, which not only has beluga whales, but an entire "Beluga Experience" where participants actually get in the water with one of these amazing animals. I called immediately, but they were completely booked for the summer - so I went into surgery with my one and only bucket list item still left unchecked.
This year - I was determined to finally get to meet a beluga; so on the way to my Dana-Farber appointment (for my radioactive injection and Oscan), Gary and I went to the Mystic Aquarium to meet Juno, a 1,320 lb male beluga whale, who let us pat his tongue, wiggle his melon (head blubber), feel his teeth, pet his back, and give him simple commands. It was a once-in-a-lifetime "encounter" - complete with a parting kiss.
Below are a couple of pictures from the day... the first three were taken by the aquarium photographer and a photo-booth; the second two were taken and edited on my iPhone using Instagram. Guess I need to come up with a new dream to stick on my bucket list.