Finding Meaning

Finding Meaning and Value in Life After a Cancer Diagnosis

A diagnosis of cancer brings many changes.  Many of these changes are physical and/or emotional.  For some people diagnosed with cancer these changes will be more spiritual or existential in nature causing them to question the meaning of their lives and what really matters.  Questioning the meaning of one’s life by those diagnosed with cancer is quite normal.  Spending some time thinking about this topic may help you to discover new goals, priorities and possibilities. 

Having the opportunity to re-visit long-held beliefs and values provides an opportunity to think about what truly matters most to you.  People with cancer often find that this chance to focus on what really matters can impact the quality of their lives in very positive ways.  The time following a cancer diagnosis can be a time to reconnect with the many different ways one defines a meaningful life and to make the changes that are important to you.  

A commitment to focus more on spending time with family and friends is a common way that people decide to make changes in their lives.  For others it can be a chance to complete a project such as finishing a scrap book.  Still others decide to act on something they have always wanted to do such as take up a new hobby or travel.  There is no right answer that will fit all people.  For each of us, the changes we choose to make or even the decision not to make any changes will be a personal one.   

Ways to Find New Meaning and Value in Your Life After Cancer

  • Assess your life: Some survivors say their cancer gave them a wake-up call and a second chance to make life what they want it to be. Ask yourself those tough questions.  Am I really a happy?  Have I postponed things that are important to me? You may notice that answers to these questions and others will help to define what is most meaningful to you.
  • Give Back:  For some, reaching out and helping others helps them and you find meaning in their cancer experience.
  • Seek support:  Community based organizations such as the Cancer Support community can help you connect with others in a similar situation. A trusted clergy member or professional counselor may be able to help you consider questions about the meaning of life.
  • Keep a journal: Write down your thoughts about what gives meaning to your life now.
  • Life Review:  Thinking about tor writing your life’s history can clarify what has been accomplished and what remains to be done.
  • Meditate or pray: Allowing yourself to sit quietly may be helpful in creating the mental space and perspective that will allow you to answer your questions about the meaning of life.

Further Reading: 
Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning 
Wendy Harpham, Diagnosis Cancer: Your Guide to the First Months of Healthy Survivorship
Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom

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