The Gift of Today: Finding Joy and Purpose in the Present

July 28, 2021
Group of 4 people stand with their arms around each other and their backs turned, facing the sunlight.


A life touched by cancer is a life forever changed. Suddenly, setting goals, making plans, and thinking about the future seem to revolve around the diagnosis. It is normal to worry, to question your existence and life path, and to simply wonder, Why me?

“There isn’t a right way to take on cancer — there is only the way that is right for you,” says Kim Thiboldeaux, Cancer Support Community’s former executive chair, in her new book Your Cancer Road Map. “You’re in the driver’s seat and you will decide which road to take and how you choose to get to your desired destination.”

It is far from easy. But you are not alone.

There are so many emotional changes attached to a cancer journey. Yet it can also be a time to look inward and start living in the present. There are different ways to find value in your life during and after cancer. Here, we share 7 tips that can help you cope healthfully with your emotions and find joy and purpose in the present.

1. 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. What makes me feel happy? Have I postponed things that are important to me? How do I really want to spend my time? You may notice that answers to these questions and others will help to define what is most meaningful to you.

“My outlook on life has changed tremendously. I’m far more appreciative of life and I live for the day. I don’t live for the future — it takes away from the moments we have at that present time. I love more, respect and honor things in life like I’ve never could before.”

— Daniel Jacobs, boxing middleweight champion and cancer survivor

2. Enjoy nature

Spending time outdoors can be very therapeutic, helping relieve stress and improving overall quality of life in cancer patients. Taking a walk, sitting in a quiet space outside your home, smelling flowers, and stargazing are all ways you can benefit from the outdoors. Talk to your doctor about what a safe outdoor space and activity could be for you.

3. Explore a creative activity

Many people have found that doing something creative helps them express their emotions and reduces stress, depressive symptoms, and physical pain. Creative activities might include painting, drawing, taking photographs, or learning to play a musical instrument.

“Through my experience, I’ve learned to be faithful and journal daily. It’s between me and God. I also love to knit and crochet. I made a hat and wore it during a chemo session; a woman complimented me on it and I gave it to her. I thought to myself, there must be others who would like to receive hats as well. So I knit and crochet hats and give them all away. It helps me to know that I am helping other people.”

— Ginni, cancer survivor

4. Give back

For some people, reaching out and supporting others can help them find meaning in their cancer experience. Sharing your journey can be a meaningful way to share your cancer experience. One way to do this is by joining the Cancer Experience Registry, a free and confidential online survey for anyone who has ever been diagnosed with cancer and for caregivers of individuals with cancer. The survey data helps the Cancer Support Community create services and programming to benefit the greater cancer and caregiver communities.

“I try to help other people. I’m online with laryngectomy support groups. I go to laryngectomy meetings in and around Kansas City. I’m very active with one here in our town. [I go] to the hospital to see laryngectomy patients before or after an operation … I’m so happy to be able to tell that man or woman, ‘It gets better. It’s life-changing, not life-ending.”

— Terry, cancer survivor

5. Meditate

Allowing yourself to sit quietly, connect with your spirituality, or practice breathing exercises may be helpful in creating the mental space and perspective that will allow you to answer your questions about the meaning of life. Visit our virtual Mind Body Studio for yoga lessons, gentle exercises, and meditation videos.

6. Seek support and foster connections 

Cancer Support Community’s MyLifeLine can help you connect with others in a similar situation. MyLifeLine is an online community where cancer patients and survivors can build a private support website and share their experiences with friends and family. They can also find hope and inspiration on a variety of discussion boards for people impacted by cancer. You can share your stories and ideas and meet others like you.

7. Write it down

Keep a journal. Write down your thoughts about what gives meaning to your life and what you are grateful for. Then you can read them any time you need a pick-me-up. Even writing down your life’s history can help put into perspective what you have already accomplished and what else you want to do.

A cancer diagnosis can change many aspects of your life. Surrounding yourself with a supportive community, trying positive activities such as meditation and journaling, and sharing your experience with others can help you discover joy and purpose in the present.