Ah, January. The month of New Year’s Resolutions
and setting goals. But what do you do when cancer is on the calendar? How do you pick up the pieces of a life turned upside down? As a survivor, I found myself reflecting on the lessons that cancer taught me—vital lessons—that need to be remembered.
1. Time is Limited. For Everyone.
We all know that we are mortal and we don't have forever on this earth. Don't we? In the back of our minds, we know this, but cancer thrusts that knowledge smack dab between our eyes and we are forced to stare that reality in the face.
At first, the thought can be paralyzing, shutting a person down, but there is freedom in embracing the limits of time and making the most of the gift we have been given.
Alan, a three-time cancer survivor, who faces chemo for the rest of his life says, “I don't think too much about the long-term future other than that I want to still be here to enjoy it. I am happy if I wake up on this side of the dirt. I focus on what I can do and don’t fret about what I can no longer do."
Others use the diagnosis of limited time to spring them into action. In the book, Dancing with Limbo: Making Sense of Life After Cancer
, Jeanette, a lung cancer survivor in her 80's said, "You don't have time to waste…When you're alive and well and kicking...Don't wait. I mean, it's not like...you're immortal."
My response to limited time was to begin college writing classes. Other women responded in a similar way in an online breast cancer group. Sue went back to college in her 60's. Lila went back for her master's degree and Dawn stepped away from a fifteen-year career to pursue further education and a career with less money, but more fulfillment. Becky embraced her alive-and-kicking life by going zip-lining for the first time with her husband for their 50th wedding anniversary.
2. Relax. It's Okay to Waste Time.
Wait a minute! What do you mean it's okay to waste time? Didn't you just say there is no time to waste?
Yes, I did.
As a hardworking Midwestern country girl, who was raised by a mother who never sat down except to eat dinner, and who still prefers the control of a detailed list, one of the biggest lessons I learned from having cancer was that time is a wonderful commodity to waste. The world is not going to fall apart if I take some time off.
To leave the running of the universe in the hands of God and to take time for family and friends is a lesson I don't want to lose. One of the first things that goes on my calendar is time for family and time for my grandchildren who live 100 miles away.
Jeffrey, a caregiver, states, "Tell the person you love them. Eat the pizza. I am still a 'planner' to the end, but now I make a concerted effort to 'plan' to enjoy whatever time I and my loved ones share together."
3. Focus on Purpose Over Calendar.
Facing the boundaries of time and loosening our grip of control in order to relax and enjoy life allows us to fully live
in the face of a precarious future and our own mortality. Once we let go of what we can't control—denying death and knowing the future—we can focus our energy on making decisions that have to do with purpose and what matters most.
Why was I put on this earth?
This question is a query worth investigating and delving into, because that question has an answer, no matter the length of our days.
I believe we were put on this earth for a purpose. A good purpose. Cancer does not have the power to rob us of being kind. Of doing good. Of pouring our lives (even a shortened life) into things that matter.
What about you?
How has cancer affected how you look at goal setting? What do you feel is your life purpose? Share in the comments below or sign up here.
Photo courtesy of Jakob Owens