After cancer treatment ends, it might seem like your new goals revolve around hitting medical milestones, checkups, scans and cancerversaries. Whilst these are important, we can lose sight of who ‘we’ are after cancer, so it's essential you take time to check in with your post-cancer wants and needs.
Can you remember what your pre-diagnosis hopes, dreams and future plans were? If it feels that they no longer align with who you are after cancer, then you are not alone.
You might not be able to control what happens with cancer in the future, but you can take control back by taking time to visualize a positive future for yourself, one that is aligned with your new post-cancer hopes and dreams.
Too Scared to Tempt Fate After Cancer?
It is completely normal to worry about planning for a future after cancer. Rationally, we know cancer is not more likely to reoccur just because we make plans (if only our thoughts were that powerful), but our mind can’t help reminding us how bad we’ll feel if we tempt fate.
Give yourself permission to be curious about the possibilities your future holds and consider what your new story might be.
One way to explore your future is using a visualization technique. Visualization is simply about taking time out for yourself to decide what is important to you and what you want to focus on in your new post-cancer future.
What is Visualization and Who Uses It?
Visualization is the formation of a mental image of something or someone. Once we have a vision of something we want to achieve, it gives us clarity and something concrete to work toward.
Many elite athletes employ visualization as a highly effective strategy for success and wellbeing. Using all their senses, they create vivid internal run-throughs of their desired outcome in a ‘mental’ rehearsal.
The most effective visualization techniques “result in a very vivid sports experience in which the athlete has complete control over a successful performance and a belief in this new self.” (Source)
This isn’t simply daydreaming. Repetitive visualization creates measurable physical changes in the brain; it is an effective motivation tool, reminding you of your desire and helping to inspire confidence for the future.
Can Visualization Help Cancer Patients?
There have been several clinical studies on the effect of alternative therapies on breast cancer patients. One study found that practicing visualized Guided Imagery (GI) may be able to:
- Temporarily increase numbers of immune system cells.
- Help reduce feelings of depression.
- Increase feelings of well being. (Source)
Patients that practiced alternative therapies alongside conventional cancer treatment had a better experience, perceived quality of life and easier expression of emotions than those who only received conventional treatment. (Source)
Are You Ready to Visualize Your Future After Cancer?
You can use this popular practice to spend time visualizing what you want to achieve in the future. You will then use this vision to write a first-person letter, as if it is from your future self.
Before you start, this is a reminder to allow yourself to be kind, encouraging and supportive. Part of being kind to yourself is acknowledging your future potential, without judgment or fear.
How to Create Your Visualization:
- Start by grabbing a pen and paper (get back to basics with a handwritten letter).
- Take yourself away from interruptions by finding a quiet, safe space
- Get yourself in a state of relaxation by practicing deep breathing or using calming music.
- You might find it helpful to close your eyes during the visualization process.
- Establish a highly specific goal or vision for yourself. If you could do/be/achieve one thing right now, what would it be?
- Visualize in full detail and don't hold back any details.
Now picture that future where you have already achieved your goal or are living your vision. Hold that image in your mind as if it were occurring right at this moment. Now enhance this scene by asking yourself:
- Where are you?
- What are you wearing?
- What can you smell?
- Who are you with?
- What textures surround you?
- What can you see?
- What do you hear?
- What are you grateful for?
- What emotions are you feeling?
If any negative thoughts creep in, acknowledge them, but imagine them drifting away. They have no place in your positive vision.
See Your Vision. Feel It. Trust It Is Achievable.
When you have spent time in your vision, put pen to paper and start writing your letter:
- Date your letter for one year from now.
- Write to yourself from the future as if you have achieved your vision or goal.
- Remember to add all of the sensory details you visioned.
- Do not edit/criticize yourself. Now isn’t the time to question the logistics of the vision.
Pop your letter in an envelope, seal it and place it somewhere safe. Set yourself a calendar reminder to open your letter for one year from now.
The Emotions of Visualization.
If you choose to write a letter, be prepared for a range of emotions that may surface as a result.
I did this exercise and found unexpected emotions accompanying my visualization. I had just received my one year all clear and found it cathartic to allow myself to visualize a positive future after cancer.
I found myself visualizing something cancer had forced me to put on hold, my dream of having a family. Although I still experience the usual cancer related anxiety, the vision I created for myself has allowed me to feel more positive emotions about what my future holds.
“Words once they are printed, have a life of their own”- Carol Burnett
Even if nothing from your vision comes to fruition, you might be pleasantly surprised at what you have learnt about yourself and your desires from the process. Once you have spent time in your vision, you are more likely to subconsciously take steps to achieve what you visualized, or be more open to the possibilities.
Writing a letter to your future self is the perfect way to let your imagination create your future and allow yourself to once more dream big. Cancer has controlled enough of your life; give yourself permission to take back power and guide yourself towards a positive future.