Future Planning for the Cancer Survivor


by Josh Wimberly, Ph.D., LGSW, MSW and rectal cancer survivor

Hearing that you have cancer is life changing. There is absolutely no doubt. There exists a struggle to navigate this new piece of identity with which you have been anointed.

Elephants Fighting to be Unnoticed in the Room

Some of us hide the anxiety better than others brought by all the new hats we have to wear. Even though there are many elephants fighting to be unnoticed in the room, the largest is probably mortality itself. Whether we become the projection of life’s limits to our friends and family, or we are working through our own epiphanies about our vulnerability and fragility; death’s shadow refuses to be ignored. Forgetting denial is our best coping mechanism, and refusing to acknowledge that we are facing mortality, robs us of embracing the true meaning of living.

Why Survivors Should Do Future Planning

I want to argue that being a warrior and battling with courage means embracing this reality. One of the fundamental tasks in this endeavor is future planning. True hope involves preparing for all possible outcomes and not securing our emotional and physical selves to the illusion of false optimism. In the long-run (cancer or not) this becomes a barrier to living life to the fullest of our potential and enjoying all that the journey has to offer.

Even though we are faced with stark realities as cancer patients and often thrown into a world of making choices where no clear choice exists, we must take the necessary steps to plan for our future.

We must complete our advanced care plans.

These include things such as advanced directives, powers of attorney, healthcare proxies, wills, etc. When we make our wishes known about our future, we liberate ourselves from the burden of denial. In the process, we also liberate our families, friends and loved ones from the weight of discussing difficult topics about what we expect to happen when our physical bodies reach the end.

Do it For Yourself and Your Loved Ones

If we were to personify denial it might be standing up in anger and shouting that this is giving up. I offer a different perspective. I offer to you an opportunity to become an advocate for future planning for yourself and everyone you know.

If you have experienced the loss of someone close to you who had not completed this vital process of future planning then you know all too well the challenges that can arise for family and loved ones. If you have a social worker at your treatment center, ask them about resources they have available for assisting in this process of future planning.

Make sure you talk to your loved ones and doctors about your wishes. Put it in writing and share it with your treatment team. If your process is more complex and complicated than others, perhaps there are attorneys in your community who can offer assistance. If you want some further information please see the following resources.

Resources for Future Planning

 Advanced Care Planning (by National Institute on Aging)

Planning Your Medical Future (by LiveStrong)

Planning for the Future (by American Lung Association)

Advanced Directives (by Cancer.net)

Related posts