Sandra Bollen-Hughes shares why having a road map and an accurate compass for the goals you want to achieve in the new year is vital.
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For many of us, each new year represents a new opportunity to start new habits and set new goals. It’s an exciting blank page to start writing a new story. Mentally we close the chapter and start wondering how the story of our lives will unfold.
For cancer patients, whether starting on the journey, progressing through treatment, or picking up the threads of your life, the new year may feel even more poignant as you set out with eyes of hope for this section of your story.
The road map for the journey
In my reading I came to understand that all cancer patients move through stages of adjustment on their cancer journeys. There are clusters of emotions typical and normal to each stage. The bare bones of this road map include as follows: the crisis of diagnosis, the tempest of treatment and the realignment of the self.
As in all psychological processes, this system is simplified for the sake of discussion, but is often non-linear as you adjust yourself from the beginning of the process and may be in crisis at any point. However, this provides a simple road map of where you may be en route and what you might expect.
The realignment of the self
With it being the start of a new year, I want to look at the third point of the journey, which I call the realignment of the self. This is technically designating the stage when you (the patient) are finished with treatment and now face other challenges. While this process occurs most in the post-treatment phase, a reassessment of your own being, life, purpose and goals will occur from the first minute after diagnosis.
We understand in psychology that any major life change will evoke a change in your self-perception. All major life changes are catalysts for re-evaluating yourself and your life. And having cancer is one of those big catalysts.
Initially you may hope to just carry on as before, but having cancer generally means you have to
begin to revisit your goals, priorities and beliefs, all of which may have shifted and changed in the process. Like it or not, cancer brings physical, interpersonal, social, and mental changes and challenges that you have to navigate. You have to find a new compass to map out a new path.
It may be valuable to spend some time assessing how you have changed in your outlook, priorities, physical capacities, and relationships since having cancer before putting pen to paper to writing down goals for 2024. You may be surprised at how your focus shifts in doing this.
Sitting down quietly and jotting down some of the changes cancer made in your life may be the first step to finding your new compass. If you prefer to engage in discussion, talk about this with friends and family or a therapist.
Basing your goals on the reality of who you have become and what is important to you now will increase the desire to reach that goal. Ask yourself questions like, “Which of my goals must I lower, and which must I raise to fit better with who I am now?” and “Which doors have closed, and which doors have opened since I was diagnosed?” You can also ask, “What is important to me now, that was never important before?”
Once you have a road map and a compass, it will be much easier to plan your itinerary for the year. Remember, as always, make your goals specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Research SMART goals for more information on this.
Wishing you all of the best for 2024.
MEET THE EXPERT – Sandra Bollen-Hughes
Sandra Bollen-Hughes is a counselling psychologist. In 2015 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and realised the great burden of stress that cancer places on patients and so she developed an interest in cancer counselling. She went on to study cancer counselling to gather insight into the field of psycho-oncology. She runs a practice both for general and cancer counselling.
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