When your “To-Do List” becomes a “Bucket list”

There have been a couple of times when I felt my life was just wasting precious time.

My first time was 9/11. I remember how many people re-evaluated their lives to see if they genuinely lived what was in their hearts. There were proposals, new endeavors, mended relationships, and divorces.

I had a divorce in the works by the end of that year. The shift in the world, the loss of lives, and the loss of security were cause for a closer look into my own life. My divorce, while painful, gave me a second chance to have all I had ever wanted. We were young when we married, we had two amazing boys, but even our love for them couldn’t keep us together.

My second time was when they found a parotid tumor in my neck about five years ago. The tumor was removed, and other than a badass scar and numbness on my right cheek, I’m good. My doctor encouraged me to leave a high-stress job, I started fishing, and my life completely changed direction.

This is the third time. This tumor on my brain is a new promise of change in my life, whether or not I want it. I can see this as a horrible thing happening to me, or I can think of this as my body and life demanding change. Each time a trial such as this occurs, you can push against it and refuse to change. Or you can see the difference it is physically making in your body, accept it, and move with the change.

As this tumor grows and changes, it pushes against the bone structure of my skull. It causes it to disrupt nerve impulses, motor skills, and abilities. It is making room where there is none. It forces other parts of my brain to compress and stop working correctly.

My tumor is in the frontal lobe area. One of the areas controlling my ability to walk, dance, solve problems, communicate, and express myself. I find it ironic how it can affect my ability to express myself and communicate since I have an English Degree from the University of South Florida and I’m a writer. But really, it ultimately makes sense.

I haven’t written much since I finished my degree a year ago. I haven’t been expressing myself; I’ve stayed private and to myself. COVID gave me the gift of being away from people and allowed me to recognize how much stress crowds of people cause me. It opened my eyes to acknowledging I’m an introvert, and I’m really good at it.

I guess I’m more of an omnivert, a person who looks like a natural extrovert in public, who can talk to anyone or even be the center of attention. But when they get home, they need time to heal and gain strength from the energy it took to be in that situation.

I love people, but they drain me, and I don’t know how to shut off all the feelings I feel from them. It hurts to think I can’t be who I once was when I was much younger, but my time in the Army took that from me. The VA diagnosed me with PTSD – High anxiety disorder and gave me meds and offered me therapy, but I think it’s where you fit in the world that needs to be addressed first.

I felt I didn’t fit in anywhere when I first got out. I never spoke of being a Veteran until my boys were in High School. When I did meet a group of Veterans, we all got along great. Eventually, I found I didn’t even feel comfortable around other Veterans. Many brought back some painful memories of my time in service.

The fishing community found me, and my life changed. They were very much like Veterans but with super cool fish. And I felt comfortable around them. I met a lot of incredible people in the last seven years. One of my favorites was my fishing partner for four years, Melissa Littlewood.

I could tell you some fantastic stories about how she was such an inspiration to me in all areas of my life. I will tell stories of our adventures another, but today is just about one of the things we did together.

After fishing with Melissa for about 3 months, she convinced me to enter the Sarasota Tarpon Tournament. This is the oldest tarpon tournament in the world, and I had never caught a tarpon at this point and, up until then, had only seen one in the tank at Mote Marine.
I signed up. We saw many tarpon but didn’t catch any the first year. Somehow, Melissa convinced me to sign up again the following year. Still no tarpon.

We spent 5 days a week and 8-10 hours on the water, but we still didn’t catch one. Melissa convinced me to sign up for the third time. I hooked one, it jumped, and it was over in less than 15 seconds, but after three years of fishing, still not a single tarpon.

Melissa left us all almost a year ago on June 27th. The last time I fished with her, she wanted to try for tarpon. I didn’t know she had stopped her cancer treatment, and I didn’t think it would be our last time to fish together. I voted to log fish for the CCA Star tournament and not target tarpon.

If I could do it again, I would have agreed to fish for tarpon; I would have stayed out as long as she wanted to. We would have talked and talked until the sun was gone and until it came back up again. But that didn’t happen; the chance is gone.

Melissa always wanted me to learn how to fly fish. I started tying flies in October with Project Healing Waters. I joined Mangrove Coast Fly Fishing Club, and every Tuesday night, I tie flies with some of the most generous people I’ve ever met. The kindness they have shown me is incredible. I will treasure these people forever.

I have started to learn fly fishing. I caught my first fish in North Carolina a few weeks ago. I went out with a great guide with KS Outdoors in Maggie Valley- named NIck – this guy was so talented and he put me right on fish!

I know Melissa was smiling down on me. She was an incredible angler, both spin and fly. I hope to one day be that good and share what I know with others, as she did with me. To carry on her legacy.

She encouraged me to continue to write, which I have been doing again. She challenged me to learn to fly fish, and I can check that one off the list. But the one thing I still haven’t done is catch a tarpon.

I watched a great documentary at the Compound the other night, “Fly Fishing Film Tour,” a group of short films about fly fishing from 2021. It’s shown in fly shops, clubs, and venues every year. I watched the 2020 film at home the morning before going to Compound.

One of the short films was about this guy who had been trying to catch a permit for 12 years. His story ended with him folded over in tears with his closest friends, crying because he finally reached a goal he had struggled to reach for many years.

I thought about how long I’ve been trying to catch a tarpon, and I thought I’d been trying to catch one for six years. But then I remembered. I went on a tarpon trip on my honeymoon with my first husband, and the only fish caught that day was a catfish.

So, really, I have been trying to catch a tarpon for 28 years.

When I finally realized this, I was walking on the beach with my friend Jackie trying to catch snook on fly. We talked about my surgery and how long I might need to recover.

I decided at that moment that I would make it my mission to catch a tarpon before my surgery, just in case I never get the chance again.

I’m sure I will be fine; I have a great surgeon. I’m young.

But I need to do this.

Jackie didn’t take a second to think before she offered to split the trip with me. So, I have a plan and a partner to fish with. Next thing you know, I have two of my other fishing friends from IWFA, Amy and Nancy, filling out the trip.

My tarpon trip is scheduled for 7:00 AM on May 11th.

Hopefully, four fishing friends will end the day folded over in tears from their friend finally catching a tarpon after 28 years. Another wish will be fulfilled in honor of my dear friend Melissa.

The Tarpon necklace in the first photo was Melissa’s. I’ll be wearing it on our tarpon trip, so I’m bringing Melissa with me. I couldn’t imagine her not being a part of this special moment.

My surgery is scheduled for 7:30AM on May 24th.

-Corinne Noel