The Other List

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work, emeritus

JULY 09, 2018

Exercising the Power of "No"

We are all familiar with bucket lists that encourage us to go ahead with experiences that are important and, perhaps, to take some thrilling risks. But a second and equally important list can be just as useful. A let-it-go list can help us recognize the commonplace annoyances that, in the face of cancer, just don’t matter.

As we get better at distinguishing minor stressors from important ones, the list can remind us of where we want to spend our time and energy. This can be a great topic for discussion with your social worker or support group. (Learn more about BIDMC's offerings in these areas.)

Here are some principles to consider when creating your own list:

1. When you face a problem, assess the long-lasting impact. Will the problem matter in a day's or a week’s time? If not, put it in the let-it-go column.

2. Learn to start from “no.” Most of us are socialized to say “yes” to requests, and we may feel burdened and obligated later. Of course, you may want to bake those cookies or go to that event, but think about it before accepting.

3. Spend your time and energy on people and things that make you happy, not on fulfilling other people’s expectations. Cancer gives you a trump card, so don’t be afraid to play it when appropriate.

4.  Forgive yourself and others. You may have some regrets, but that is much better than having done nothing to regret.

5.  Don’t worry so much about routine activities, such as dusting the furniture or vacuuming the carpets. Once you eliminate these mundane tasks, see if you or anyone else cares or even notices. 

6. Don’t waste energy on negative people. Find time for people who make you feel better.

7. All of us have financial constraints, but facing a serious diagnosis can provide a great opportunity to tap into that rainy day fund, perhaps prompting you to go on a trip or enjoy dinner at a restaurant you’ve never tried. As they say, you can’t take it with you—so go ahead and splurge. If a splurge is not part of your budget right now, perhaps you can go ahead and spend a little more than feels comfortable. Put yourself first some of the time and always put those you love ahead of others.

9.   Remind yourself that many things are out of your control, including the outcomes of scans or treatments, and learn to slow down and take a deep breath through these anxious moments.

If you would like to leave a comment, click BIDMC Cancer Community and tell us your thoughts.