Setting Boundaries

As a dear friend of ours who was diagnosed with cancer years ago once said “Cancer has a way of rearranging your life.” Boy, was he right! But before you let cancer rearrange your life on its own, be proactive and establish new priorities and new boundaries that help you take control of your situation. No matter what your exact situation is, you can influence the course of your cancer journey.

Less than a week after J’s first surgery, I realized I had to streamline my obligations. What I thought would be a difficult task turned out to be relatively painless. One day, while we were on a beach vacation during J’s recuperation from surgery, it hit me: I had to extricate myself from my time-consuming volunteer position as the Chair of a non-profit board. I had poured my heart and soul into this organization, so normally this would have been an incredibly gut-wrenching decision, but when I submitted my resignation I was surprised at the sense of relief I felt.

Real tip #1: When you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, give yourself permission to strip your obligations down to the absolute essentials. Prioritize, prune and prioritize again. You need to focus on yourself, your family, maintaining good health, and creating beautiful new memories amidst uncertainty.

I also found I also had to set boundaries with friends and acquaintances. After a while, you begin to realize different friends offer different strengths. The friend who accompanies you to the hospital and sits with you during surgery may not be the one you’d call in the middle of the night. The friend you’d call in the middle of the night might not be the best one to ask for parenting advice, and so forth. So what does this have to do with setting boundaries and limits? Well, what if the friend who’s an excellent cook keeps dropping by for long visits and gives unsolicited advice? You will honor yourself by telling your friend that you’re just not up to the company right now and will call her when you have more time. Do you need help with childcare? Ask your friends for help! If a friend offers to do or bring something you don’t need, decline politely and offer an alternative way to help. It’s not being rude–it’s about respecting yourself and your family’s needs.

You should also honor your own needs more than you honor societal norms about not hurting someone’s feelings. Maybe it’s the southern girl in me, but I’ve always found it difficult to ask for what I really need. J’s cancer had a way of taking that part of the southern out of me! It’s all about the pruning and setting boundaries. Repeat after me: I will not say “Yes” when I mean “No” and I will not say “No” when I mean “Yes”. 

Real tip #2: Don’t by shy about asking for what you really need and turning down what you really don’t need! Your friends want to help, but they sometimes need clear, specific directions about what they can do to help you. Respect yourself and your friends’ time by being honest about your needs.


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