By Kristen Carter
Dear Kristen, I had these great dreams for the future, but now that I’ve had breast cancer I’m afraid to look ahead. What can I do to feel positive about life again? -K.J.
Dreaming of the future is a uniquely human thing to do. We are the only species (that we know of) that can project ourselves into an imagined future. And those futures can be so lovely! Filled with love, babies or grown children, travel and adventure, professional success, and on and on.
Other species live in the moment, satisfying basic needs like eating and not being eaten.
It makes me wonder who has it better, them or us.
What you are experiencing is unfortunately so common among women with a breast cancer diagnosis and anyone who comes face-to-face with their mortality: we somehow lost trust in the future we’ve imagined.
On one hand, this should come as no surprise. Nothing is guaranteed, after all. On the other hand, it is so human to dream, and therefore we can’t stop ourselves from doing it.
What’s required here is radical acceptance. As the life coach Martha Beck says, “So what? Now what?” What do we do with the reality that is staring us in the face?
The answer is, we embrace it. This is our truth, right now, in this moment. Once we’ve done that, we can move forward. Until we accept what’s real, we carry our future dreams around like a giant piece of baggage.
Acceptance and setting down that bag of hopes and dreams will require some grieving. Let yourself mourn for what you’d hoped for. Then you can begin looking for what is actually around you, and go from there, perhaps even discovering new hopes and dreams.
What is around you? Family? Friends? Work? Hobbies? Take stock of what IS in your life, rather than what isn’t. How can you make the most of what you already have? If you can enjoy what is present, you have the key to happiness. I believe there is always something to be grateful for if we look for it.
And that is the way to feel positive about life again.
Tools I love to use when I need to feel grounded and to cultivate hope:
Writing in my gratitude journal before bed.
Calling an old friend I haven’t spoken to in a while and catching up on the phone (not zoom).
Making plans for the short-term future. It doesn’t have to be settling down and starting a family in five years, or a dream vacation; it can be a 5K road race coming up this summer.
My favorite tool is cutting up old magazines and making vision boards. It’s creative and gets me inspired every time I look at them. In fact, I have several around my house. Know that you are not limited to just one!