Thursday, January 21, 2010

What are you doing with the rest of your life? Advice for cancer patients completing treatment

As many of my peers along the early stage breast cancer path approach the end of treatment, our talk has changed from biopsies and surgery, to the future. Some of us have left jobs, others relationships, and some are still considering whether to make a change. I asked coach Tara Robinson for some tools to help us move into the future.

Setting Recovery Goals

After your diagnosis and treatment, your whole sense of control and safety may be wrecked. It’s not just that your body is different. Your priorities have changed. The sense of meaning, of what’s important, and what’s not--all rearranged. What used to be tolerations become deal breakers. What once were “nice to haves,” might now be non-negotiables.

And then there’s that whole not-knowing thing. What will the future hold? It may be hard to figure out what normal supposed to be like now that everything’s changed.

How do you set recovery goals in the midst of all the uncertainty?

The first step I encourage you to take is to create a compelling vision of success. Don’t worry about how you’ll reach that success. Throw out worries about whether your vision is possible, likely, or feasible. Instead, focus on creating a lush, rich, detailed picture of what your future could look like. Add in colors, smells, textures, sounds. What kind of people are you with? Where are you? What’s the weather like? The more details the better. Use your imagination to its fullest. You’ll know when you’re hitting pay dirt--tears might come to your eyes. Yep--that’s a compelling vision!

Now think of celebrations. In this fabulous future of yours, what will you celebrate having done? What accomplishments will you be most proud of? These experiences and events are fodder for your goal-setting. You may want to make a list of the roles you play (or want to play in the future) such as family roles (daughter, mom, sister, partner), career roles, and so on, and think about experiences you’d like to celebrate for each one.

With this beautiful vision in mind and a list of future celebrations in hand, begin identifying milestones between where you are now and where you’d like to be. One way to do this is to finish this sentence: I’ll know I’m making progress toward my goal when... Here’s an example.

Maybe you’d like to walk the Susan G. Komen for the Cure 3-Day with some of your friends or family. You’ll know you’re making progress toward your goal when you can:
  Walk around the block
  Walk a mile
  Walk five miles without stopping
Keep creating somewhat broadly spaced milestones until you’ve laid down a path all the way to your desired outcome.

One of the most important aspects of this sort of goal setting is to let go of dates and timelines, letting your progress unfold naturally. It’s essential, too, to acknowledge and celebrate achieving your milestones. And remember that setbacks happen, those are natural, too.

In the end, recovery is not a destination. It’s a state of being, a balance that you’ll achieve, holding it gently, with the wondrous knowledge of how fragile and beautiful it is.

Author, coach, and educator, Tara Rodden Robinson, Ph.D., is known as The Productivity Maven. As a credentialed professional coach, she helps people to get more done and enjoy greater fulfillment and satisfaction from their lives and their work. Last year, Tara walked the Seattle 3-Day for the Cure, raising $3,000 for the fight against breast cancer. She’s already in training and raising funds for the Arizona 3-Day in November. You can learn more about her by visiting her website:


  1. I am never that great at this type of visualization, but it has just occurred to me, maybe if I just say to myself "just for today, I am fantastic, healthy, happy, and am going to be totally successful in everything I do" - that feels easier for me. Anyone else got any hints?

  2. Hi Cancer Patient,

    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Great idea! One of the hardest parts to let go of is the tendency to censor your vision with what seems possible. The more practice, the better!

    Best wishes,

  3. I had a tough time in the hospital and after surgery with a lot of pain. The one thing that made me feel better (physically and emotionally) was to have my husband read out loud from a guidebook for Greece. It really helped me to focus on the details. We are hoping to take our trip this year.

  4. Hi Suz,

    What a brilliant way to get and keep a rich, detailed vision in mind. Thanks for sharing your journey with us!

    Best wishes,