Living a Regret-free Life After Cancer

When faced with my mortality after a breast cancer diagnosis, like a lot of other survivors, I questioned whether I’d see another birthday or holiday. More importantly, I took a personal inventory of my first 40 years. I waited, anxiously, for my test results. Hoping my cancer was contained, but fearful it might be roaming free in my body, all I could think about were the things I hadn’t done yet – all of my regrets. Did you run through your list of life experiences? Did your mind settle, like mine, on all the things you hadn’t done yet? So, what have you accomplished since your breast cancer diagnosis? Do you make plans? Set goals? Take steps to achieve them? Keep track of your progress? If you’re nodding your head, I’m right there with you, but if you’re not, maybe now is the time to start living your regret-free life.

Over the last 7 years since my diagnosis, I’ve tracked my life events, and it has provided me with two things. One, a way to stay on top of truly living life every day, and two, a tangible way to really remember what I’ve achieved. How many times have you experienced something new only to tuck it away – never to be retrieved from the corners of your mind again? I’ve discovered that the more I write on my list, the more I’m inspired to keep living. And I find that with every experience and achievement – big or small – I gain more post-cancer confidence. And let’s face it, increased self-confidence after cancer is in high demand.

I’m highly tech-dependent, so my life record isn’t really an “old school” book anymore. I’ve abandoned journals, and instead, I keep a list on my phone. It contains my basic goals and intended experiences for the year, and I check them off as I complete them. Sometimes, it’s something small. Can I do 30 pushups back to back? Often it’s larger stuff. Can I stick to a plan and save what I intend over the course of a year? Can I plan a special getaway and actually go? I find that when I write my desires down, I don’t forget them or lose interest, and yes, when I make a focused effort to achieve, I do.

Pre-cancer I went through the motions, so to speak, doing what I thought I should, worrying about some pretty insignificant things and spending a lot of time on unnecessary and petty drama. That’s not to say I sought those situations out on purpose, but I sometimes forgot I had a choice. I didn’t realize I could cut the cord with toxic people and situations. When I discovered this, it really opened the door for me. I was surprised at how much free time I actually had once I let go of my “time suckers.” As soon as I finished treatment, I began making plans, setting goals and keeping track of my progress. And guess what? I loved making the most of my bonus days.

A lot of people call me “driven,” and maybe to the outside world it looks that way, but really I’m just a woman who faced cancer and decided to get on with it. Today, I actively create my own opportunities, and I constantly have something to look forward to. That keeps me living in the moment and from becoming stagnant. It’s how I avoid living in “the rut.”

You might be asking, “So what does all this goal setting look like?” First, I don’t ever set unrealistic goals or make a “wish list.” I find that approach just sets me up for failure and disappointment. We ALL want to go to that far away vacation destination, buy our “dream” home, and a lot of other things that, quite frankly, may be out of financial reach – especially with cancer treatment bills rolling in! I set goals that I know are realistic and able to be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time. For example, rather than charge an upcoming vacation on credit cards, I devise a payment plan that I can effectively manage. I pay myself each month until I finally reach the magic number – then I book it! I pick a destination, research costs, and divide by six months or nine. The amount I need to pay myself each month takes some sacrifice, but the feeling of accomplishment when I pay cash for it is incredible. I now pay in full BEFORE I go, and I don’t owe for a year on a trip I already enjoyed. But the best part? I no longer feel guilty, talk myself out of a valuable life experience and say, “It’s too expensive. I’ll go next year.” Those thoughts used to be dream killers, but with a plan in place, I’m able to make valuable memories and experience new things. And it feels great!

This October, I’m getting ready to celebrate my “cancerversary”. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy almost 7 bonus years now, and I’ve filled them with treasured experiences. If you haven’t started really living, I urge you to make a plan. It’s a great way to express your gratitude and live a regret-free life.

Victorious Val.

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