Breast CancerMetastatic Breast Cancer

Achieving Your Life Goals: Getting Creative with the Future

Breast cancer survivor and nationally recognized patient advocate Lillie D. Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, ONN-CG, provides strategies about setting goals and making plans for the future.
October 2018 Vol 4 No 5
Lillie D. Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, HON-ONN-CG
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Oncology Navigation & Survivorship®; Co-Founder, Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators® (AONN+); University Distinguished Service Professor of Breast Cancer, Professor of Surgery, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Co-Developer, Work Stride-Managing Cancer at Work, Johns Hopkins Healthcare Solutions
Breast cancer survivor

I have spoken before about being present for specific milestone events that will occur while you are undergoing treatment—your daughter’s wedding that occurs in 5 weeks, or a grandson’s graduation in 2 months. You also, however, have milestone events that happen quite some time from now, perhaps years from now, that raise questions as to whether you will be able to be physically present to witness them.

There are also bigger picture issues, such as ensuring your children know your values and expectations, and even making sure that your children, no matter their current ages, will always remember you.

Hard Concepts

These are hard concepts to have to think about, because no one wants to imagine themselves “gone”—no longer here to experience these important events or carry out these concepts that hold value to you and who you are. It is best to always have a backup plan, no matter what we are dealing with. I do believe in being optimistic for as long as it is realistic, and having your ducks in a row in the event that you are not here is a way of showing how important these life goals are to you.

And although I am a 26-year breast cancer survivor myself, I have created a Plan B in case something would happen to me. After all, life is uncertain. I could be in a fatal car accident tomorrow. I am a big fan of control. Whatever I can control, I want to control. Putting things into place to ensure that my daughter and grandchildren know my love for them, and knowing that I can still instill my values in them, even if I am not here, has given me a sense of peace. So let’s talk more about this now, and consider it a way to ease your mind rather than create anxiety.

So, based on what your oncologist has told you, you likely know what lies ahead for, say, the coming 2 to 4 months. But things might be more and more gray after that point in time. Begin with asking your doctor what to expect for at least some time frame beyond the immediate. This will help you know if milestone events that are coming up soon can be realistically achieved or not.

Fulfilling Far Away Life Goals

But what about those life goals that are farther away—say, 5 years, 10 years, even 20 years from now? Your daughter may be 5 years old right now. You hope to be here for her wedding day, but that may not be realistic. It is a hope, but not a hope that you can really plan on happening. So let’s look at fulfilling that life goal in an alternative way. Begin by getting a wedding day card for her. If you are crafty, you may even make one yourself. Now, what do you want to tell your daughter on her wedding day?

One mother I took care of nearly 2 decades ago wrote in her card: “I know you would have chosen wisely who was deserving of having you spend the rest of your life with. Marital advice: Don’t ever go to bed angry with one another; whatever it is can be talked through. When your dad lifts your veil to kiss your left cheek, you will feel me kiss your right. Love, Mom.” This meant the world to her daughter.

Another example is a patient who had hoped to teach her new grandson how to ride a bicycle, something this patient was passionate about doing every day. When her cancer picked up speed, and the treatment was no longer working, she realized that she wouldn’t be here in several years to show him the joys of cycling. So we made a video of her teaching him how to ride a bike.

It was interesting that without knowing it, she was also teaching him life lessons. At one point she said, “You may come to a steep hill and believe that there is no way you will be able to pedal up to the top of it. But you don’t know what the view is like from there. So give it your best shot and keep pedaling. You will find when you get there a magnificent view, and that going down the hill requires no effort at all. It was worth the climb too.”

Yet another example is a patient who learned she was going to become a grandmother for the first time. Her daughter-in-law was just 4 months pregnant when the patient learned that the treatments had been exhausted and she would be enrolled in hospice care. Although she realized she would not be present when the baby would be born, she still had an alternative way to “meet” the baby, as well as have the baby know her grandmother in the future. This was accomplished by arranging for her to be present for the ultrasound when they learned it was a baby girl. She was able to place her hand on her daughter-in-law’s tummy and see the baby on the ultrasound screen.

The details of the baby’s silhouette showed that this little girl already had features of her son’s chin and long fingers. She also was recorded singing songs for the baby to hear as a toddler, and reading nursery rhymes. These were wonderful ways to meet the baby, and have the baby later on “know her MomMom,” even if she is not physically here.

So consider some of these strategies and concepts. Doing it doesn’t mean you are giving up; it means you want to maintain control during a time you have to live with uncertainty. You will feel relieved after you take these steps.

(I feel better knowing I have cards for my grandchildren for all their future milestones. If I am here, great; if for some reason I am not, they will still know my love for them is present.) It is a thoughtful way to show your love.

Key Points

  • Planning for the future can help you achieve life goals and maintain control when faced with uncertain conditions
  • Talk to your doctor to get expected time frames so you can plan accordingly: knowledge is power
  • Talk with family and friends to help you come up with creative strategies to achieve your goals

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Last modified: April 10, 2019

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