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How Would You Spend Your Time and Money if You Had a Year to Live?

At my annual physical a few weeks ago, my doctor noticed a lump at the base of my neck. He ordered an ultrasound of my thyroid gland; the scan showed a large mass that's being followed up by a biopsy to determine if it's cancerous. It will take a week or two to get the results.

As you can imagine, I'm quite concerned. As soon as I got home, I promptly searched the Internet and found a lot of information on lumps in your neck; some of it was comforting, some scary. There's a very good chance that the lump isn't cancerous or life-threatening. However, there's also a very small chance that I've got the worst type of thyroid cancer, in which case I'll most likely be dead within a year. Now I'm experiencing the kind of soul-searching wait for test results that so many people go through every day of the year.

Human nature being what it is, I focused on the least-likely but worst-case scenario. If I've got one year to live, what would I do? Being a traveler, would I want to go to as many as possible of the 1,000 Places to See Before You Die? While that idea initially sounded intriguing, it lost its appeal when I thought about it a little more. I realize there are more meaningful ways to use my time.

Maybe I should learn as much as possible about the healing powers of yoga, diet, acupuncture, and other healing modalities. It could be beneficial. And there's mounting evidence that these activities can improve your health and well-being, regardless of the state of your health. I'm definitely up for this, but I'll run these ideas by my doctor first before proceeding.

Or should I reduce activities that really don't mean much to me anymore? There are a few things I spend time on that I'm just doing out of habit, and when I think about it, I've got better things to do with my time. Consider it done.

Do I need to get my will and estate plan updated? Good idea -- check. Spend more time with my kids and soon-to-be-born granddaughter? You betcha! That's the best thing I can do with my time. And I've been thinking a lot about the life lessons and insights I'd like to pass along to them, to help them with their lives.

Then I considered my extended family and friends, and I realized the best use of my time is to be of service to the people who mean the most to me and to help the causes that I'm most passionate about.

Wait a minute -- what am I waiting for?! After all this serious thinking, I realized I should be doing these things regardless of the test results. This experience has given me valuable insights on just how I want to spend my time and money for my rest-of-life, no matter how short or how long it is.

This experience also reinforced the importance of an annual physical. My condition was caught early, improving the odds of a favorable outcome. Now I'm committed to getting this physical every year. Since most medical plans pay for the entire cost, including Medicare, I've got no excuse to procrastinate.

Finally, I realized that many people have gone through the same agonizing wait, with test results that didn't end up being favorable. My experience gives me a lot of compassion for others who find themselves in this situation. I know this is going to happen increasingly to my family and friends in the years to come as we all get older. So another very good use of my time is to be supportive of others when they really need help.

Which reminds me of the saying my wife and I saw recently at the Wat U Mong temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand -- you'll see it in the photo at the beginning of this post. Good retirement planning advice!

Last week, I suggested you'd gain interesting insights about your retirement if you thought you'd live forever. You'll gain equally valuable insights if you think about your life with one year to live. Ironic, isn't it?

Update: Since I initially wrote this post, I've received my test results and the lump is benign. What a relief for me and my family! I'm certainly very lucky. And I won't just breathe a sigh of relief and go back to business as usual. The insights I gained are priceless.

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