I’m not the type of person who makes New Year’s resolutions, and my reluctance has been even more apparent since my cancer diagnosis. However, I still view the beginning of each year as a unique opportunity. The annual holiday season and the beginning of another year can be a crucial time to take stock of what’s truly important in your life. If living with cancer and navigating through a global pandemic have taught me anything, it’s that I can’t take hearth or wellness for granted. I’ve ultimately learned to make my physical and mental health a priority, I recognize that it’s okay to focus on myself rather than always trying to please the people around me.
Here is my advice for other cancer patients as we enter 2023.
- Have some sort of plan for 2023, even if your immediate goals seem relatively small to you in the grand scheme of things. If you’re undergoing cancer treatment, or currently recovering from surgery or chemotherapy, planning an entire year will be extremely daunting. I believe the underlying problem is that when bad things happen that we can’t control, we tend to focus on all the things we can’t change. Try to focus on what you can control; what can you do to help yourself (or someone else) this year? For example, you could join a new support group in 2023, start a new hobby or plan to become a volunteer at your local cancer centre.
- Always try to remain hopeful even if the present appears bleak. Sometimes I remember the words of Maya Angelou (1928-2014) the American author, screenwriter, poet and civil rights activist. She said, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” Challenges like cancer happen in life, and there is no denying the fact that a cancer diagnosis can radically alter our path or change the life we might have lived. But no matter our circumstances as cancer survivors, we can refuse to be reduced, or made less, by them.
- Establish your own priorities and don’t let other people set your agenda. For me one of the worst things about having cancer is the unsolicited advice I receive from family, friends, and sometimes even strangers. I’ve certainly felt high levels of frustration as people try to inform me how to live my life or deal with my disease. Like most cancer patients I was particularly vulnerable to the influence of these pundits in the months following my diagnosis. After a decade of being offered personal as well as medical advice, caution and scepticism have become almost second nature to me. I inherently ask myself where is this information or recommendation coming from? Precisely who is telling me this, is the source an acknowledged expert in their field? Is what they are saying accurate, or could what they’re communicating contain a self-serving bias?
- Know who you want in your life and don’t be afraid to establish personal boundaries. Many psychologists argue that the most important choice you’ll ever make in life is the people you surround yourself with. Since my cancer diagnosis I’ve basically developed zero tolerance for having toxic people in my life. I’ve also become more sensitive to the characteristics of harmful people and how they mistreat those around them. I now choose to avoid such individuals whenever possible, it’s been said that “You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.” Meaning, we can’t force others to change, but we can surround ourselves with more supportive relationships.
- Love yourself and remember that you are worthy. Like many people, I’m often my own worst critic, I sometimes overlook the fact that in order to be respected and loved by others I must first learn to respect and love myself. The next time you believe that you’re a failure or not worthy, consider one important question. If your best friend or loved one was having the same negative thought as you, what would you tell them? Try applying this gentle guidance to yourself. Most of all, acknowledge how strong you are to have made it here. You are important, you are brave, and you are resilient.