Finding meaning and purpose in life after a cancer diagnosis

Hearing the words “you have cancer” is a life changing event that for many people causes stress, fear and loneliness. Although life will almost certainly change dramatically, for many people this can bring some positive changes. A diagnosis of cancer can be a chance to try to understand the greater purpose or reason behind your life. This search for meaning can often lead to a greater understanding of yourself and others and clarify for you what really matters. People report feeling a greater sense of inner peace and satisfaction with life. While no one is happy to receive a diagnosis of cancer, many people have used the experience to identify things in their lives that they would like to change. Finding meaning and purpose is not a constant search and for each person the process will be different. Many people find that that their perspective and what is meaningful will change over time depending on their unique situation.

People’s reasons for seeking meaning in the experience can include:

  • A wish to understand the personal significance of one’s diagnosis
  • A path to understanding and accepting the emotional and physical changes that have occurred
  • An opportunity to review life so far
  • A change in one’s sense of self or one’s relationship to others
  • A change in what interests you or what is important to you following your diagnosis
  • How to live best with one’s  “new normal”
  • Finding and maintaining hope

The following activities may help you begin to find meaning after your diagnosis:

  • Use a journal to keep track of your thoughts and feelings
  • Explore other creative outlets such as art or photography
  • Spend time in quiet thought or meditation.
  • Enjoy nature
  • Share your thoughts and ideas and listen to the perspectives of other survivors
  • Talk to a licensed counselor and join a support group

Being diagnosed with cancer or having a loved one with cancer can also have an impact on your feelings about your spiritually and religion. For many people spirituality and religion are interchangeable but for some there is a distinction. People may think of themselves as spiritual or religious or both.

After a diagnosis of cancer, questions like why me or why us are common.  While there are often not good answers to these kinds of questions, turning to one’s faith can be an important source of strength in challenging times. For others, who feel abandoned by their faith or punished, turning away from their religion can feel like the right approach. There are no right or wrong ways to involve spirituality and religion in your life but it whatever your thoughts, it can be helpful to share them with others and to listen to their thoughts on this subject.


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  • Chrissie

    Reading this just sparked a few thoughts…as a person who has fairly recently survived a life threatening illness and cancer I have traveled this journey, and in fact shared with someone today as horrible as it was-there was more good than bad. However if someone told me these things without having experienced them – the good that would come I would have become quite angry I’m sure. It was something I had to experience myself- walk the walk. No one can tell an individual with cancer what good will come out of their situation, I believe the goodness found comes from within..

  • RN

    Cancer does suck. I’m a RN at a childrens hospital. Most people don’t realize the resilience of the human spirit, especially in children. Let us also not forget the hard, long road that the parents and family members face when dealing with cancer and other serious conditions. Here’s a story that will make your toes curl with anger. It’s a disgusting story of a lawyers personal greed that took from a mother of a child that was ill and literally took advantage of her weakest moment. The story is Greed – Taking Advantage of the Already Weakened: http://www.topix.com/forum/indy/TS1K6IF1TMR8HIP58
    When you read this story, I hope you’ll be as angry as I was. Keep your family strong and keep them safe from predators that will take advantage of you if given the chance.
    RN