Cancer Education Center

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic our education center is currently closed until further notice.  Please look at the “MORE” tab to find recordings and resources to classes typically offered within the Stephen and Barbara Slaggie Cancer Education Center in Rochester, MN. Class topics include Reducing Fatigue, Moving Forward After Cancer, Nutrition and Cancer, Physical Activity, Stress Management and more!

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Jan 1, 2018

A New Year As A Cancer Survivor

By Lisa Stephens, PhD, @lisastephens


As we turn the calendar not only to a new month, but to a new year, many of us use the new year as a time to reflect. For me, I reflect on memories, both good and not so good, of what I’ve accomplished, the new additions to our family from marriages and babies, the traditions and fellowships I’m grateful for, and the love and fulfillment that my family and friends bring to me throughout the year and even throughout my lifetime.

Then comes that term we often acquaint with the start of a new year – the New Year’s resolution! Yep, I said it…RESOLUTION. I love reflecting because it shows just how far we have come. But I am not a fan of what is often termed “resolutions.” It’s my personal issue with the word, I’m sure, but the word seems so final, absolute, and it’s almost as if I use the word, I'm likely to fail…if you know what I mean? Maybe it’s because of something I recently learned:

Did you know there is a day called, “Ditch Your Resolutions Day" – January 17 of each year. By the time January 17 rolls around many of us have broken our resolutions. For some, these resolutions are about losing weight, exercising and getting healthy. And yes, we’ve all been there and tried these types of resolutions. Some of us have been successful and maybe some of us haven’t been as successful. I’m sure we all have some stories to tell and I definitely like how the video encourages us to break down our goals in order to be successful.

I, on the other hand, prefer to substitute the word resolution with the word goal…or even the word plan or fresh start, a clean slate. It’s much more satisfying to say, “My New Year’s Plan is to XXX” (I personally don’t have a plan yet!) but I find it easier to say that I have a plan for 2018 as opposed to a resolution.

Yet, for cancer survivors, resolutions/plans/goals can and sometimes should be different, and the goals/plans/resolutions you set can depend on a number of factors, including when or how recently you’ve been diagnosed, where you are in your treatment, number of previous cancers, trying to prevent a recurrence, balancing cancer and a personal/family life, etc. As cancer survivors, you know the impact cancer has had on you, your body, your family, your overall well-being. Which is why, for cancer survivors, New Year’s resolutions can be far more personal than simply exercising most days of the week or other “common” resolutions that we’ve all tried to set for ourselves on January 1.

Of course, I’m not saying that some of the more common resolutions like eating healthy, stopping smoking, etc. don’t apply, but sometimes for cancer survivors, the start of a new year can be filled with much more personal and soul-searching goals, especially if you are still relatively new in your diagnosis or treatment. Yet, regardless of where you are in your survivorship journey, most experts will tell you to embrace life, celebrate life, and live each day to the fullest. This provides an opportunity and mindset to change your entire outlook on life.

An article from the Huffington Post ran a few years ago. The article provides a frank and yet realistic view of the “13 Ways I Live My Life With Purpose After Cancer ” written by a cancer survivor and patient advocate, Tamika Felder. I think her suggestions are helpful in thinking about your plan/goals/resolutions. An abbreviated version appeared in the Ulman Fund website at a later date and included the following shortened version:

  • It’s OK to reflect. You can’t truly appreciate how far you’ve come unless you look back on where you’ve been. But, remember it’s just a reflection. Don’t let it consume you.

  • Have a pity party. What happened to you was messed up. Doesn’t matter whether it’s Stage 0 or Stage 4 — cancer is not fun. So, take time to be sad, to accept the blow you’ve been dealt. But remember – you have to move on and fight for your life, because it’s going to take everything you’ve got — mentally and physically.

  • No longer sweat the small stuff. I know just how short life can be. Therefore, I don’t want to waste time on things (or people!) that really don’t matter.

  • Cherish the people who really matter to you. Cancer taught me who my true friends were and my circle became much smaller. That annoying friend that you’re always ducking… just cut them loose. That family member that makes you so uncomfortable…you may not be able to cut them loose, but you can cut them back… seriously, way back. Your time is precious. Choose to spend it with people who matter.

  • Love the skin you’re in. For the longest time, I yearned for my life before cancer. The truth is that you are no longer that person. Embrace the new you. It just might surprise you!

  • Stop living in the past. Don’t let your experience keep you from living. I have an acquaintance in the cancer community that I see on a regular basis and she is so afraid to live. She lives in fear, constantly, always waiting for cancer to reemerge. I get it. I really do. But those of us who are still here are blessed to be alive, no matter the physical or emotional limitations. So live… like never before.

  • Enjoy life. Prior to cancer, I hardly ever took vacations. Typically, I would take one in the summer and another at Christmas. I never thought I had enough time, money or a break in the workload. You have to rest and reset. All work and no play… you know the rest!

In addition, Mayo Clinic recommends, as you plan for the coming year -

  • Find support in other cancer survivors. This is so meaningful. Get involved with survivor programs, in person or online ... and often.

  • Nutrition matters. Feed your body with nutritious, healthy foods. Even small changes can make a difference.

  • Feed your soul. Connect with your inner self in a way that works best for you. This could be meditation, yoga, exercise, singing, dancing, or listening to music. Look into the future for long-term survivorship.

  • Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider to map out what you need from a medical standpoint for the year and beyond. Address your fears and concerns. Many of the strategies above will address this; however, feeling stressed about cancer recurrence can be a big part of survivorship.

  • Look for ways to deal with your fears. This might be formal counseling, journaling your thoughts, or talking with other cancer survivors.

What has worked for you, as far as developing a plan, as formal or informal as it may be? Are New Year’s resolutions helpful or meaningful for you? What have you done different as a cancer survivor? We’d love to hear from you! Feel free to share your thoughts. Happy 2018 to all of you!

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