August 25, 2011

Feeling Pressure of ‘Life’s Too Short’?

By Sarah J.

I keep finding myself thinking: If my doctor gives me a few months to live, would I want to live them the way I have been? The answer of course is no. I’m sure I’m not the first cancer patient who thought about quitting their job, moving to a tropical island, and having a torrid affair with a cabana boy (or girl) after writing a memoir.

Yet here I am today, back to the same old grind as before cancer with only a few changes. Why? Reality. Medical and credit card bills prevent any job quitting or island hopping. Since cancer entered my life, and especially during my transition from cancer patient back to an average Jolene, I have struggled to find balance between the reality of my life and that feeling that I should be out living it my way. I call this “Life’s Too Short Syndrome”.  Although I haven’t found a cure for this syndrome, I’ve discovered a few ways to make the reality of life easier to live with.

1. I created a bucket list. Seeing what I really wanted to do took away from that overwhelming feeling of there being so much I hadn’t done. In May I crossed taking a motorcycle class off the list, and I’m always checking craigslist for a cheap piano.

2. I set manageable goals for myself. I can’t quit my job, but I went back to school so that I’ll be able to get a job doing something I enjoy. I can’t afford a trip to Alaska or a tattoo sleeve, but I’ve opened a secret savings account just for me.

3. I try to tell the people in my life how I feel about them. (As much as I can without being creepy.)  I feel better knowing that I told them how I feel when we part ways…just in case.

4. I let more things go than I used to. Work drama and office politics used to drive me crazy, but now I try to ask myself if the situation falls into the ‘my problem’ pile or the ‘not my problem’ pile. When the kids are making a mess, I try to see the beauty in their play instead of thinking about what the house looks like.

Still, there are times I find myself going back to that original question. Maybe there isn’t an answer. Maybe I’m just supposed to do the best I can no matter how short life is.

How do you find a balance between the feeling that life is too short and reality? Do you think younger cancer patients experience this conundrum differently than older patients?

Read more about coping with the pressures of ‘Life Is Too Short’ in the book Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide To Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

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  1. Amy B-G Says:
    August 25th, 2011 at 5:06 PM

    Even though I have not had cancer this article made me reflect on my own life. In the hustle and bustle of parenting life can get stressful. Thanks Sarah for writing this!!!!

  2. Kim Says:
    August 25th, 2011 at 5:49 PM

    Thanks for this great blog post. I do think it’s a bit harder as a young adult with cancer to deal with the “Life’s Too Short” pressure, b/c it’s hard to imagine dying so young (even if “young” is 40 or 50 or 60 as opposed to 80 or 90 or 100). Quite honestly, although I fully realize I *should* let petty annoyances go, day-to-day stresses *do* still, well, stress me out! I think it’s just hard as someone so young (I’m 32 years old, still young in my career) to think on a day-to-day basis about living differently b/c “life is short.” In fact, I almost feel like that is one of the things about having had cancer that makes me feel MORE upset or get depressed easily, since it feels all the more “stinging” when people are unkind or unfair, when work stress is almost too much to bear, etc. It makes me WANT everyone to be kind to me, and everything to be more peaceful and fun and easy, but in actuality, none of the hardships of day-to-day life got any easier just b/c I got cancer. I think I’ll just try to ascribe to your philosophy: “Maybe I’m just supposed to do the best I can no matter how short life is.” :)

  3. Sarah J Says:
    August 25th, 2011 at 9:08 PM

    Thank you both for reading and for your feedback. Amy I’m so glad you were able to get something out of my post. Kim, I understand how you feel. Having cancer as a young adult is hard enough without having to deal with all the stresses life has to offer. I’m not without stress, but I do find it easier to separate the things that directly affect me with those that don’t. You’ll notice I said that I “try” to do these things. Some days are harder than others. I wish you all the best and hope that when you do find your balance, you’ll let me know your tricks.

