Priorities, the things in your life that you think are important, can change over time, especially when you face a serious illness such as cancer. Understanding why priorities change and how you can communicate your priorities to others can help you feel more confident in your survivorship.
Setting Priorities: Detailed Information
This information is meant to be a general introduction to this topic. The purpose is to provide a starting point for you to become more informed about important matters that may be affecting your life as a survivor and to provide ideas about steps you can take to learn more. This information is not intended nor should it be interpreted as providing professional medical, legal and financial advice. You should consult a trained professional for more information. Please read the Suggestions and Additional Resources sections for questions to ask and for more resources.
Priorities are those things in your life that you think are important. Priorities can be ideas, goals, people, activities or things that you want to achieve. Each individual has his or her own unique priorities. Your priorities can change during your life.
Your priorities guide your attention and energy as you organize your daily, weekly or monthly schedule. Setting priorities means deciding what is most important to you. Your most important goal becomes your top priority. Knowing what your priorities are and whether they have changed can help you decide how to live your life to the fullest during and after cancer.
How does setting priorities relate to cancer survivorship?
Some survivors find that their priorities change following the cancer diagnosis because they may begin to view life differently. Values may change, and sometimes these changes can positively influence your life. However, they can also cause a lot of stress and confusion.
If your priorities do not change, you may be able to continue living life just as you did before you were diagnosed. However, if your priorities do change, understanding why or how this may affect your life after a cancer diagnosis is sometimes difficult. Many survivors experience changes in their priorities and learn how to incorporate these changes into their lives.
Why do some survivors change their priorities after surviving cancer?
Cancer may cause you to change your priorities for many different reasons. Some of these reasons relate to how much the cancer experience has changed your life. A few examples include:
Emotional reasons your priorities might change:
Physical reasons your priorities might change:
- You enjoy doing new things
- Your outlook on life has changed
- You want to achieve new things
- You no longer have enough energy to exercise or work as hard as you used to
- You want to live a healthier lifestyle
- You want to avoid stress
Priorities can change at any time. Some survivors experience changes during treatment. Others begin to notice changes after treatment. It is also possible that your priorities may not change until years after your diagnosis and treatment.
Common examples of priorities survivors may have include:
- Health insurance
How might changes in priorities affect a survivor's life?
Changes in your priorities can sometimes add stress in your life. Sometimes, the people in your life may not understand or accept that your priorities have changed. It may take them a while to get used to these changes, especially if they directly affect your relationship with them.
Examples of changes survivors might make because of changes in priorities are:
- A choice not to return to work at a high-paying, stressful job because health has become a top priority.
- Choosing a graduate school near parents because spending time with the family has become a priority.
- A decision not to change jobs because keeping a good health insurance policy has become a priority.
- Joining a cancer advocacy group because giving back and helping other cancer survivors has become a priority.
- A choice to not spend time with certain people because the things you used to do together is no longer of interest or conflicts with other priorities.
Talking with others about your priorities may not have been part of your life before cancer. You may not want to talk about your priorities with others—and that is okay. However, after cancer, it may become important to share current opinions about what is now important. It may be challenging to find the best way to talk about new priorities, especially when you are not certain how others will react.
The following are times when you may want to share your new priorities with others:
- When the change affects another person's life
- When someone notices that you are acting differently or doing different things
- When you want to share how you have changed since your diagnosis
It may be more challenging to share your personal priorities if you feel your priorities are too personal to share or you are worried about how others will react. If others don't accept the changes in your priorities, you can:
- Consider whether you want to make changes to your new priorities
- Talk to a trusted friend, family member or counselor about how to work out your problems with that person
- Stop spending time doing activities that you do not want to do
- Choose to spend less or no time with those who conflict with your priorities
In certain cases, changes in priorities might cause you to end friendships with people you felt close to before your diagnosis. This can be hard, but many survivors experience this. Real friends will understand that your priorities have changed and will find the best ways to spend time with you. If others do not understand your changes in priorities, continue doing the things you enjoy. In some situations, you may think about making new friends who accept you for who you are now.
This document was produced in collaboration with:
Pat Fobair, LCSW, MPH
Clinical Social Worker
Stanford Hospital and Clinics
Fobair, P. "Cancer Support Groups and Group Therapies: Part II. Process, Organizational, Leadership and Patient Issues." J Psychosocial Oncology 15(3/4) (1997): 123-47.
