Whether big or small, many of us have faced life events that have sent us skidding sideways. It might be an illness, divorce, or losing a family member unexpectedly. It may be that retirement isn’t at all what you expected, or you’re struggling with an “empty nest”.
Mine was cancer. There was a fateful day in 2001 when the surgeon turned to me and said, “I’m so sorry, but …” Words that forever changed my life.
If this has happened to you, the disruption might be as instant as it was for me – I will always think of my life as before and after, a line drawn in bright paint on the sidewalk of my life journey. For others, it might creep up on you insidiously. The disruption doesn’t have to follow a common path or be labelled anything other than it needs to feel like disruption to you. A change that is irreversible. A shift that changes the path forward permanently. No going back.
I have a form of lymphoma that is known to recur. It’s slow growing, which means we’ll see the progression over time, rather than a spike or health crisis, but it means I need to look at it as a chronic disease, not something that can be cured at this point.
My illness has seeped into every single element of my life – my marriage, my family, my work, my hobbies, my state of mind. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about it, but some days, it’s a reminder that I have a life I never dreamed would be possible when I first heard the news.
How do you begin rebuilding life after a serious illness, or “shift” to a new way of living? Here are a few of the biggest adjustments I’ve faced as I’ve worked to rebuild my life after my cancer diagnosis.
Physical limitations are my new reality.
There have been so many ups and downs over the past 14 years. I have had periods of time where I have felt great – working out, running, energy for my family and my work. And yet, what has always crept up on me, over and over again, is fatigue, often as a result of working too much. Not just the hours, but allowing high levels of stress to put my system into overdrive. Adjusting to these new limits has been frustrating, and the right balance point continues to be a challenge.
Having work with purpose is vital.
Much has been written about work with purpose. More and more people are making changes in their work to be able to find work that gives them meaning and fulfillment. It doesn’t always mean a job or career change either; it can come through meaningful volunteer work or for some, the creation of a “side gig” that you pursue on nights and weekends.
For those who have been knocked over by traumatic life events, the search for purpose becomes much more essential. There’s the realization that we don’t necessarily have “one day” ahead of us to spend time finding work with meaning; we must begin NOW, lest we run out of time before fulling our dreams and passions.
Building my legacy is front and centre.
I hate to think about “the end” but as Covey wrote in his 7 Habits book, if we begin with the end in mind, it can better inform the decisions and choices we make today. I think often about what I want my kids to remember about their childhood, that I’ll proud of the accomplishments in my life, and most importantly, that I won’t die with regrets. I have bucket lists, summer to do lists, career goals, to do lists – all of it with an undercurrent of maximizing my contributions in this life.
It’s a double-edge sword though. At times, I feel huge amounts of pressure to do more, perform well, pack in more living. Instead, I’ve learned that there are times when doing less ultimately has a much bigger impact than doing more. I try to follow the advice of Gary W. Keller, author of The One Thing, and focus on the.one.thing I need to do each day that makes everything else in my life better. Not always easy to do, but brings everything into sharper focus.
Taming the demons is a daily task.
Ugh, there’s no other way to describe it. I am a worrier. I worry about things in my control, like whether I’m choosing the right foods, spending enough time with my kids, getting enough sleep, supporting others in my family and extended relationships – all of it.
Getting overwhelming thoughts under control takes work. I have learned that I am mentally stronger when I’ve had enough sleep, when I haven’t had too much coffee or sugar, and if I’ve had some downtime, whether reading, walking or yoga.
Adjusting to a shifted, disrupted, changed life has taken years for me. I’m still not there. Like parenting, just when you think you’ve figured things out, something changes or you encounter a new challenge.
If you can relate to what I’m describing, hang in there. Let’s just say, it makes life interesting. Think of the stories you’ll be able to tell, of the challenges overcome, of the dreams achieved, of the love you’ve felt. It makes everything – everything – worth it.