Living Out the Bucket List

A local foundation helps make wishes come true for adults with cancer

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By Corbie Hill
Photos courtesy of Fill Your Bucket List Foundation

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Between Thanksgiving and the New Year, Peggy Carroll’s nonprofit granted seven wishes to adults coping with cancer.  

The wishes ranged from cross-country travel (a son was flown home for the holidays) to a local trip (one woman simply wanted to see Christmas lights). From big to small dreams, the Fill Your Bucket List Foundation obliged, making the holidays just a little bit happier for seven patients and their families. But that was only a portion of the 2017 giving for this Cary-based nonprofit. In just a few years, Fill Your Bucket List Foundation has risen to many challenges for granting the bucket list wishes of financially disadvantaged cancer patients, mostly within North Carolina.

“We just celebrated our third anniversary,” Carroll says. “The first year we did two wishes, and by the end of ‘17, we [granted] 60 wishes. We have been busy.”

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Carroll knows firsthand how important it is for cancer patients to live their dreams. A little over nine years ago, it was her own father’s terminal cancer diagnosis that started this entire mission. He had late-stage lung cancer and Carroll, who has worked in cancer patient advocacy for 35 years, knew there wasn’t much time. So she asked, “What do you want to do? What is your bucket list?”
Her dad’s wishes revolved around his grandchildren, Carroll’s children, who were in high school at the time. He wanted to see them play in the school band competitions, and he got his wish. He succumbed the next day, his bucket list complete.

Carroll knew then that she wanted to do the same thing for other cancer patients, especially those who didn’t have the means to live their dreams. A few years later, she was able to launch Fill Your Bucket List Foundation.

“Our mission is to grant wishes to North Carolina patients who have cancer, also are struggling financially, and are over 19 years old—because Make a Wish does such a great job under 19,” Carroll says. “We help people who couldn’t afford to do what they wanted to do … maybe have a little bit of time and wonderful memories where they’re not thinking about cancer for a little bit.”

It works like this: There’s a form on the Fill Your Bucket List Foundation’s website where anyone can nominate a person. The Foundation’s two criteria are that the person needs to be below the poverty line and their doctor has to give permission for them to participate (especially if the wish involves travel). Cancer puts everyone in a financial strain, Carroll knows, but she feels people who have the means are more likely to be able to pursue bucket list items than patients who were impoverished even before their diagnosis.

“Unfortunately, the need is huge,” she says. “Cancer is huge, and everybody is touched by it.”

Accordingly, Fill Your Bucket List wants to reach as many people as possible without losing its one-on-one emphasis: Each bucket list item, after all, is specific to the person and family touched by it. The wishes have included trips to New York City and Nashville, Tennessee. One golfer wanted to play Pinehurst No. 2, while others have taken their families to Disneyworld. Bucket list items run the gamut from seats at the Super Bowl and at Carolina/Duke games, to birthday celebrations and anniversary parties. Some wishes are poignant for their simplicity.

“One lady—we could not get her to do anything for [herself]—but she wanted to buy gifts for her family. We said, ‘We will do it, but you have to buy yourself something at Walmart,” Carroll recalls. “We’ve had a lot of patients who want to see the ocean. They live here and they’ve never seen the ocean. “

And this is one place where Fill Your Bucket List’s donors are able to step in and help: They’ll donate their beach house for a week to wish recipients who want to see the sea. UNC students donate their time to work on the foundation’s PR, and volunteers range from individuals and families to youth groups and companies. These are the people who keep the foundation afloat.

“Truly, Cary, Raleigh, and the Triangle are why we’re so effective,” Carroll says. “The people in this community are so giving of their time and their resources.”

Every year, the foundation holds one big fundraiser: This year’s Bucket Bash will be March 24th at North Ridge Country Club in Raleigh, and this is when Fill Your Bucket List raises all the funds for a year’s worth of wish fulfillment. Wish recipients are invited to attend as the guests of honor, and the foundation is always looking for volunteers to help with the Bucket Bash. After all, this nonprofit has now checked off enough bucket list items to know the effect its work has.

About half the people Fill Your Bucket List helps have positive health outcomes after having their wishes granted, Carroll notes. Indeed, many of them have simple, straightforward things they want to accomplish before they die, and seeing these things through is a relief and a cause for celebration.

“I believe we all should live our bucket list all the time, but unfortunately sometimes it takes a diagnosis to go, ‘Okay, what do we want to do?’” Carroll says. “And then we do it. I’m a big believer of doing it all the time.”  

Fill Your Bucket List Foundation
Learn more at fillyourbucketlistfoundation.org

Bucket Bash Gala 2018
What: Fill Your Bucket List Foundation’s annual fundraiser
Where: North Ridge Country Club, Raleigh
When: March 24th @ 6pm.
Learn about tickets, donation, and volunteer opportunities at fillyourbucketlistfoundation.org/bucket-bash