Survivorship Part II: Get a Life Plan
Last updated: March 2023
As we covered in Part One of this article, a cancer survivorship plan developed by your medical team is a necessary tool for survivorship. However, survivors should not expect their medical team to do for them what only the survivor can do. That is developing your Plan for Living.
It’s simple really. Now that you have dodged the bullet and have joined the more than 15 million cancer survivors in the U.S., what will you do with your life? If you are like many survivors, especially lung cancer survivors, you have a fresh appreciation for life and your life has become significantly more meaningful.
It is amazing how my priorities changed—literally—overnight.
I was working full time and enrolled in a fast-track MBA program. It was extremely stressful. I was pursuing my goals. Then came my lung cancer diagnosis. Suddenly, I was facing major surgery and a very uncertain future. I did not know then that I would become a long-term survivor then; no one knows. As far as I knew, my life could end at any time. The very day I was diagnosed, I withdrew from the MBA program. At least I would get back countless hours that I would have otherwise spent studying or sitting in class.
I had no control over cancer intruding into my well-planned life. However, I could control how I spent my remaining time. Withdrawing from the program gave me such a sense of relief and empowerment for changing course midstream. I also gained a deeper appreciation for my family and wanted to share more of my time with the people I loved.
A Truly Life-Changning Diagnosis
Once we have crossed the threshold of a lung cancer diagnosis, I believe our lives are changed. Some for the better, others not. One survivor posted something on the LiveLung Facebook page that I will never forget. He said, “If it weren’t for cancer, I’d say I had the perfect life. If it weren’t for cancer, would I even realize it?”
What were your priorities before your cancer diagnosis? Did you have a five-year plan? 10-year plan? Lifetime goals? You hear a lot about a “bucket list.” That term may seem crude to some. I like to think about it as life goals. No matter where we are in our lung cancer journey, we should all have them. Some for pleasure (take a cruise, travel to Italy, skydive…), some for practical purposes (pay off the mortgage, write my will, shed 20 pounds, etc.).
In my experience, those of us who have been diagnosed with lung cancer cross over an invisible threshold. For me it was like entering a new dimension. Facing the very real possibility of death forced me to question my own Christian faith and examine my heart closely. I found that while I admittedly have some fears of suffering, I have no fear of death. I am 100 percent confident in having eternal life through my faith in Jesus Christ. I share this because, although it was personal to me, examining your own faith and beliefs about life is an important part of the survivorship experience.
Losing Control Isn't Easy
You see, we may not be able to control everything in our lives, but we should take authority over those things in our lives that are within our control. The threat of a recurrence is like a black cloud casting its shadow over us--even those we have been out of treatment for years. One study showed that one-third of early-stage lung cancer patients who had their tumors surgically removed had a recurrence. The percentage was higher for advanced disease. Some patients/survivors may not dwell on that fact, but the thought lingers like a bad smell.
Then there are advanced stage patients in denial. It deeply pains me to see these lung cancer patients working their final days in a miserable job because they need a paycheck and healthcare. That is a travesty that seems to go against human nature. None of us knows the number of our days. However, frankly, for many in our community, it is not that mysterious.
Consider what is important in your life.
Is it family and friends? Then find a way to spend more time with those you love. Is it writing a heartfelt letter to each of your children? Do it. Each of us is unique. What is important to you? Whether you are in good health or not so good, set a few goals for yourself…some for pleasure and some practical. The sense of accomplishment and satisfaction at reaching each goal is priceless.
Having a Survivorship Plan is an important step in preparing you for living past your cancer diagnosis. Having a Plan for Living is critical to ensure that you make the most of the time you have left.
What healthy habits do you use to improve the quality of your life?