Even with cancer keep planning

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

JUNE 11, 2019

Vacation PhotosIt can be daunting and even frightening to think about the future. Many people think only in small periods of time: three months between scans or one year of a predicted prognosis. Some people diagnosed with cancer 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. Some have superstitions about inviting bad karma. More rationally, they are concerned about spending money they might need elsewhere. These anxieties strike people with a likely curable cancer as well as those living with advanced disease.

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. It is also important not to feel pressured by a possibly shortened life. No one wants to daily think: "I need to make the most of every single hour because I don't know how many I have." We all need some down time and less technicolor days. Here are some suggestions about how to think of the future:

  1. Try positive affirmations: "I am well today" and "This is a beautiful morning for me to enjoy."
  2. Break the future into smaller chunks. If you have scans every three months, approach the future in 90-day blocks.
  3. Shop as usual. If you always buy a new bathing suit in April, continue to do so.
  4. 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.
  5. 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. Don't cancel them.
  6. Continue your normal social traditions. If you host Thanksgiving every year, but it seems overwhelming this 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Identify important events in your future such as a birthday, a graduation or a wedding. Include all the details in your dream for the day: the location, the weather, what you will be wearing. Afterwards, keep a photograph of the event on your desk or dresser. Whenever you worry about the next occasion, look at the photo and remind yourself that you were worried about that one too, and you were there.
  9. Never let your calendar be empty. If necessary, plan in pencil, but keep planning.
  10. Most importantly, unless and until you have been told that time is limited, live as though your months and years will unfold as expected. If there is bad news in the future, you will have to deal with it then. It does not help to suffer with worry now.
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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