Despite Cancer, Plan for the Future
Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager Emeritus, Oncology, Social Work
NOVEMBER 10, 2020
After a cancer diagnosis, it can be hard to think about the future. You may wonder if you even have a future and be reluctant to buy a new winter coat or put a deposit on a summer vacation. You may be worried about spending money that you might need for something else. It likely does not much matter what the specifics are of your cancer diagnosis; these anxieties are common for all of us.
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. This perspective is much easier said than done. As a society, we spend a lot of time planning and thinking ahead. Just consider any recent conversation with a friend; you probably asked about weekend plans or even upcoming holidays.
Many cancer patients live in three- or four-month cycles between scans. Each time a scan or MRI is stable, we take a sigh of relief and allow ourselves to think about the next weeks. If you are not on this kind of schedule, it is often still tough to think ahead with feeling anxious. It is, however, really important to believe in a future and to allow yourself to imagine it.
Here are some suggested strategies to diminish these anxieties and plan a future:
- Unless and until you have been told time is limited, try to live as though all is well. If trouble is looming, you will have to deal with it when the time comes. There is no benefit either today or for the future in allowing those fears to contaminate the present moment.
- Break the future into smaller chunks. If you have scans every three months, plan your time in 90-day blocks.
- Shop as usual. If you always buy a new bathing suit in April, continue to do so.
- Even if you are being treated and are never sure how you will feel, continue to accept appealing invitations. During these times of COVID, you are probably doing fewer social things, but staying in touch with people you love is very important. Your friends will understand if you have to cancel.
- 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.
- Continue your normal social traditions. If you host Thanksgiving dinner 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. Again, this COVID year likely will be different and may make it easier to scale down.
- Go ahead and think about your next vacation. Planning and anticipation are always part of the pleasure. During COVID-19, even people without health concerns should 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.
- 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. Afterward, 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.
- Never let your calendar be empty. If necessary, plan in pencil, but keep planning.