Guest Post by Linda Schmidt
A Bucket List is a list of activities an individual wants to experience before they die. You may have heard of this term from the movie The Bucket List, a 2007 American comedy-drama film directed by Rob Reiner, written by Justin Zackham, and starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The main plot follows two terminally ill men (portrayed by Nicholson and Freeman) on their road trip with a wish list of things to do before they “kick the bucket.”
Geraldine (Gerry) MacSwain-Butkiewicz moved to Bell Tower this past July after it became too difficult to be home alone. When you knock on her apartment door, whether it is one of her good or bad days, her welcome is always warm and inviting. When I stopped in her apartment to see if it would be okay to do this article, her daughter and son-in-law were there visiting and encouraged her to do it and thought how nice it would be.
Eleven years ago on Friday the 13th in December, her physician first told her she had a tumor in her breast and needed a lumpectomy that was done in January, and then in February she had a mastectomy. After overcoming that hurdle, she was later diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “Having your ovaries removed wasn’t much of a surgery,” she told me. “But then they discovered more cancer cells.” She then had a hysterectomy with follow-up treatments and was considered cancer-free.
After her hysterectomy she found out that her family has the BRCA I gene. It’s become familiar to people since actress Angelina Jolie had made her struggles with it public. She went in for a pre-op physical before having her cataracts removed. Her doctor saw something suspicious and in September 2008, they found she had stage 4 lung cancer. Gerry received treatments and overcame this third hurdle.
In February of this year, the physicians found cancer in her bile ducts, which had metastasized. When I asked her how she could accept this so well she shared this with me. “I have lost a niece and many male and female cousins to cancer. My daughter has the BRCA I gene and knowing this her physician was able to catch it in the early stage and she is doing well. My mother died of ovarian cancer at the age of 59. She was able to overcome breast cancer, which her three sisters also had. I learned from my mother that if you’re going to be mopey…no one will want to be your friend. Everyone deals with something during their lifetime. A male cousin always told me that it wasn’t IF we were going to get cancer…just WHEN.”
She has very few regrets but one of them is that she was unable to volunteer after she retired. The many bouts of cancer and treatments left her too weak to consider it. During a six-month period in the eleven years of fighting cancer, she underwent four surgeries.
Since Gerry’s move to Bell Tower two items on her Bucket List have been crossed off with the assistance of our staff, friends, and family. One item was to ride a horse and the other was to ride a motorcycle. “I have two items left…I’d like to ride a four-wheeler and a go-cart before I die.”
Gerry’s grace accepting each day joyfully with the assurance of God’s love and mercy may be an example for us all. “I try to keep an open heart and let the Lord lead the way. Although I think He’s being a little slow right now,” she said with a smile. “I’ve had two wonderful husbands…some women aren’t that lucky with one!”
Gerry lost one son in 1979 while he was in the service. She has one daughter who lives in Illinois, and four sons: Rob in Minnesota, Jim in Hudson, Donald in Merrill, and Steve in Marshfield. “If you don’t have your own bucket list,” Gerry suggests, “why not start one now?”
I take this opportunity to thank Gerry and her family for allowing us all at Bell Tower to join them in the final days of her journey… What’s on your bucket list?
Linda Schmidt serves as Director of Marketing and Admissions at Bell Tower Residence, a non-profit faith-based assisted living community promoting the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of each resident in a safe, caring environment. “Our residents don’t live in our community…we work in their home.”
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DISCLOSURE – Brenda Avadian, Executive Director of The Caregiver’s Voice presented at Bell Tower Residence’s annual Caregiving Conference. The theme: “Can I SURVIVE as a CAREGIVER?” You’re not alone. She had the pleasure, two days later, of leading the first-ever Alzheimer’s Memory Walk in Merrill, Wisconsin. Forty walkers in a small northwoods Wisconsin town, raised nearly $10,000 to support the Alzheimer’s Association. Despite the intermittent drizzle and pouring rain, this family like many others, was prepared to have a FUN TIME.