When people are somewhat flippant, they may say: Live each day as if it’s the last day of your life! When they are in a more philosophical mood, they ask themselves: If they knew exactly when they would die, how would they live their remaining days?

Of course, many answer that they’d prefer not to know how long their lives are going to be, that the mystery of it all adds to life itself.

As I look back at the past year, I realize that I lived with the feeling that I was on a timetable or deadline (pardon the pun). I suppose this is partly because I had been anticipating surgery or another round of chemotherapy and I understood that either one of those (and certainly both) would curtail how fully I lived my life during the year. The feeling could also be explained by the realization that I was in the ninth year since my diagnosis — which is a pretty long time to have lived with ovarian cancer.

And lastly, I saw the diminishing lives of friends of mine with the same disease, which brought the question more clearly to my mind.

As I reflected on the past year, I realized that I had traveled during seven of the first nine months, which is highly unusual for me. But it was not coincidental. I purposely planned trips to visit friends and family members around the country because I comprehended the fact that surgery – which eventually I underwent in September – would severely limit my ability to safely and healthily travel. With surgery or chemotherapy, all bets are off; one doesn’t know how long it will take to recover, if at all.

Of course, some of the family members I felt compelled to visit were having their own health issues, and I wanted to visit with them while they were still up and about. (Thankfully, that proved to be the case.) And some friends made their own pilgrimage to visit me for the same reason.

Some of the trips I took required more planning to accomplish and distance to cover, while others were repeat performances to see my aging parents. As I told myself, “I better go see them while I can.”

Without fully comprehending my reality, I had allowed my lurking surgery to define my year. By doing so, I also gave the year a lot more meaning. I lived it as if it might be my last (at least to travel). I prioritized my time and energy. I knew what was important to me, and I pursued it.

And isn’t that what the admonishment “to live each day as if it were the last” means? Having given these questions a lot more thought than most people (need to) do, I’ve decided that one must find a balance. Sure, we must appreciate each day we have and not put off the important things to do for when…we retire, have the money, the time, or whatever. But we can’t let the cloud of our eventual demise ruin each day. We must seek that balance that allows us to appreciate the lives we have.

At the very end of the year, I received surprising and excellent blood test results. As my husband said, “Suddenly the future has opened up to us.” Exactly, but I have not yet decided how to live this next year. At this point, I don’t have any reference point. This is where the whole issue becomes murky, unclear, up in the air.

But I also have time now to leisurely consider my options.