  4. Holly Boyce Says:
    August 25th, 2011 at 9:20 PM

    Hey I just read your post today and loved it. I had cancer at age 30 and I really think the “post cancer” has been more challenging than the treatment. I find myself bouncing back and forth from everything is great to I don’t want to die all the time. I write each day what i am thankful for. sometimes it is only that my kids have working lungs to scream at each other, but hey they work! :) The more i focus on that the less I think about the other. I am thankful there are opportunities out there to see I am not the only one that was dealing with this. I will continue to read your posts Great job :)

  5. Cat Says:
    August 26th, 2011 at 9:45 AM

    As a young person who has had cancer, I feel this is a really important issue. People who have never faced illness often romanticize “living each day like it’s your last”, and always being “in the moment”, but neither of those is a sustainable way to live. If you’re always in the moment, you can never plan for anything, never look to the future. And similar to what Sarah says, who would bother to work and pay the bills, if it’s your last day on earth? You can’t just quit reality and go on permanent vacation.

    I remember one guy in “Everything Changes” saying that the only real difference in the way he approaches his post-cancer life is that now, at a restaurant, he’ll order a Coke rather than just having water. To me, that actually represents a pretty profound change, a measured way of treating yourself a little better and enjoying daily life a bit more.

    Spending time with the people who matter, telling them that they do, and taking energy that you might have wasted on things you don’t care about and putting it towards things that you do- and ordering the Coke. I think those are pretty good principles to live by post-cancer. Thanks for the great post.

  6. Jetty Says:
    August 26th, 2011 at 2:19 PM

    This is a fantastic article, I cant wait to read more by you. I feel the exact same way, as I am sure most people who are not born to a rich family have. Trying to do my best to make a differnce with what I got though. :-) I think young people have more to worry about than older patients simply because most of us do not have an established life in that we do not have a large 401K or savings account through our nice cushy job with great insurance. We have to push forward with life while dealing with cancer and in all honesty I think with the younger age comes more issues. People also think that since you are young you can bounce right back into your old life as well which from what I have seen is not the same for older patients. Anyway, great article, you captured exactly what I feel when I read these exciting stories about survivors climbing mountains or going on yearly retreats traveling the world and I was stuck working a crappy paying 8-4:30 job for the insurance.

  7. Sarah J Says:
    August 26th, 2011 at 2:35 PM

    Holly, I know exactly how you feel when you say you go from everything being great to not wanting to die. I’m still swinging between those two and it’s hard to find a happy medium between those them. I think Cat hits the nail on the head in her last paragraph.

  8. Heather Grace Says:
    September 1st, 2011 at 2:10 PM

    Love the blog! I took this one step further in my blog – No Chronic, Debilitating Illness? Learn to Appreciate Life–Right Now Let me know what you think. People with cancer have a serious jolt, with their life on the line in the blink of an eye (believe me, I know, I’ve lost far too many loved ones to cancer in recent years).

    Here’s a different question: How would your life change if you knew you’d be living the rest of your years–maybe 40 of them–in constant pain? Life is short, the good days go fast. LIVE FOR TODAY!

    Your book sounds wonderful–best wishes! :) HG

  9. Roger Says:
    November 20th, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    I just wish to say several weeks ago I was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer,metas to lymp and liver. The shock was overwhelming. I am only 51 years young and thought I had so much more life to live. I have been told of the short timeline that I have left and thought “what would I like to do with this time?”. After much thinking and reflecting back on my life I realized that I have had lots of great years and good times. I have decided to be gratefull for the times I had and will spend the time I have left with the great family and friends in my life that made my journey what it is. There will always be somethinng you might feel you missed out on if you spend to much time feeling sorry for yourself. I chose to make the most out of my unfortunate situation. I hope this helps others with their suffering and lost feelings to appreciate what you had and be thankful for the time left to spend with loved ones. There is never a good time for this kind of news. My wishes of well to all.

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