For many people, receiving a cancer diagnosis can feel like the end of the world. And for others, though never a welcome diagnosis, we might find that this is an opportunity to live life differently and more fully. There is no doubt that having cancer is scary, and when first diagnosed, it may feel devastating. Not knowing what will happen and facing some of the treatment options can be daunting.
Yet, with all of this, many men and women living with this diagnosis choose to reevaluate how they are living their lives, showing us that it is not only possible to survive a cancer diagnosis; it is possible to thrive.
A Wake-Up Call
In our fast-paced world, it is so easy to take life for granted. A cancer diagnosis may be the very wake-up call that we have been waiting for, challenging us to value our lives and to be thankful for all that we have.
It may also inspire us to practice a healthier lifestyle by improving our diet and exercise routines, and finding new stress management techniques. In addition to preventing a recurrence, these new lifestyle changes may even head off other types of illness in the future, like diabetes or heart disease. Best yet, exercise makes us feel good!
What Have You Always Wanted To Do?
We often are so involved with our “have-to’s” in life (work, chores, obligatory events) that we neglect the “want-to’s” in life, perhaps missing out on things like singing lessons, learning Reiki, deepening relationships, and travel.
Cancer may give us the freedom to finally go sky-diving, or visit an ashram, or even just to spend more time with those we care about.
On the flip side, a diagnosis may make it easier to say “no” to all of the “have-to’s”: being struck with a severe illness can suddenly give us insight into just what it is, exactly, that we really need to go attend.
This may even mean that we give up toxic relationships or friendships, able to now recognize that our time is precious, and can only be devoted to those we truly care about (and who care about us, in return).
Already Enjoying Your Life?
Cancer does not need to get in the way of living our lives in the manner we have been. For those of us who already have very full lives and really enjoyed the life we had before cancer, cancer may be just a reminder to really dive deep into activities we enjoy.
Perhaps during treatment there may need to be some adjustments, particularly if our lives are very active and full, and we may need to temporarily slow down.
We can come up with some creative and self-caring ways of doing this. Taking time off from work and physical activities during treatment may be necessary, but even being able to take walks or find time for caring friends may help to reinvigorate us.
Many cancer survivors find that a cancer diagnosis can be an opportunity to find or strengthen a spiritual connection. Whether that is through a church or temple community, a support group for survivors, or regular meditation or yoga, finding a way to connect to others and / or something larger than ourselves can be incredibly beneficial.
Kevin Stein, PhD and cancer expert, explains that the following techniques are great ways to control the symptoms of pain, depression, and fatigue that we experience, as well as helping us to feel good:
- Deep breathing.
- Muscle relaxation exercises.
- Positive thinking.
- Guided imagery.
- Prayer / meditation / yoga.
Many thriving cancer survivors find that they wish to contribute more to others, or that they wish to donate their time to helping others. This can take many forms, from walking a cancer walk to giving money to a favorite organization. It needn’t be related to cancer at all – studies show that the act of giving makes us feel good, no matter what.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, and you are searching for ways to bring more meaning into your life, perhaps take a look at some of the practices below:
- Daily or weekly thankfulness: studies show that expressing gratitude affirms benefits long after we give thanks. It can be thanks for anything in our lives, even the small things like our pets or a working car; it only has to be authentic.
- Seeking out spiritual connections: as mentioned above, connecting with a higher purpose or spiritual community can have great benefits. If you’ve never been a “religious” person, try support groups, or even meditation halls.
- Asking for help: A cancer diagnosis may be the first time in our lives that we consider speaking with a licensed psychotherapist.
At Nassau Guidance & Counseling, we have worked with many cancer survivors, helping many to not only survive, but thrive. We encourage you to reach out at any point on your journey, and we look forward to helping you!