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Coping with Advanced Cancer

  • Updated: 05/16/2014

Looking for Meaning

Celebrating Your Life

"I've learned a lot about myself and the strength I have in dealing with this. I've learned a lot about my kids and family too, watching them handle this, and it makes me proud to be their mother. I figure I must have done something right." - Madeline

Many people who have advanced cancer look more deeply for meaning in their lives. They want to understand their purpose and their legacy. They want to examine the things they have gone through in life. Some look for a sense of peace or a bond with others. Some seek to forgive themselves or others for past actions. Some look for answers and strength through religion or spirituality.

Being spiritual can mean different things to different people. It can be a very personal issue. Everyone has their own beliefs about the meaning of life. Some people find it through religion or faith. Some people find it by teaching, or through volunteer work. Others find it in different ways. Having cancer may cause you to think about what you believe. You may think about God, an afterlife, about the connections made between living things. This can bring a sense of peace, a lot of questions, or both.

Like some people, you may also find that cancer changes your values. Having the disease may help you learn what is most important to you. The things you own and your daily duties may seem less important. You may decide to spend more time with loved ones or helping others. You may want to do more things in the outdoors, or learn something new.

You may have already given a lot of thought to these issues. Still, you might find comfort by exploring more deeply what is meaningful to you. You could do this with someone close to you, a member of your faith community, or a mental health professional.

Or you may just want to take time for yourself. You may want to reflect on your experiences and relationships. Writing in a journal or reading also helps some people find comfort and meaning. Many people find that prayer, meditation, or talking with others has helped them cope and explore their lives.

 Celebrating Your Life

Having advanced cancer often gives people a chance to look back on life and all they have done. They like to look at the different roles they have played throughout life. They think about what something meant at the time, and what it means now. Some gather things that have meaning to them to give to their loved ones. Others share memories or projects with loved ones.

Doing these things is often called "making a legacy" for yourself. It can be whatever you want. Don't limit yourself! And you can do these things alone or with others close to you. Some examples of ways people have celebrated their lives are:

  • Making a video of special memories
  • Reviewing or arranging family photo albums
  • Charting or writing down your family's history or family tree
  • Keeping a daily journal of your feelings and experiences
  • Making a scrapbook
  • Writing notes or letters to loved ones and children
  • Reading or writing poetry
  • Creating artwork, knitting, or making jewelry
  • Giving meaningful objects or mementos to loved ones
  • Writing down or recording funny or meaningful stories from your past
  • Planting a garden
  • Making a recording of favorite songs
  • Gathering favorite recipes into a cookbook

You can do whatever you want that brings joy and meaning to you. Some people with cancer also make what is called an "ethical will." It's not a legal paper. It's something you write yourself to share with your loved ones. Many ethical wills contain the person's thoughts on his or her values, memories, and hopes. They may also talk about the lessons learned in life or other things that are meaningful. It can say anything you want, in any way you want.

"For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment." - Viktor Frankl