Setting life goals


It’s very common, once treatment ends, to find yourself feeling lost, insecure and unsure about 'where to next'. While every cancer journey is unique, there’s one important aspect that’s universal: cancer changes every patient’s life.

Learning to deal with life after cancer can be quite a challenge, especially with the focus firmly on everything ‘new’: adjusting to ‘new beginnings’ and discovering your ‘brand new me’. Setting new goals is a good starting point when it comes to reclaiming your life and should go a long way in helping you to pick up the pieces and start living once again.

“Your life will never be the same after a cancer diagnosis,” explains Clinical Psychologist Dr Colinda Linde. That’s exactly what you’ll discover once your treatment ends. She adds: “Having gone through the never-ending rollercoaster of emotions and challenges, being given the all clear - or being told you’re in remission - comes with a whole host of emotions and challenges too. But it’s also a good time to stop and reflect, to take a close hard look at your pre-cancer lifestyle and priorities, and to make decisions about ‘where to from here’. And one of the best ways to do this is by setting new life goals which will help you not only to pick up the pieces but to also regain some form of control.”

How to set new life goals

“One of the first things you need to understand - and to make peace with - is the idea that you may have to let go of certain life goals at the end of your treatment,” explains Dr Vanessa Marais, a Clinical Psychologist who specialises in cancer, oncology, depression and anxiety. “In addition some of your old goals will have to be adjusted or abandoned completely, as a result, for example, of persistent changes due to side-effects of treatment. It’s important to create achievable, realistic and meaningful goals which will not only help you to cope and adapt more meaningfully to your new reality but will also give you a much-needed sense of purpose. Healing and recovery requires changing or adapting any previous short- and long-term goals by developing and identifying new interests, social outlets and new ways to engage in life, and because this takes time you need to take things very slowly.”

Make sure your goals are small enough that you can manage to accomplish them, adds Dr Linde. “This will give you a great sense of achievement. Be kind to yourself, don’t pile on the pressure and most of all make sure your goals are all about living and not just a reaction to your cancer. So instead of saying ‘I’d better exercise so I don’t get cancer again’, rather try ‘I want to move my body in a functional way, to get fit and toned and healthy’.”

Use this mindset whenever you think about what you’d like to do next – it’s all about being proactive and not reactive.

Dr Marais offers the following tips about setting post-treatment goals:

  • Remember that fatigue, pain and short-term memory problems can persist for a quite a while after cancer treatment so always take this into consideration when setting any goals 
  • Start with baby steps: try to set a new achievable goal every day and when done, acknowledge and reward your success (examples: washing your hair, cooking, fetching your children from school, working half a day or trying something new such as drawing or gardening)
  • Setting personal goals such as losing weight and starting to exercise once again can provide you with purpose, structure, meaning and rewards, but always check with your medical team before embarking on a new dietary or exercise programme
  • Accepting and making peace with your changed body and/or changed abilities is a very important life goal. Seek professional help if you’re battling to come to terms with the new you
  • Changing work-related goals is also important to fit in with your current physical and emotional status. This may mean cutting down on your work load or hours if possible or roping in the assistance of your colleagues to see where they can help to accommodate you (this is usually only short term). You may, as a long-term goal, even decide to change direction or your career.

All medical information found on this website including content, graphics and images, is for educational and informational objectives only. Discovery Health publishes this content to help to empower cancer patients and their families by promoting a better understanding of a cancer diagnosis. The views expressed by all of the contributing healthcare providers are their independent, professional medical opinions, aimed at supporting patients. These views do not necessarily constitute the views of Discovery Health.


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