Do Not Stop Planning

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

AUGUST 06, 2018

Shop On, Plan On, Live On

Thinking about the future can be daunting and even frightening. People diagnosed with cancer may wonder whether they even have a future—and, if so, how long it might last. Many of those diagnosed with cancer say they are unwilling to buy a new coat or think about a summer vacation, let alone to begin thinking about eventually buying a vacation home or retiring. Some have superstitions about inviting bad karma. More rationally, they may be concerned about spending money they might need for other purposes. These anxieties strike people with a likely curable cancer as well as those living with advanced disease.

The spending vs. saving money part should probably be its own topic as there is much to say. I always remember Maureen who, while living very well and quite long with metastatic breast cancer, liked to remind us in her BIDMC Cancer Center support groupThey don't put pockets in coffins. In other words, spend your money. Barbara likes to tell me that she hopes her very last check will bounce.

Though there is a great deal of discussion about the value of living in the moment, appreciating each day as it comes and trying not to worry about next month or next year, it is important to believe in the future and to allow yourself to plan ahead in positive ways. Here are some suggestions:

1.     Unless and until you have been told time is limited, try to live as though all is well. If there is trouble looming, you will have to deal with it when the time comes. There is no benefit in allowing those fears to contaminate today. We all know that this is much easier said than done.

2.     Try positive affirmations: “I am well today” and “This is a beautiful morning for me to enjoy.”

3.     Break the future into smaller chunks. If you have scans every three months, approach the future in 90-day blocks. If you don't have regular scans think about some other way to divide the year; breaking it into seasons or times of major holidays might work.

4.     Shop as usual. If you always buy Christmas cards for the next year when they go on sale right after the Dec. 25, continue to do so.

5.     Even if you are being treated and are never sure how you will feel, continue to accept appealing invitations. Your friends will understand if you have to cancel.It is much worse to keep your calendar empty and end up lonely and bored.

6.     If you are worried about a side effect or a symptom affecting your plans, figure out how to manage it. For example, if you know you need extra time in the bathroom in the morning, just schedule your activities a little later. Most people react in more or less the same way to every chemo treatment. You will quickly figure out when to expect your bad days and can schedule things for all the others. 

7.     Continue your normal social traditions. If you host Thanksgiving every year, consider asking others to bring part of the meal or ask if someone else can take primary responsibility for the event. The important thing is to plan Thanksgiving and adapt it as necessary, but expect to be present and hungry.

8.     Go ahead and think about your next vacation. Planning and anticipation are always part of the pleasure. Even for people without health concerns, it is smart to buy trip insurance. If you are worried about having an emergency away from home, think about purchasing medical evacuation insurance. Of course, it is important to speak with your doctor about restrictions on your travel; usually there are few.

9.  Never let your calendar be empty. Audrey taught me the wisdom of keeping two calendars: one for medical appointments and one for everything else. Be especially vigilant about filling the spaces on the second one. If necessary, plan in pencil--but keep planning.

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