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Tossing Out the Cancer Paperwork: Is It Even Safe?


Breast cancer and melanoma survivor who is also a clutter-clearing author shares her tips for cancer and other papers.

As a cancer survivor, sometimes I feel like a piece of paper under a rock (cancer) trying to escape. Rock, scissors, paper (Is anyone else old enough to remember that game?) and amazingly, paper beats rock! Somehow it is fitting that paper covers rock. The clutter-clearing me and the cancer survivor me are trying to merge, rather than one simply covering the other up at any given moment.

Paper is cited as the number one clutter issue in most American households. I had accumulated a bunch more paper with my cancer diagnoses. It was time to let go—well, of some of it. It was time to move some of it out of my more regularly viewed files. I don't need to see my cancer folders every time I fill an invoice. Given my profession, I feel like maybe I could have even done this sooner. Well, maybe.

Weeding out any paperwork is hard. The cancer paperwork is even more difficult. We can be plagued by uncertainty as we hold each piece of paper in our hands. Will we “need” it again? Is it "safe" to toss it? Will I jinx myself into a recurrence if I get rid of it? These thoughts roll around in my head. Even the paper clutter decision making process wears us out. Here is what recently helped me weed through all my paper clutter, including the cancer paperwork:

Keep a pad and pencil handy. I make notes of any questions that come up. They do as I sort.

Have a stapler handy. I found way too many wads of related papers that were paper clipped together. Shame on me. Paper clips are dangerous because they can fall off, or worse yet, they can snag other papers that then get lost. On that note, have a staple remover handy, too!

Create a pile for misfiled papers. I found misfiled items, so resolve to be ready for a few misfiled papers at the onset-- just in case. I also sorted the discarded papers into two piles--those that needed to be shredded and those that could be recycled.

Work in small amounts of time. I personally suggest working for no more than 15 minutes to one hour at a crack. Do this work in your personal prime time if you can when you are feeling strong. Why? Because it is hard to sit and make decision after decision, especially decisions about cancer-related medical stuff. As you get tired of it, there is a strong temptation to go too fast.

Shred in the dark. Yes, I actually said that. Don’t put yourself through the paper-clearing process twice! Shred this personal information in the dark or while watching television. Why? If you don't, you may find yourself second-guessing yourself as you slow down to look at what you are trying to get rid of. Trust yourself. You already made the decisions. (If you really do feel the need to double-check everything, be my guest. You are the best judge of your own situation.)

Cancer paperwork. It will probably always be a good idea to keep records of lab pathology reports on my cancer and records of my treatment plans. Unfortunately, I had accumulated a lot of other cancer paperwork that made my cancer folders appear bigger and larger in my file cabinet than they needed to be. I don’t want to let cancer take over my life or my file cabinet!

Finally, when you are done weeding out any kind of paper clutter, reward yourself! Paper clutter is simply a pile of unmade decisions and you just made a whole bunch of them! You deserve a reward.

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