BLUF: I wish no one the experience of being told they have cancer. After the initial shock of being told, I experienced an odd sense of relief, and needed time to think. I remember looking over at my “To-Do” list and realizing that most things on it did not matter much. Reducing my list was very helpful in reducing stress and enabling me to figure things out.
If you are ever called to meet the doctor and when you walk into the patient room there are numerous unfamiliar faces (specialists from different backgrounds); I am sorry, be prepared for bad news. At least that is how it happened to me.
After being told I had cancer and crying with my wife in the hospital, knowing our lives now faced a major challenge. We then made calls to close family and friends letting them know the unfortunate news. It was hard repeating the details over and over. It is an odd feeling, explaining something you have not fully processed or believe yet.
An odd immediate feeling that I was not expecting was relief. I knew something was very wrong with me for a while and doctors could not explain what was going on. Finally, when the disease went out of control (lost hearing, lost balance, lost weight, night sweats, back pain, and more), doctors had concrete symptoms to analyze. In December 2016, doctors suspected and confirmed it was Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a blood cancer of the immune system.
I finally knew who my enemy was, along with a rough plan on how to fight it.
I was told by the doctors this disease was well studied and there were established treatment plans, with a plan for cure. The success rates are relatively high. I was told of all the cancers to get “this was a good one.” I have heard this statement before with other cancers as well, it doesn’t make things much better, but I get what they were saying.
Fast Forward Update: Treatment has been going fairly well, but unfortunately the treatments that generally work for 90% of patients did not work on me. So now I am getting some more aggressive treatments, which have much lower success rates and more long-term side-effects. We are still very optimistic.
I needed time to think
I remember sitting at home, powerful and painful emotions running through my head. Having no control of the situation was the hardest aspect to accept. Either treatments work or they do not, it really does not matter how much I wished them to work. The fear of the unknown was most troubling.
It suddenly felt funny to think of the future. Is my future one year, five years, or 60 years?
Am I living the exact life I wanted to live?
Is there anything I am holding back?
Am I truly happy?
What is the purpose of a 60-70% savings rate and planning to retire early, if I may never get there?
Would I still be living the same way if I knew my time was much shorter than expected?
In time I answered these questions.
My “To-Do” List
I then remembered looking over at my “To-Do” list that most of us planners have. A full page of various things I needed / wanted to get done.
I then started crossing out the things that just did not seem important anymore. Before I knew it, my list went from ~40 things to about three.
I was used to running at full speed for so long, I did not know what it felt like to slow down. It was hard to slow down but I finally took more time for myself. Time to figure things out.
I already lived a pretty minimalist life, but I simplified things even more.
If you look at the basics, life is very simple. We have a tendency to make things complex, they do not need to be.
I am not saying your “To-Do” list is first thing you should re-evaluate when experiencing a life altering change, but it is what I did first. It immediately took a lot of weight off my shoulders. Later, I took a long look at my priorities, long-term, and short-term goals (each having a spreadsheet).
I am more focused than I have ever been and know exactly what is important to me.