Has cancer changed your perspective?

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

OCTOBER 02, 2019

Cancer Survivor OutdoorsLet me be very clear at the start: I will never suggest that having cancer is a blessing or a path to a better life. I am respectful of people who are able to take that view, and applaud their ability to make lemonade from lemons. However, I don't share it, and I personally believe that the best we can hope for is a clearer perspective and thoughtful choices about our lives.

Cancer does force us to step back from our usual routines and take care of ourselves. In spite of our efforts to maintain normalcy, most of us cannot keep up with the schedule of work and home and community responsibilities that ordinarily fill our calendars. We must schedule doctor's appointments and treatments and time to rest. We must cut back on some things and make choices about what is necessary and what can slide. Some of us even realize we can actually co-exist with a more cluttered house or simpler dinners.

We are all familiar with bucket lists and sometimes people ask us about those goals. Apparently, we are now expected to seriously consider those serious trips or thrilling/scary experiences. One view is something like this: The cancer hasn't killed me, so it is likely that skydiving won't either. Many people have told me that cancer cured their fear of flying as they thought more clearly about risk statistics or, fatalistically, acknowledged that something will eventually end life. One woman said: At least a plane crash would be quick, and I wouldn't have to suffer long. That comment likely is a stretch for most of us.

I would like to suggest an easier list: one that helps us eliminate commonplace annoyances that, in the face of cancer, seem pretty unimportant. As we get better at differentiating minor stressors from more important ones, this list can guide us in directing our time and efforts. This can be a great topic for discussion in a support group or with an individual therapist or your cancer buddies. If you are looking for such people, check out BIDMC's cancer support offerings.

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

  • When you encounter a problem, think first of the long-lasting impact. Will this matter later today or next week? If not, let it go.
  • Start from no. Most of us are socialized to say yes to most requests and to then later feel burdened or obligated. Of course you may want to make those cupcakes or attend that party, but, in your mind, start with no. Give yourself a few minutes to think about it.
  • Spend your time and energy with people and activities that make you happy. Worry less about fulfilling other peoples’ expectations. Cancer has given you permission.
  • Forgive yourself and others. You may have regrets, but that is much better than having done nothing that you might reconsider. It is possible to take small risks outside of your comfort zone.
  • Don't worry so much about routine tasks like dusting the furniture or vacuuming the rugs. Note that no one else even notices if you skip a few times.
  • Don't waste time on negative people. Find time for people who make you happy.
  • We all have financial realities and limits, but facing a serious diagnosis may prompt you to tap into that rainy day fund. Consider a trip that is within your stretched budget or enjoy dinner at a new restaurant. As they say: You can't take it with you. Maybe a small splurge is possible.
  • Put yourself first and always put those whom you love in front of all the others.
  • Remember that many things, sometimes it seems like most things, are out of your control. Slow down, take a deep breath, and look around at your world. We are here.

Has cancer changed your perspective or some of your decisions? Share your story

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.