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Changing Priorities

Priorities are things in your life that are important to you. These can change over time, especially when you face a serious illness such as cancer.

A senior man and woman smiling in a garden

For those with cancer, priorities can include family, friends, health, career, health insurance, happiness, spirituality and advocacy. Understanding why priorities change and how you can communicate your priorities to others can help you feel more confident.

Your priorities guide your attention and energy as you organize your daily, weekly or monthly schedule. Your most important goals become your top priorities. 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.

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.

After a Cancer Diagnosis

Some find that their priorities change after a cancer diagnosis because they begin to view life differently. But priorities can change at any time. Some 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.

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 important.

Why Priorities Change

Cancer can cause you to change your priorities for many reasons, both emotional and physical. Here are some reasons why your priories 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.

Your New Priorities Can Affect Others

Sometimes, the people in your life may not understand or accept your new priorities. It may take them a while to get used to the changes, especially if the changes directly affect your relationship with them.

Values change, and sometimes these changes can positively influence your life. However, they can also cause a lot of stress and confusion.

Examples of changing priorities:

  • 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.

Talk to Others About Your Changing Priorities

Talking with others about your priorities may not have been part of your life before cancer. 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.

When to share 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.

How to share new priorities with others:

  • Review your journal answers to the questions about your priorities. 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.

What if others don’t accept your new priorities?

  • Consider whether you need 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.

Join a Cancer Support Group

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. To find a support group in your area:

  • 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.
  • Search support groups in the Livestrong Resource Center or call 855.220.7777.

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. Just continue doing the things you enjoy. You may start making new friends who accept you for who you are now.

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