Living Life with a Sense of Urgency After Breast Cancer


A survivor shares how living at a fast pace has affected her in positive and negative ways.

A strange phenomenon has occurred in my life since receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. As a type A personality, I’ve always been the typical overachiever focused on doing and being my best, but since celebrating five years of survivorship, I’ve found myself progressing at warp speed. There’s a sense of urgency to life that I can’t quite explain.

For the past few years, I’ve been experiencing an overwhelming desire to get things done. Pushing myself to the limit each day has been exhausting. Making myself physically ill, I’ve done everything in my power to reach self-imposed goals. The sense of urgency upon me has felt like an invisible hand propelling me forward. I find myself going and doing even when my strength has been exhausted. This feeling has caused me to struggle. From the moment I wake until late in the evening, I am busy going, planning, pushing, striving, trying to squeeze every split second out of each 24-hour day. It almost feels like a disease worse than cancer. But at least with cancer there are specific tools to evaluate and diagnosis the disease. I can’t help but wonder if others might experience it, too.

Before my diagnosis, life was always busy, but I felt I was able to manage the tasks of each day well. At the start of day, I’d form a list of goals to accomplish. My organizational skills helped. At the end of each day, I would look over my list marveling at the items I’d been able to cross off. I never felt a sense of urgency. I did, however, feel an inner drive — a desire to get a job done quickly and efficiently and chalked that up to my type A persona. That feeling motivated me but the feeling of urgency I’ve currently experienced causes me to feel like I’m racing against myself and I’m finding, as I push forward at break neck speed, it’s counterproductive. I’m wearing myself down and out. And while I don’t know exactly what’s causing these feelings, I have a sneaking suspicion.

After a cancer diagnosis, a person’s perspective often changes, and it’s common for a person to reevaluate their life.. As survivors go through this process, some feel an overwhelming desire to tackle bucket lists at record speed. An invisible sense of urgency compels them toward getting things done.

Cancer can cause a person to feel that life is uncertain, unpredictable, and that nothing is guaranteed. Those are valid feelings but, in all honesty, someone would have to admit that those feelings existed before a diagnosis of cancer.

So why is it that some feel such an overpowering sense of urgency after a cancer diagnosis and some do not? There may be no straightforward answer. In my case, I believe the feeling is related to an underlying fear of the brevity of life. Every moment post cancer feels like living on borrowed time.

To combat these feelings, I feel it’s important to recognize the symptoms that fuel them. The next step is to learn to control what may be causing the feelings.

For instance, controlled breathing can slow the pulse and rate of respiration allowing the body to relax and bring a sense of peacefulness and serenity.

Another method of dealing with the overpowering sense of urgency is to practice the art of meditation or mindfulness, which can be done in different forms, such as prayer and yoga.

Talking it out with a trained medical professional, a family member or a close friend can help gain a proper perspective. In rare cases, medication may be necessary to help with extreme anxiety, but this must be evaluated by a physician.

Feelings of urgency can overload cancer survivors. Although it’s normal for a cancer survivor to feel the need to honor the gift of a second chance at life by not wasting time, there’s no need to be in such a hurry to do so.

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