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Setting Priorities: Suggestions
The suggestions that follow are based on the information presented in the Detailed Information document. They are meant to help you take what you learn and apply the information to your own needs. This information is not intended nor should it be interpreted as providing professional medical, legal and financial advice. You should consult a trained professional for more information. Please read the Additional Resources section for links to more resources.
- Write in a journal about your priorities and how they have changed since your diagnosis.
Keeping a diary or journal may help you understand and find meaning in what is happening in your life. Writing down your thoughts and feelings about your experiences can help you feel more in control. It can also help you release emotions like fear and anxiety that you might be holding inside. Write about anything you like, including your answers to the following questions:
- Am I happy with the way my life feels to me now?
- Are there things in my life that I want to change?
- Do the priorities I valued before cancer still provide me with satisfaction?
- What ideas, desires or needs mean more to me today than they did before cancer?
- What do I want to do with my life, before I can no longer be active?
- Are there things that I could do now that would make me happier?
You may find the process of journaling helps you recognize areas in your life that you can feel good about and areas that you want to change. A journal can also help you understand when you might need professional help to understand your feelings.
- Consider talking about your priorities with others.
- Review your answers to the questions about your priorities that you wrote in your journal. Decide what you want to share with others.
- Practice talking about your priorities with trusted friends or family members.
- If you aren't comfortable talking about your priorities, write or email letters to people in your life explaining your changed priorities.
- Join a support group to talk to other survivors about how they have dealt with changes in their priorities.
Support groups provide a safe environment to share experiences with other survivors, learn new ways to handle difficult situations and talk about emotions. You will see different styles of coping with stress and adjusting to life as a cancer survivor. If you are uncomfortable talking about certain subjects with your family or friends, a support group offers you a place to talk freely about what is important to you. Cancer support groups exist in most communities.
Some ways to find out more about support groups in your area include:
- Ask a member of your health care team for suggestions. Most cancer programs offer support groups for cancer survivors and their family members right in the clinic or hospital.
- Call a nearby cancer center or university hospital and ask about support groups.
- Visit LIVESTRONG Cancer Navigation Services at LIVESTRONG.org/GetHelp, or call 1.855.220.7777 for information on support.
- Share your concerns and feelings with people you trust.
Talking with another person about your feelings and what is causing them can help you understand more clearly what you are feeling and help you find ways to manage your feelings
- Talk with a licensed counselor or therapist if changes in your priorities overwhelm you emotionally or if you are having trouble communicating these changes to others.
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Setting Priorities: Additional Resources
The previous sections of this document provide detailed information, suggestions, and questions to ask related to this topic. This section offers a listing of additional resources that are known to provide support and quality services that may be helpful to survivors during the cancer journey.
LIVESTRONG Cancer Navigation Center
||1.855.220.7777 (English and Spanish)
||Navigators are available for calls Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Central Time). Voicemail is available after hours.
The Navigation Center provides free, confidential one-on-one support to anyone affected by cancer. This is not a medical facility, but rather a center that provides the following support services:
- Emotional Support—assistance coping with a cancer diagnosis, help accessing support groups, as well as peer-to-peer connections
- Fertility Risks and Preservation Options—information on fertility risks and help accessing discounted rates for fertility preservation options
- Insurance, Employment and Financial Concerns—information on employment rights and benefits, financial assistance and debt management, including insurance and billing issues as well as medication co-pay assistance
In addition to professional cancer navigators on staff, LIVESTRONG
partners with specialty organizations such as Patient Advocate Foundation, Imerman Angels, Navigate Cancer Foundation and EmergingMed to provide support services.
American Cancer Society (ACS)
||Submit questions in English or Spanish from the “Contact Us” page.
||TTY for deaf or hard of hearing callers: 1-866-228-4327
The American Cancer Society (ACS) offers information about many of the challenges of cancer and survivorship. You can search for information by cancer type or by topic. ACS provides a list of support groups in your area. ACS can connect you to support and services in your area. You can join online groups and message boards. Some information on the website is available in Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. ACS specialists can answer questions 24 hours a day by phone or email.
Cancer Hope Network
||This number is answered Monday-Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (EST). Voicemail is available after hours.
Cancer Hope Network is a not-for-profit organization that provides free and confidential one-on-one support to cancer patients and their families. They offer support by matching cancer patients or family members with trained volunteers who have already undergone and recovered from a similar cancer experience. You can submit your request by phone or by email. A volunteer will try to contact you within 24 hours.