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Planning for the future when the future is uncertain

By Blair Richardson

I was diagnosed with a blood cancer called Myleodysplastic Syndrome in July 2016 when I was 21 years old. At the time, I had been working as a summer camp counsellor, which is a job I loved so much. I had also just finished my second year of a Bachelor of Education degree at Mount Royal University in Calgary and was making plans to go back for year three in the fall. The day I heard “you have cancer,” all of those plans were put on hold. It was devastating. I was so worried about my peers moving on without me and leaving me behind.

Before I truly understood everything I would be going through for the next year, I remember being in a meeting with my oncologist discussing the plan for me to get a bone marrow transplant. He said that it usually takes about five to six months to find a donor and get everything ready for a transplant. My response was, “Can we do it in two so I can get back to school in September?”

That obviously didn’t happen, and seeing everyone start school again without me was very hard. My life went on hold for months until fall 2017. By that point, I had had my transplant and life was starting to get back to normal. I had talked to the university and was making plans to return to normal classes in the winter semester. I had also started doing some online school courses and it felt like my life was back on track.

Then in October, three days after my 22nd birthday, I was told my cancer was back. BAM, just like that, life was on hold again.

“For a really long time, the thought of making plans for the future or looking forward to things was a very scary thought.”

My life plans were thrown out the window, and for a really long time, the thought of making plans for the future or looking forward to things was a very scary thought. I would think “what’s the point of planning or looking forward to anything if I’m not going to live long enough to see it?” or “maybe I’ll be so sick I won’t get to experience it and I’ll be so let down.” I’ve spoken to many other YA cancer survivors who have had the same feelings throughout their journeys.

I am happy to say though in my experience it does get better, and the feelings of fearing the future start to fade. I found the more I lived through life events, the easier it was to look forward to the future.

The first time I remember this happening was the final season of Game of Thrones. When season seven ended and it was announced that viewers would have to wait a year and a half to see the end of the series, I immediately thought, “Damn, I’m not going to live to see the end of Game of Thrones. That sucks.” Well turns out I was wrong. I got to see the finale (I’ll withhold my feelings around the final season, haha) and that made it easier to look forward to the next show starting or movie/video game coming out.

Another huge life event I didn’t think I was going to get to see was my brother’s wedding. A year before the wedding, my brother asked me to be his best man. I said yes, but in the back of my mind, I had thoughts of “am I going to be able to stand next to him, or will I be too weak — or worse — will I even live long enough to see him get married?” Well, not only did I live that long, but I was doing better physically and mentally than I had been a year before.

Getting to experience many life events in between my rediagnosis and today has helped me get over my fears of the future and start planning to do a lot of fun things.

Another big thing I have learned is to live for today. I don’t know where I will be six months from now, so I do my best to live in the moment and enjoy every day. A huge decision I have made recently was moving in with my girlfriend, Ashley. I initially had thoughts of “what’s the point of moving in with her if in six months I won’t be able to get out of bed?” I had to remind myself to screw the future you are feeling well today so do what makes you happy. Living with her has brought so much positivity into my life and I am grateful that cancer was not able to take the experience away from me.

I hope this helps some of you who had the same fears as I did, and if any of you have some ways you cope with fearing the future, please reach out. I would love to hear them!

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