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Time Management and Cancer: A Difficult Intersection to Navigate


Substitute thinking "life management" instead of "time management."

Precious, precious time. Our time is our life. Cancer survivors, with their super power awareness of their own mortality, totally understand that time is super precious. I am a two-time cancer survivor and a clutter-clearing speaker and author. Time management is a topic that is very near and dear to me, especially since cancer. I hope you find some of these time management thoughts helpful to you through your cancer experience.

First, I want to tell you that I briefly thought my oncology talk therapist was nuts. When I told her about my upcoming double mastectomy which happened several months ago, she told me to try to fall into the process of it — to relax and to trust the process. Frankly, due to poor pain management, I kind of got burned by "the process." My next surgery in that process is coming up shortly. At first, I thought "Hah, I'm not going to follow her advice again." In the next moment though, I realized that whether "the process" burns me or not this second time around, the time leading up to that point is better spent calmly falling into the process rather than freaking out. Oh.

Cancer is overwhelming. Developing a strategy to manage your time or approach your life might be helpful to you. Personally, I tend to be a planner and I imagine I have more control over my time (my life) than I actually do. Isn't fantasy a lovely thing? So, when East meets West or more accurately, Control Freak gets cancer, what is helpful?

Is it better to live in the moment or to practice what time management experts call goal setting? Most of us have read those how-to goal-setting articles at one time or another, right? This is a trick question because the answer is: Both! Breathing exercises, mindfulness meditations and other time-slowing techniques are helpful to calm down cancer worry brain when diagnosed with cancer. And, working on a bucket list (shh, goal setting) is helpful to look beyond cancer and to refuse to let stupid cancer overrun the rest of our life. Plus, it is fun to think about things other than cancer sometimes. Try the deep breathing to slow down into the moment and set some goals.

These days, I try to slow down my hectic life at moments when it feels overwhelming — especially when yet another cancer-related surgery looms on my horizon. I also work on bucket list things, like trips I am researching and getting scheduled on our calendar. Of course, I try to be realistic and I find that prioritizing my goals helps. My priorities look different since cancer and I suspect yours may too. Limited time and energy make prioritizing even more important!

Encourage yourself to detail or break down huge goals like "See Europe" into smaller more achievable goals that means design an action plan that moves you little by little in the right direction like watch travel videos, buy travel book, determine travel window…Make lists and add things as you think of them and cross things off as you accomplish them. It is emotionally satisfying to do this!

Working on my list gets my worry brain off cancer. Working on my list gets my goals accomplished! This effort puts me, not cancer, back in charge. Oh, and remember to breathe. You've got this!

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