Life Interrupted: When Cancer Changes Your Plans

"I struggled with not being able to return to my old life, the life I had planned to enjoy."

I’m one of those people who enjoys plans. Whether it’s a walk through the Elmwood village, an epic vacation or a college semester, I relish outlining future details and knowing where my life is going to go. So when I had a lifelong goal of moving to New York City to work in theater and finally arrived there as an early college graduate at age 21, I saw it as a reward for all of my purposeful career planning.

Think about that. A solid ten years of dreaming and planning finally came to fruition only to go up in flames thanks to a 30-minute doctor appointment on the Upper West Side.

The culprit? Cancer.

There's no denying that any cancer patient’s life gets turned upside down by a diagnosis like that. It’s especially frustrating for young adults, many of whom are just beginning or have just begun their careers only to have to take months or even years off to take care of themselves. By the time they try to resume their “old life” or are ready to move forward, it’s nearly impossible to jump in where you left off.

I struggled with not being able to return to my old life, the life I had planned to enjoy. After all, that was my only plan — what was I supposed to do now? And do I make a new plan? Even though a recurrence might ruin that plan, too?

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This struggle with planning for the future has plagued me for three years now. Even though I still refuse to do almost anything with friends without planning it, I have a hard time booking anything more than a month or two in advance because I get too worried about something coming along to ruin it or having an anxiety or GI attack.

Going on vacation sends my anxiety spiraling because on top of having to travel and deal with all kinds of last minute changes, I spend nearly every moment making sure I know where a bathroom is in case I get diarrhea, making sure I have peppermint capsules in case my stomach acts up, fearing that I might feel sick or, perhaps most notably, feeling sorry for ruining the trip for everyone else because I don’t feel well anymore.

I also got engaged last October and have spent the months since planning a wedding for next April with my fiancé. While event planning and picking things out together has been fun, special and enjoyable, there are days when it is very, very difficult because I’m afraid that something will happen to screw my life up again or throw a giant wrench into my plans.

But when I put my engagement ring on every morning, I give myself a little pep talk to remind me that even though the wedding is a few months in the future, I will get there and it will be great.

There’s something to be said about the beauty of living in the moment, something I’ve come to practice more dutifully since being diagnosed. But I think it’s equally as important for survivors to focus on striking a balance between that and planning for the future, both financially and mentally/emotionally.

Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.