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Prioritising what matters

By Andy, diagnosed in 2017


One of the many emotions I had during my initial diagnosis was confusion. I had gone from a life where family and work were my priorities (with some exercise and socialising thrown in), to a world where I was not at work; I was in hospital for the first time that I could remember, and I had some serious health worries – a cancer diagnosis that I understood very little about! I was confused. I asked myself, what should I focus on? What shouldn’t I focus on? And how do I stay focused on my priorities?

As a project manager, I’m used to working out and planning for what needs to be done in order of priority. I knew no other way of approaching a cancer diagnosis, so I decided to approach it in the only way I knew. Write a list, prioritise, and then note down the tasks against the prioritised areas. Surviving Cancer became my latest project!

Before diagnosis, work was number 1 or 2 on my priority list; it became number 14. Upon diagnosis, preparing for my imminent death consumed most of my thoughts. On writing the list, I realised I had a big role to play in getting back on my feet. The list included strengthening my body for treatment, lining up appropriate medical professionals and appointments, booking a dietary review to see if food could play a part in my recovery – all while making sure not to push my family away from me (I needed their support more than ever).

In writing the list of areas I needed to focus on, I ranked them from 1 to 14. Every morning for a few weeks after diagnosis I reviewed this list, starting at priority 1, to check whether my plans for each day reflected my priorities. Some days I had medical appointments to attend or arrange, or physio exercises to do to help me walk properly again. Other days, I had research to do on treatment types, or a movie to watch to help me relax.

There are still times in which I think about the shorter life I am likely to have with my cancer, but by focusing that shorter time on the areas that help me feel better or happier, I feel more able to cope with my day-to-day life, without constantly being dragged down by negative thoughts.