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Feel Like You’re Losing Hope?
Find Something to Look Forward To

by Dave Balch

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During the darkest hours of my wife’s chemotherapy, we received a postcard from a friend who was on vacation in Tahiti. It depicted a string of bungalows stretching out across a beautiful blue-green lagoon, all framed by palm trees. It was dreamy, to say the least, and couldn’t have been any further from where we were at the moment we received it, both physically and emotionally.

We were sitting there together looking at this card, wondering how such a place could exist when she was feeling so punk and I told her that I didn’t know how, but somehow, some way we would go to Tahiti when her treatments were over. We put the card on the refrigerator and every time we went to get something to eat (usually comfort food), we saw it there. We didn’t realize it at the time, but that postcard set in motion a technique that played an important part in the rest of her treatment and recovery. Looking forward to that trip gave us a lift every time we went into the refrigerator. It gave us hope.

That postcard reminded us that there would be life after all this was over, and that this difficult time wasn’t going to last forever.

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When you are in the middle of a situation like her breast cancer, it seems like it’s NEVER going to end. Appointment after appointment, treatment after treatment, the seemingly endless cycle of feeling good and then feeling bad; it’s hard to imagine that life will ever get back to normal. That postcard reminded us that there would be life after all this was over, and that this difficult time wasn’t going to last forever.

Here is my recommendation: look forward to something. Don’t wait until something happens that you can turn into an opportunity, make it happen. It doesn’t have to be as elaborate as a Polynesian vacation; it can be as simple as going to a movie on Thursday night. What’s important is that it is something important to you. Something that makes you feel good just by thinking about it. It can be one big thing such as a vacation, or a number of small things such as going to movies or cuddling up in front of the TV with some microwave popcorn, or a combination. The objective is to get through unpleasant times by taking your mind off the current situation and concentrating on something pleasant in the future. Do whatever works for you … but do it.

I distinctly remember times when I went to the refrigerator and paused a moment to simply stare at that lagoon and get lost in it for a moment. What a rush! For those moments, I forgot about our troubles and felt at peace, knowing that we would be enjoying a scene like that one and that all of this medical stuff would soon be just a memory. It made the next round of chemo, or whatever was next, seem a little more bearable. It will for you, too.

“Well?” everyone asks. “Did you go to Tahiti or didn’t you?” Eight months after we received that postcard we did, in fact, go to Tahiti. Even better, though, is that we actually stayed in one of the very bungalows we had been looking at all those months on the refrigerator. It was sweet.

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Dave Balch was caregiver for his wife during four bouts of breast cancer; now he is on a full-time, personal mission to help other cancer survivors by helping their partners. He founded The Patient/Partner Project to carry out this mission. You can contact Dave at at 1-8-MORAL SUPPORT (866-725-7877).

Visit www.ThePatientPartnerProject.org/copingmag for an inspirational video from Dave Balch, as well as Internet resources and services for cancer survivors and partners, including a free e-mail minicourse of “Six ‘L’s’ of Caring and Coping.”

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2008.

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