At first, a life-threatening illness can make anyone feel powerless. But you can take back control by making a plan for how you want to use your time. If you’re feeling well, this can mean doing something you’ve always wanted to do: travel more, visit long-distance family or friends, take a class in something that interests you, pursue a creative hobby, volunteer, finish a project, or donate time to important causes. It's human nature to put our plans on the shelf and say, “I’ll do that someday.” As difficult as stage IV breast cancer is, it’s also an opportunity to shape what you want your time to look like.
If the cancer and its treatment have taken their toll and you’re not feeling well, you can still be intentional about how you spend your time, notes Kelly Grosklags, L.I.C.S.W., B.C.D., a Minneapolis-based oncology psychotherapist and grief counselor who works with many people who have advanced cancer. She notes that people may find greater meaning and contentment in simple pleasures: tending a garden; spending time with close family or friends; enjoying their pets; appreciating the woods or beach or other natural surroundings; really noticing the change of seasons; reading; listening to music; or countless other things that enrich their lives. “When people have a limited timeframe, what they enjoy in life can get more intense, and it can be very simple,” she says. “Their world gets smaller — it just does — and they embrace the simplicity, which I really admire.”
Whatever plans you make, you may find yourself sharing the concerns that Grosklags says are very common among her patients with advanced breast cancer:
- “I don’t want to be forgotten.”
- “I want to know that I mattered.”
- “I want my family to know that I love them.”
She notes that many people find it helpful to create keepsakes for their partner, children, grandchildren, or other loved ones that will keep their presence alive in these people’s lives. Examples include:
- Letters meant to be opened on special occasions, such as birthdays, wedding days, anniversaries, the birth of a child, and other life milestones
- Recorded audio or video messages for the same purpose — such as the reading of a favorite children’s book for a grandchild, messages of advice, or congratulations
- A memory book of photos — getting some of those photos off the computer or smartphone, or even out of the drawer (in the case of older prints), and pulling them together into a book
If you choose to create something, it doesn't have to be fancy or elaborate. It can be as simple as leaving voice or video messages for loved ones on a smartphone or tablet. Make sure to choose a trusted point person who can deliver these communications in the future, especially if they’re for children or grandchildren. If you have personal items that you want to leave to certain loved ones, you can make a plan for that, too. These activities don’t have to take over your days; you can work on them a little bit at a time, even as you continue to pursue things you enjoy.
There may be other things you want to accomplish:
- If you’re still working, you might have projects you want to finish or specific goals you want to meet. Maybe you’ll find it helpful to create a guidebook for your successor, employees, or department.
- This is a good time to create legal documents such as a will, an advanced directive, and/or power of attorney, if you haven’t already done so.
- You also may want to create a plan for your funeral or memorial service. This can be a deeply personal experience, and it can make things easier for your loved ones to know what your wishes are.
For more information on these and other practical steps you can take, visit the End-of-Life Financial and Legal Considerations section.
“I have been stage 4 for a little over 2 years. My daughter is 25 and my granddaughter will be 4 soon. I've been collecting poems and quotes in a notebook for my girls along with short notes from me. I find it very hard to write in at times, but I know that if I had one from my mom that I would still treasure it. The very first quote I wrote in it:
‘Worrying doesn't take away tomorrow’s troubles....it takes away today's peace.’--author unknown.”
—Breastcancer.org community member
“When it comes right down to it, the Beatles were right: All you need is love. I take no interest in material things anymore. I enjoy an engaging conversation, delicious food and wine. Only quality time, with quality people. I would rather have four quarters than a hundred pennies!”
—Breastcancer.org community member